I love conferences. I think they’re a valuable way to learn new stuff. I love stepping away from my normal work space and meeting new people who are excited about libraries and marketing. It’s a great way to re-energize yourself.

But there’s more to conferencing than registering for sessions and booking a hotel. You’ll want to squeeze as much learning and fun as you can of any conference. These tips will help you maximize the experience.

Pick your sessions in advance. Sit down and form a strategy for which sessions will offer the most value for you. Most conferences offer sessions in tracks–those are a series of related sessions designed to give you an in-depth and multi-layered education about one area of your business. But unless your library is sending more than one person to the conference, I recommend that you not marry yourself to one track. Rather, choose your sessions based on the needs of your library. Think about the coming year and the kinds of challenges that may lie ahead for your organization. Then pick the sessions that will help you to meet those challenges. If you’re on the fence about a session or are having trouble choosing between several speakers running at the same time (don’t you hate that problem?!) look on YouTube for video of the speakers and research their blogs to help you make the most informed decision. You can usually tell how valuable a session will be by a past speaker’s performance or blog posts.

Sign up for alerts and reminders from the conference host. Most organizations will send you notices as often as you like with helpful info, including places to eat and have fun when you’re not in a conference session. They may also alert you when sessions are added or dropped from the agenda.

Connect with fellow attendees and speakers on social media. Start checking the conference hashtag on Twitter and Instagram a few weeks in advance to see who’s buzzed to go. Send personal (not auto generated) DM’s to fellow attendees to let them know you’ll be there too. You might also find Facebook and LinkedIn groups connected to your conference where you can meet attendees in advance. Update your LinkedIn profile while you’re there, because you can bet people you meet at the conference will be checking you out. Connecting with conference attendees ahead of time makes it less intimidating to walk into a hotel full of strangers if you already “know” someone from social media. You can recognize them from their profile photo and social conversations and start a real conversation with all the awkward small talk already out-of-the-way!

Practice how you’ll introduce yourself to new people and have a few “small talk” conversation starters in your back pocket. You’ll be surprised how fast you can freeze up in a room of 1000 strangers. So even though it feels weird, figure out what you’ll say to introduce yourself and then come up with three questions you can ask someone you’ve just met to help get a conversation going.

Figure out where you are going. If the conference is held in another city, I try to arrive on the day before the conference begins so I can go to the venue and get the lay of the land. I get nervous and excited on that first day and knowing where my sessions are held before I arrive on that first day is a big confidence boost. It frees my brain up to do more important stuff… like meet new people and take notes!

Take notes in sessions. You might be tempted to skip this step, given that many speakers make their slides publicly available after the presentation or write blogs about their sessions after they’ve given them. (I totally do that–here’s one!) But you’ll absorb more of the information long-term if you take notes.

Give yourself a break. The first time I attended Content Marketing World, I made one big mistake. I went from session to session without any breaks… all day long! It was exhausting and I never had a chance to take a breather and reflect on what I was learning–nor to catch up on emails from the office. (Let’s all just admit right now that those will chase you, even when you’re at a great conference.) So this year,  I took a lunch break. I actually took my food outside and ate while reading a book for 20 minutes. The dose of fresh air and sunshine helped me to focus during my afternoon sessions. Be sure to give yourself space to breathe in your conference schedule so you don’t end the day exhausted and overwhelmed.

At the end of each day, go through your notes and compile a summary.  You can take this back to your library to share with your boss and your co-workers. That time you spend putting your notes in order will also help to reinforce what you learn and will prompt you to start thinking about ways to put those new nuggets of knowledge into practice at your library!

Do you have other tips to help fellow conference attendees? Please share in the comments! Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Slideshare,  Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.