You can get a lot out of a conference by simply showing up and putting as much effort as possible into learning and networking. You might think that you don't need to plan out anything, going with the flow on the day so that you can be available for anything that seems interesting to you.
However, while you might have a good conference with this attitude, you will almost certainly end up missing out on several element that you would like to have caught. This is where a schedule comes in handy, to make sure you get the most possible out of the event.
Getting a timetable together involves a bit of extra work, but it might only take you an hour or two. The tradeoff is a much more successful conference, every moment of which is useful to you. It is worth doing this several weeks in advance, so you can book any necessary appointments and leave yourself room to make changes if you need to.
So, what should you base your schedule around? Here are a few of the things you should bear in mind:
Perhaps most importantly, you should look for opportunities to network. This is just as useful to you as the panels will be, especially if you end up forging some valuable contacts, but often there is not much time available in the conference's official timetable for you to do this. You need to make time yourself.
Rather than going to every single panel, miss one or two and use the time to organise coffee breaks and other opportunities to meet with important industry people. Get in touch with people beforehand and book appointments to see them during the day, so you know you will be able to network effectively.
While a lot of the panels at a conference will cover topics you are familiar with, there are some that you just can't miss. These need to be accounted for in your schedule, so you don't end up missing out on the day by forgetting them and going to a different session or networking while they're on.
Anything unique to this conference should be prioritised. This could be an important guest speaker or a chance to view an important industry development before it is released. While other panels can be seen at conferences across the UK, these unique sessions might never come up again.
After all this, you should try and find time for relaxed socialising. This is useful for several reasons. First and foremost, it gives you a chance to relax and rest, which will make the rest of the conference much more pleasant!
Furthermore, it is another chance to network in a more relaxed environment. You will find that people are more open at a conference after party, and you might find yourself forging more meaningful connections while out for a drink than you do during your scheduled networking sessions!