I just got back from a somewhat smallish academic conference (about 100-150 or so papers presented over 2 1/2 days). A couple of things struck me:
First, if you choose a smaller conference (like the Eastern Finance Association or Southern Finance Association) meeting and attend regularly (i.e. 2 out of every three years), it doesn't take long for you to get to know a good percentage of the regular attenders. To do this, all you have to do is (in addition to presenting a paper or discussing one) go to the receptions and talk to a couple of new people every night.
Second, because it's such a small community, information travels very quickly at conferences. The first day of the conference, I mentioned to a handful of people that I was changing schools. By the end of the conference, the majority of the people I talked with were congratulating me.
Third, conferences are good places to start projects. There were two fellows I knew in passing (both are colleagues of a classmate of mine from grad school). One does investments and derivatives, one does corporate, and one is pretty eclectic. By the third beer, we had a rough sketch of an idea that we'll start on this summer.
Finally, I'm never going to send more than two papers to a conference again (in a fit of insanity, I submitted three this time). You might think that sending this many papers ensures that you'll have at least ONE paper on the program. Instead, all it does is ensure that you'll be running around to cover all your sessions - in other words, if you submit "N" papers to a conference, the probability of ALL of them being accepted is increasing in N.
Ah well, time to go spread some knowledge. Only 2 weeks of classes left and then finals. Woo Hoo!