Research, you might be saying? Why do I need to do research? The reason I'm going is to learn things, after all. But here's the truth: you will get so much more out of attending a writing conference or workshop if you take the time to get yourself properly oriented beforehand.
Here are some of the main areas that should be your focus:
1. Your Novel
This might sound strange, but one of the first things you should do is take a good, hard look at your own writing. Figure out what category (YA, MG, Children's, Adult, NA?) it fits into as well as what genre (sci-fi, memoir, romance, contemporary, etc.).
I've been to nearly a dozen conferences now, and I've seen so many people wasting their time and the publishing professionals' time because they have no idea what they're writing. Usually this can be figured out with an hour's worth of Google searching.
If you're planning to go for the traditional publishing route and query your novel to agents soon, it's also a good idea to take the time to research query letters and take a stab at writing one of your own before the conference. Not only will you have something to give to anyone who asks the dreaded, "So what are you writing?" question, but you'll also have a starting point if you're attending any sessions or workshops on query writing.
2. The Publishing Professionals Attending
This is a big one. Take the time to find out everything you can about the agents, editors, and other publishing professionals who will be at the conference. This will enable you to pick the right ones to pitch to if that opportunity is offered—don't waste their time and yours by pitching your adult memoir to an agent who only does YA!
I always start with the person's official website, if they have one. Then you can move on to their Publisher's Marketplace page, social media accounts, and interviews around the web. Try searching for things like "agent name interview" to find these.
3. Conference Etiquette
Finally, make sure you know what kinds of things are and aren't acceptable at writer's conferences so you don't make the wrong impression. I did a whole separate post about this a few years ago that covers the basics.
If you do your research beforehand, I guarantee that your conference experience will go more smoothly. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some agent interviews to read....