Not paperless - SmEditor’s Note: This month, we’ll revisit some of our favorite posts from 2015. Enjoy!

The Role of Printed Conference Materials in a Digital World

There’s no doubt about it: conferences are changing, and delivery of content is part of that evolution. Few annual meetings give out a printed programs to attendees on arrival, and that’s that.

Digital delivery is gaining ground, with very good reason. The convenience factor is huge; downloading an app is so much easier for attendees than carrying a printed program everywhere you go during a conference. Apps also help attendees connect with each other, through a social timeline or person-to-person messaging. Building a schedule and referring to it on the phone that already lives in the palm of their hands is a no-brainer.

In an Associations Now article by Ernie Smith, The Secret Benefits of Ditching Paper at Events, he suggests that the time has come for paperless conferences. He refers to a 2008 Omnipress white paper—Debunking the Myths of the “Paperless Conference—as an example of a resource that suggests that attendees aren’t ready to give up print. Much has changed in the interim, as Smith concedes, and maybe 2015 is the right time to stop printing and start using apps to share conference content with attendees.

He makes many good points in favor of apps in the article. And yet. Just because you can move to a paperless conference doesn’t mean you should. The role of printed conference materials in an evolving, digital-obsessed world is changing, certainly, but it has not evaporated completely.

We have found, as we provide both printed and digital products to associations, that there are compelling reasons to consider all types of formats—including print—for your conference content.

  • Marketing:Many of our customers use save-the-date mailers and advance programs to drum up excitement and entice members to attend the annual meeting. What’s old is new again—sometimes postcards, delivered to mailboxes that see less traffic these days, command more attention than a marketing email in a crowded inbox.
  • Learning:Many professionals (including millennials) prefer to read printed materials when they need to learn. Comprehension and retention is better when reading a physical book, compared to a screen. What do your attendees want? Conduct a survey and learn. You might be surprised!
  • Posterity:Surely you have some members who have been attending your association’s annual meetings for decades, and have a bookshelf of printed proceedings to prove it. And that’s not just for looks! Print is the best choice for posterity. PDFs in a digital folder just don’t have the same staying power. Just ask that pile of floppy disks in your basement!
  • Integration:Print plays nice with other formats. QR codes can lead attendees to download the app or access online-only supplements, like videos and audio content. Long after the app is deleted from the phone by attendees, printed conference materials will have a place at association events.

Before you throw out the (printed conference materials) baby with the (paperless conference) bathwater, think twice. Should a paperless conference be the goal? Maybe not.

Could there be a place for printed materials at my next conference?

Yes, there could.

Yes, there is.

Download our white paper, Millennials & Print, which highlights the results of a 2014 survey of young professionals (age 22-33) who express their preference for reading printed materials for learning.

Honorable mentions of 2015 conference printing posts:
Every Good Attendee Deserves Print
Preserve the Print! How to Expand Your Conference Content Delivery