(1) KEEP PLANNING.
You are never done with this step honestly. What talks do you want to go to? Do they overlap? What are you going to do for lunch? Do you want to go see things in the city? How about drinks with your cohort after sessions are over? Keep all these things in mind as you start the day, and keep an itinerary, even if it is subject to change. Make sure you have a way of keeping in touch with people.
(2) EXPECT TECH ISSUES.
The technological wonders of Our Digital Age™ become dark and unknowable forces in the conference setting. World-renowned scholars who have revolutionized the field and challenged the way we think about basic concepts will show a complete lack of ability of setting up a simple PowerPoint slideshow. You will never be able to fully plan for these contingencies, but you can do your best to mitigate risk. Make sure your presentation is on a thumb drive, an email sent to yourself, and a floppy disk if need be. It may even be a good idea to bring your own laptop. If your panel room is missing something, talk to the hotel front desk ASAP. Get to your room early, if possible, so that you are not dealing with these issues five minutes after the session was supposed to start. Pray to whatever gods you hold dear, make the appropriate offerings and sacrifices, make sure these issues do not fall on you.
[Comment from Jim Stanlaw: Jacklyn and Ethan are absolutely right—tech stuff can, and does, go wrong regardless if you are a Millennial or not! Additionally, my own person recommendation is, bring a jump drive instead of relying on email for your Powerpoint. The reason is, sometimes it is hard to access the web in a particular hotel location. Really! Secondly, it is really time-consuming waiting for five people to download their files and then get them ready to display at the panel venue. If you have a jump drive you can just give it to the panel organizer—preferably ahead of time!—and they can just put your Powerpoint on the session’s computer/projector. There is nothing worse for the audience than to watch you try and sign on, find, download, and pull up your file. BORING! And it eats into the time allotted to you. Just sayin’ …]
(3) NETWORK AND LISTEN TO SUGGESTIONS.
The whole point of these things is to get a bunch of people who are into the same things in the same room together. Use this to your advantage, and do not be afraid to approach students and professors whose work you admire. Share contact info with these people if you want to keep in touch. In the short term this will provide feedback on your work; in the long term, these people might be good allies to have when you are looking at graduate programs, wanting to put a panel or project together, etc. There may be some big name people at these conferences; they too are as embarrassingly human as us, so do not be afraid to approach them as well.
You are going to get advice, from your panel discussant, from audience questions (which, more often than not, are statements and not questions) and from various other sources. Take notes on these recommendations, and on recommendations to other scholars that you find interesting. Do not be afraid of criticism; CSAS, especially, is a low-pressure environment, and people will be mostly kind when offering critique. Address these critiques as ways that you can make your work even better.
(Note: there is always going to be a couple of jerks that cannot seem to conjure up the social distance to engage in effective peer review. You may be unfortunate enough to end up on the business end of their jerkery. Do not let their bad attitude keep you down, but also do not ignore them outright; their criticism may be valid, if rude, and so you might want to address it. Also, do your level best to not be one of these jerks. [Stanlaw’s comment: Yes, there may be a rude critic or two, but at the CSAS they are actually pretty rare. But their points are well taken: don’t take negative criticism too much to heart, and don’t be one of those overly-harsh critics. Learn to disagree, and ask questions, respectfully. And this should apply to us faculty members
as well, of course …])