Conferences, even the best ones, can be stressful experiences. People often travel to get there, wearing them down before the event even begins. Then there are the non-stop sessions, activities, and events, robbing people of their personal space. Attendees fall behind on their work. And then, for a multiple day event, the copious amounts of alcohol poured at night don't help.
What can you do about it? Eating right, getting sleep, and skipping that final round of kamikaze shots can help, but even if you forgo all of that, practicing something I like to call Conference Altruism can help even further. The gist: helping others will provide a better experience for you.
How can you go about it? Here are a few practical steps:
1) One of the best Conference Altruism tricks can be purchased for under $5 at radio shack. A 3-outlet grounded plug is a potential life saver, or at least job saver. Carry one of these around at all times, and when you're the first one to an outlet to plug in your laptop, you still won't hog all the juice and can share it with someone else. If the outlets are all taken, no one will mind sharing if you triple the capacity. If you really want to do this right, carry a spare and give it to an attendee in need. I haven't gone that far, but I often carry one of these around, and I've made quite a few friends this way - all for $4.49.
2) Share the schwag. If you're giving away any fun goodies at a trade show booth, ask to see if the visitor has kids and might want an extra. If you're wandering the floor and don't have kids, pass the tchotchkes to a colleague, client, or other attendee who does. It's always fun sitting at lunch with parents who engage in the schwag exchange so that their kids have enough rubik's cubes, stress balls, and yo-yos. As an aside, my dad still brings home some of the best giveaways from gastroenterology conferences (and always makes a point to tell the provider how old his son his - the provider will ask, thinking it's cute, expecting my dad to say something like 8 or 10 - and then my dad shares that I turned 10 during the Reagan administration).
3) Share your notes. Whether it's a presentation you or a colleague gives (or you manage to score from others), notes you take at a session in one track that someone else can't attend, or the password to conference presentations that someone else there might not have seen, share as much information as you can. Sometimes, I'll admit, I have a hard time staying awake enough to take good notes for myself. When I'm blogging an event though, I share the link with anyone whose card I collected (a bit of selfish altruism there, as it promotes my blog; a proverb I learned in school goes, "If you start doing the right thing for the wrong reason, you'll wind up doing the right thing for the right reason.")
Add any of your thoughts for Conference Altruism in the comments.