The summer conference season is in full swing, and it's more important than ever to remember some important do-s and do-nots as you're getting ready for the next meeting. Here are a few I've discovered through my (sometimes painful) personal experience:
If you're speaking, be sure to be prepared. Impromptu presentations are great for informal settings, but no one in a room full of paying attendees wants to see you give an off-the-cuff speech. Take time to build your slides in advance. Run through the talk a few times. Make sure everything is timed so you can get through you material in the allotted time and, consequently, not run out of material before time is finished.
If you're listening, be sure to take notes and ask questions. Often, a speaker covers a lot of ground in their talk and questions you have in the first 5 minutes are lost by the time they're done presenting. Speakers hate the awkward silence that follows "any questions." Taking notes early on will help resurface and clarify any ambiguous points they made earlier without pulling teeth to find questions in the audience.
Thank the organizers and the speakers when you leave. Everyone involved in putting on the conference has invested significant amounts of time and effort into putting on the events - with community events like WordCamp, this effort is entirely unpaid. A simple "thank you" will make their day and drastically increase their chances of contributing in a similar fashion next year.
[caption id="attachment_6445" align="alignright" width="300"] The people sitting behind you are paying to hear the speaker, not to watch you play World of Warcraft. Leave the gaming at home.[/caption]
If you're going to have a laptop out during a talk, be taking notes or following along with the talk. Do not sit in the front row of an auditorium and play video games. You might be happy wasting your conference fee to sit in a room and play, but the room full of distracted people behind you will not be so pleased. Be respectful of the venue and your fellow conference-goers; leave the games at home.
Conferences often provide beverages and light refreshments throughout the day. It's great to use these services, but do not leave a mess behind. The half-eaten pastry you leave in your seat will not look good when it's sat on by someone else. A glass of water left on a table can be catastrophic to the large number of computers that frequent tech conferences. Clean up after yourself and everyone will be happy.
The conference might be long, but resist the urge to duck out early if there's still more on the agenda. Both the first and last speaker of the day often speak to half-empty rooms as attendees either haven't made it to the venue or have decided to head home early. If you have an appointment, by all means make it. But if you can stay you should, even if just out of respect for the woman on stage who's invested the better part of a week (or more) putting together her talk.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few high-level items to help you make the most of your next conference. Everything here is rooted in one simple concept: respect. Respect the speakers, respect the organizers, and respect your fellow-attendees. Follow this simple concept and everyone will be happy.