Over the last year or so, when I attend conferences (or meetings, or anything I want to make sure I remember something) I leave my laptop either in it’s bag during sessions, or I don’t bring it at all. This has worked out great, and just how I thought it would. I get much more out of sessions (etc.) when I’m taking notes by hand.
I think the main reason is that when I’ve got my laptop open, I’ve also opened a whole world of distraction. When you’ve only got a pad of paper and a pen or pencil, you can better concentrate on the world around you. I’ve also found that my notebook is a great place to capture ideas. Sometimes I get really great ideas when I’m at a conference. What I’ll do is open my notebook so that I’ve got two pages showing. On the right, I’ll take notes. On the left, I’ll jot down any ideas that come to mind.
At the top of each page I write the date and title of meeting. This way I’ve got kind of a running journal of everything I attend. It might seem awkward at first, but it really works well.
I highly recommend you give it a try. I can see how it might not be an improvement for some, but my guess is many of you would begin to get a bit more out of your meetings and conference sessions.