You should never attend a conference without a clear purpose. Just showing up and leaving your return on investment to chance is a sure way to not receive value from your participation.
But ROI is not always as easy to identify as the accountants want would hope. Your CFO may want to see the real numbers in the short run, but most bean-counters have no understanding of sales, marketing, competitive intelligence, and the power of business relationships. When it is not on a spread sheet, then can fail to understand the reason.
If you can land a new client directly because of your attending an event, more power to you! But most of the long-term value that you will get from being active at industry events will not be so easy to define.
That, however, does not mean there is not real return on investment from going to conferences, trade shows, seminars, etc....
To maximize you conference experience you must know your purpose for attending, and then be relentless in tracking how you implement what you learn, and tracing the future of the connections your establish.
I have witnessed people gain the benefits years later. Success in business should not be measured quarter by quarter, as many meaningful victories can take years to materialize. Without a way to monitor your progress from the knowledge you gain and the people you meet, you will forget the genesis of your wins when they arrive.
Know your purpose for attending an event. Be focused on achieving that purpose while present. Share what you learned with co-workers when you return home. Follow up with the people you encountered. And then track, track, track your progress.
Have A Great Day.
Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com