The CGOA conferences sound great! I think the Parade of Fashions gives an everyone an opportunity to see the entries & possibly to hear about the designers. I clicked on another link for information and found this about the gift exchange: Thursday evening from 6 pm - 7 pm, come for a free conference kick-off event. All who bring a $20 (maximum materials cost) hand-crocheted item are invited to participate in the Annual Gift Exchange . Be sure to include a card with your name, address and phone so you can be thanked by the receiver for your gift.
Sounds like gift exchange is voluntary. This link may give you more information about the whole conference: http://www.knitandcrochetshow.com/summer-special-events.asp?i16s1
I'd love to go but haven't been able to yet. There is a Buddy program newbies to help you learn your way around the conference. Hope you have a wonderful time! Maybe you'll share pictures?