The feedback I've been getting from people who attended the Annual Meeting is that it can be quite intimidating. There are a few reasons for this. It involves travel, which requires planning and coordination. It is massive -- literally thousands of people, most of whom you don't know. It is tightly planned, with a huge number of panels, meetings, and sessions that overlap and you have to wade through the program and figure out what is most useful to you. It facilitates social and professional networking, which can be awkward and which some people just plain don't like.
I try to make the most out of the meeting, but have come to understand that there's a learning curve to these things. I think I did better than last year, in part because I did the following things:
1) Prioritize time. I figured out what was "high priority" and made sure I did all of those things. If there was time or energy left over for the rest of my itinerary, I went, but I at least tried not to burn out.
2) Understand that there's a bit of madness involved. No amount of pacing the paths between rooms and scouting the conference center would have prepared me for navigating the Annual Meeting. I made peace with it.
3) Force yourself to talk to at least one person per session. This is hard. This is awkward. But it can lead to all sorts of great stuff. Worst case scenario is the person isn't interested in talking and you move on quickly to someone else. Best case scenario, you end up having lunch with a bunch of people who like what you like.
These, my Annual Meeting New Year Resolutions if you will, made a big difference.
Do you have any helpful hints for making conferences and meetings productive? I'd love to hear them, I need new resolutions for next year!