There are so many articles and blogs on how to network effectively, but very people do. While well-intentioned, they tend to overload people with too many instructions that they are likely to forget (much less execute) in a real-life networking scenario.
The focus here isn't on creating a tutorial on how not to suck at networking, but rather to embrace an absolute truth about the only thing that you must do to make the most of networking opportunities at conferences (or anywhere else for that matter).
First, before doing, be aware of the role that fear plays in networking. Fear is generally considered a reaction to something immediate that threatens one's security and safety (which is why people tend to gravitate towards those they know in networking situations. They are seeking security.) This is important to be aware of because networking exposes our greatest fears, which are: Fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, and fear of failure. All three are confronted when taking action in the networking process.
Reduce your anxieties by focusing on what matters most: making a nice first impression on each person you meet, and getting contact information to establish a one-on-one dialogue in a different setting. Simple enough, right?
Finally, and most importantly, is the action item that truly dictates whether or not you've successfully networked: Follow-up. The vast majority of people who network DO NOT follow-up.
The point here is that regardless of how efficient you may be at networking, it doesn't matter if you don't follow-up with the people you network with. After all, the goal is to use networking to build a network of mutually beneficial relationships with those who you can support, and can support you in your work and career endeavors.