Attending scientific meetings is not a cheap enterprise. Neither in grant dollars (that might be better spent on supplies) nor in time (that might be better spent doing an experiment or writing up a paper). So why do it? Well, the overt reasons are pretty simple. First, to find out what other people in your field are working on and thinking about. Second, to tell the other people in your field what you are working on and thinking about.
This is the selfless and team-oriented aspect of science, the goal being to save everyone a little time and effort. Time that might be wasted between collecting the data and publishing the paper (conference presentations are often works-in-progress) during which the field would otherwise be ignorant of the results. Time that might be wasted going off in the wrong direction (your conference presentations solicit ideas and advice from your peers) or failing to pursue the most promising new avenues.
I've been pondering a slightly more....motivational aspect.
One of the best things about a good meeting experience is that you get absolutely fired up about your science. Now, some people (I won't mention any names) no doubt are an absolutely enthusiastic science wackaloon 24/7/52. Other people might find themselves distracted at times. Bogged down with institutional or personal obligations. Worried about funding or bad employees or protocol approvals or whatnot.
This all goes away at the meeting. Or it can if you take the right attitude. It should be like a scientific vacation where your main goal is to soak up science and forget about your job and the annoying parts of actually doing science.
And if you have a GoodMeeting, oh boy. The GoodMeeting is the one where everything just seems to be coming together. Everyone is finally doing the experiments you want to see done. Results are turning out just the way you'd predict. and yet, yet, there's a big wide crevasse left to cross and you, and only you, are the best possible engineer to build the bridge!
And could it be? At the same time the people holding the purse strings are talking about the importance of stuff that you find important? And are talking about issuing requests for applications on topics for which you have preliminary data? And have perhaps even already prepared a grant application?
And so you find yourself sketching out Aims at odd moments during the meeting. Planning experiments and sending them by email to the lab back home. Contacting the perfect set of collaborators that can really make your ideas sing. Heck, even doing that data analysis, comparison or arrangement that you just thought of that pulls together some "stuff you've been working on" into the story that you always knew would eventually emerge.
When you get back to the lab, do you tear around like a wackaloon, getting new experiments and collaborations going?
Then you had a GoodMeeting.