So you are going to a big scientific conference, congratulations!
Maybe you are going for the very first time and not presenting anything. Maybe you are presenting your very own first author poster for the first time. Maybe you are presenting yet another small update in your ongoing project. Maybe you are presenting a nanosymposiom or minisymposium talk. Maybe you are a PI and have a whole labs worth of posters presented by your students and post-docs.
Whatever your situation, you need to do some preparation.
If you are just attending the meeting, but not presenting anything, you need to do some pre-planning to get the most out of the conference. We are basically talking about the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting here. And this conference is HUGE.
There are a ton of presentations and you literally cannot see them all (probably not even a quarter of them). So you have to do some preparation. You can use the SfN meeting planner to search for topics you want to read about and to make an itinerary. You can also use the Hubbian app (http://hacksfn.org/) to browse abstracts and plan your SfN schedule.
The absolute worst way to 'do SfN' is to just walk through the posters stopping at whichever ones catch your eye. You will miss the ones you are interested in, and will waste a lot of time.
for the poster presenter:
So you are presenting a poster. You are probably (hopefully) finished or almost finished creating it at this point in time. If you are still working out the layout, you might want to check out Dr. Zen's blog Better Posters. It gives some helpful insights into those important questions like 'what font should I use?' and 'where should my acknowledgements go?'
Now after your poster is made, you will want to practice actually presenting it. You can do this alone, just going through the explanation of what you did and why you did it. Or you can present the poster to an actual person. This is a better option because then you can get some feedback and practice answering their questions. But no matter what, PRACTICE your poster presentation.
You took so much time and effort to collect the data, run the simulations, analyze everything and layout out your poster. But all that work will be basically for nothing if you can't quickly and concisely communicate your results. You don't want 'Dr. Big Shot' leaving your poster confused and irritated because she couldn't understand the jumble of words you were throwing at her.
for those presenting a talk:
It's more obvious to people that they need to practice a talk than that they need to practice the poster presentation. But there are a lot of bad presentations out there, and there is a lot of good advice online. I have proposed one single golden rule for presentations, but others have gone into much greater detail. I highly recommend Scicurious's "And Now, A Powerpoint Presentation" for some excellent tips on presenting scientific findings at a conference.
For the lab head: (PI):
Not being a PI myself, I turned to twitter, asking 'What is the main role for a PI at a scientific conference?'
It basically came down to:
1. Communicate your research as a whole, as in: "Tell your lab's science story" (@Oldsjames) or "talk up lab work" (@GertyZ)
2. Networking, as in: "being the honey bee in the pollen-rich garden" (@neuropolarbear)
3. Help your students out, as in: "Introducing peeps to folks" (@GertyZ) or "pay for lab dinner" (@jsnsndr)
You also might want to take a stroll down 'NIH row' to do some schmoozing as recommended by Drugmonkey.
So there you have it, tips for SfN attendees at all levels. Now go prepare, people!