Most people who attend a conference look over the program the day before (or the morning it starts). They also show up at the networking parties unaware of who is attending. According to conference planner Phil Ecclestone, president of Golden Planners Inc., this is a big mistake.

Here are some of his tips on how to get more out of the experience – it might just give your career a boost.

Define your goals and choose the right event

It might sound obvious, but a positive experience should start with some pre-event research. Have you chosen a conference that will help you develop or find a better job? Will it get you in touch with connections (or potential mentors) in your industry? Define what you’re trying to achieve, and you can then ask the important questions.

Ecclestone says he chooses industry conferences based on the time of year, his availability, and the subjects being covered. Referrals from colleagues and social media can also be helpful.

“Ask around and see what people are posting. If a conference has a buzz about it, that’s usually a good sign,” says Ecclestone.

Make a game plan

Once you’ve decided on a conference, know what you want to learn and who you want to meet. Most conferences publish their program in advance, so take a close look at their website and each session. If you can find out who will be attending, make a detailed list of all the people you’d like to see, whether they are speakers or exhibitors.

“When you get to the conference, you shouldn’t really be thinking about what to do. You should already have a plan, so your goal should be to execute that plan,” says Ecclestone.

Prepare for conversations

Continue your pre-conference research by boosting your knowledge of relevant topics.

“A dedicated conference-goer would research relevant subject matter, to get a full understanding from any presentation they see. You don’t have to become an expert, but it’s helpful if you can be conversant on the subject,” says Ecclestone.

If you’re attending a presentation, panel, or seminar, get there early to ensure you can see the visuals and speakers. Be prepared to take notes, which can clarify your thoughts and help you retain information. After the session, try to talk to the speaker(s), asking any questions you might have. You should also share your business card, and ask for a copy of their slide deck.

“To take your experience even further, when you get back to the office, write down what you learned, and how you can use that information. Then make a note for yourself for three months later to check in and see if you took those actions, and if not, why not,” says Ecclestone.

Network strategically

Take the same care in planning your social events by researching potential connections. Identify three or four people, and think about questions you can ask them.

“Think about who might be a good connection within the industry, who can help you advance your career, and who might be good to know later on,” says Ecclestone.

But remember not to be too aggressive.

“Pay attention to other people’s vibes,” says Ecclestone. “You may identify someone you really want to talk to, but be respectful if they’re having an off day and don’t seem to connect.” There will, after all, be other potential contacts and events.

Follow up

After the last canape is eaten and the last business card handed out, keep up with your contacts post-conference by connecting on LinkedIn or via email. Ecclestone says he tries to keep up with contacts in the longer term by forwarding articles he comes across on shared topics of interest.

You should also keep taps on your goals, and whether the conference was helpful. This will help you decide if you should add next year’s conference to your calendar, or if you should keep an eye out for something new.