The conference program book has historically served as a useful on-site resource for attendees to manage their conference experience. Event-goers can quickly browse the schedule, note sessions of interest, learn about speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors, and find important event details. Today, however, many events also provide this information online and in a mobile event app. Rather than eliminating a printed piece altogether, some organizations have opted to give it a new role at the conference as a tool to support learning retention, facilitate peer connections, and increase attendee engagement.
Below are three examples of how the program book is being used in new ways, taken from and/or inspired by actual conferences that we’ve attended in the past year.
1) From Conference Program Book to Workbook
Meeting planners are always looking for creative ways to reinvent the conference format to promote active learning and collaboration. Your printed book can be used to support this strategy. Instead of including pages for notetaking at the end of the book, turn your entire program book into a hands-on workbook. Include activities from the speakers directly in the book, instead of as separate handouts. Pose questions throughout the pages, such as One new thing I’m going to try is… or Three things I need to share with my colleagues back home are… This will help attendees think about how they are going to apply their newfound knowledge once they get back to the office.
And don’t be afraid to get fun and creative. Many of us admittedly draw and doodle while sitting in a meeting—not because we’re bored, but because, according to some studies, it helps our focus and memory. So, give attendees a place to doodle. Leave some whitespace throughout your pages and let them know that’s what it’s there for.
2) Pass the Book
Small group activities and breakout discussions during a conference session are one popular way to get attendees talking to and learning from each other. The downside to this format is that not everyone in the group participates equally. There will always be those few who happily speak up, the few who hang back, and then everyone else lands somewhere in the middle.
The “pass the book” approach requires every group member to contribute ideas. During the small group activity, each member of the group takes a turn and poses a question, challenge, or situation to their group members they would like peer assistance with. Rather than providing ideas aloud, fellow group members take turns writing their answers in their fellow group member’s conference workbook. The discussion happens after all ideas have been captured. This is not only a unique way to facilitate small group activity, but it also gives each group member a more memorable take-home piece.
Want to inject some more fun into the conference? Take this same “pass the book” idea and give it a high-school yearbook spin that encourages attendees to sign each other’s program books and provide short notes and contact information. Done well, this can create a more meaningful relationships-starter than handing out a business card.
3) Supplemental Learning Material
Take learning beyond the conference by providing access to supplemental educational materials within the program book. Include QR codes (yes, they’re back!) that link to videos or related articles and session materials. You can also turn this into an opportunity to increase engagement with your organization by including videos from your association’s key staff promoting and linking to additional educational resources such as training courses, webinars, and publications.
If you’re looking to make an easier transition from print to digital—while still providing the tactile experience of print—add a companion digital program flipbook to your conference content offerings. Digital flipbooks have become more relevant in recent years, as it’s now easier than ever to incorporate dynamic content such as embedded audio, video, and hyperlinks within printed text.
As you’re thinking about how to structure your next conference to engage participants, create more networking opportunities, and facilitate better learning, think about how you can re-invent and re-imagine your existing tools—such as the conference program book—to play a supporting role.