I'm at a free conference today paid for by my employer. I'm always a bit torn about whether training is worth giving up my free time for as although my employer pays the conference fee I do not get paid for my time.
Over the years I have worked out ways to make it more worthwhile going to these things. I cannot take advantage of the free catering so whereas some people really enjoy a free lunch mine comes with me !
One of the tricks I have learned is that vendors are often setting up stalls if you arrive early and will have samples or cheap editions to get rid of so I have taken advantage of that. Sometimes I've also had a free overnight stay so I go early and enjoy looking around the town, especially new charity shops !
The other thing I do is I decide which of the break out sessions I will go to and stick to it. When I first started going to these things I often stayed to hear boring or irrelevant sessions as I thought I had to do the whole day as my employer was paying, I realised that I only needed the bits that were relevant to me and by leaving early I could prepare presentations etc on what I had learned in the time saved, much more effective for my organisation and me.
How do you make the most of conferences ?