Right now, it’s probably more difficult than ever to plan a conference or instructor-led course. Just as we were all feeling relatively confident about a slow but steady return to in-person educational events, new variants caused us to re-think our plans yet again—including how we use print services to provide educational materials to attendees.
According to the latest survey results featured in PCMA’s COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard, meeting planners are once again shifting back to virtual or trying a hybrid format for the first time. Meanwhile, the planning window continues to get smaller while the outcomes (attendance, sponsor commitment, etc.) remain difficult to predict.
In response to all this uncertainty, Omnipress has launched a new print service option—EasyPrint™—that removes both the risk and burden of printing event and course materials. With EasyPrint, you can still provide a physical program book or training manual to the participants who really want it, at no cost whatsoever to the organization.
Here’s how EasyPrint works:
Omnipress creates, hosts, and manages an online storefront to merchandise your printed materials available for purchase.
You provide participants with a link to our storefront where they order materials directly from us.
You provide Omnipress with a print-ready file of your materials.
Omnipress will print, pack, and ship items to participants at no cost to you.
Jonny Popp, General Manager of Omnipress explains why EasyPrint was developed. “We understand that it’s become challenging to estimate print quantities with any confidence right now, without knowing what attendance or demand is going to look like. Add to that the fact that our customers are having to make significant adjustments to their educational events with less planning time. The last thing they need is one more task.”
Adds Popp, “At the same time, our customers tell us they have participants who are print fanatics. They love to have that tactile piece. For them, it increases the value of the event or course.”
In addition to increasing value for both in-person and virtual participants, EasyPrint also allows organizations to retain an important piece of their sponsor recognition package while removing the out-of-pocket costs.
The conference program book traditionally serves as a resource for attendees to manage their conference experience. Event-goers can browse the schedule, note sessions of interest, learn about speakers and sponsors, and find important event details. But this program guide can do so much more.
During our time at conferences, we’ve seen organizations get creative in how they use their printed book to support learning, facilitate networking, and increase engagement at their events.
Here are just a few examples.
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 program 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. Or 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 this 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 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.
The conference program book is more than an information piece for conference attendees. It provides the first impression of your event. Here are some tips to design a book that inspires and energizes your attendees before the first session starts.
The Role of the Conference Program Book
The most common purpose of the program book is to provide important event information for attendees, including the schedule, speakers, sponsors, floorplan, and may even include presentation abstracts or papers.
It also sets the tone for your meeting and the expectations for your attendees. Do you want them to actively participate in sessions and interact with the content and each other? Will this conference challenge them or pull them outside their comfort zone?
The design of your program book can help promote and facilitate these objectives
What Inspired Program Book Design Looks Like: An Example from ASAE
This event for meeting planners provided new and innovative ways to deliver conferences.
The branding and promotion of the event certainly communicated this objective. But as an attendee, I didn’t fully understand it until I started paging through the program book. I could tell immediately this was meant to be a fun, energizing meeting.
This extraordinary conference booklet included design elements such as non-linear text, bold typography, graphic cues, and on-page interactive elements. Together, they made it clear I was expected to actively participate in my own learning.
I was excited to be there even before the first speaker took the podium.
The takeaway: All program books provide basically the same information. Challenge yourself to think about how you can present key event information in a way that makes a lasting impact on attendees.
Five Design Pro Tips for Your Conference Program
First and foremost, your program book needs to be easy for any attendee to navigate. Think of it as user experience (UX) for printed materials. Beyond that, here are six aspects of your booklet design to consider.
1. Choose fonts and typography that match the personality of your event.
There is a documented psychology behind font choices and how they trigger ideas and emotions.
Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, convey a feeling of class and heritage, making them appear formal.
Sans serif fonts, like Arial and Helvetica, convey a straight-forward, simple and no-nonsense attitude.
Modern fonts, like Futura, convey feelings of intelligence and chic style.
If your event were a person, how would you describe them? Are they trendy and chic? Funky and unconventional? Formal and traditional? The font choice you make throughout your program book should support the overall “vibe” of your meeting.
Don’t be afraid to go big and bold with font size in unexpected places. This is a great way to provide an assertion of key ideas and themes.
And it’s okay to mashup 2-3 fonts or typeface styles. It helps to make your book feel more dynamic and less monotonous. Just make sure that how you use these fonts has a purpose and is consistent throughout the book.
2. Use color and graphics in unexpected ways
Most organizations have an established brand identity that includes a primary color palette. Too often, this primary color palette dominates the program book design. The problem with this approach is that for the reader, the content tends to blend together.
Instead, use your primary color palette simply as a base. Incorporate splashers of contracting colors throughout your program book to highlight important content, make a bold statement, or break up large blocks of content.
To choose appropriate colors, the rule of thumb is to use a color wheel, selecting colors that sit directly opposite from each other.
Graphics such as images, vector art, or iconography can be used several ways, including:
To make a bold point
To help guide and direct the reader
To add texture and dimension to your book design
3. Leave space for interactive content
One of the top trends in meeting design for the past several years has been providing a more interactive and collaborative approach to the learning process. Conferences are no longer a place for attendees to simply consume learning; they are active participants.
Taking it a step further, they used what is often blank space to extend their event branding. The flood of bold color and graphics on what is traditionally a blank page helped to reinforce the perception that this is a high-quality, professional conference.
5. Find Inspiration Outside of Your Industry
Some of the most cutting-edge event designs come from cutting-edge conferences, such as Adobe’s 99U and the Facebook Developer Conference. Take a look at how they are presenting program information and then see how you might be able to scale the execution to fit your audience.
Your conference program book can—and should—do more than simply provide logistical information. By incorporating a more inspirational design you can help shape the attendee experience well before the opening session begins.
The concept of user experience (UX) isn’t limited to websites and other online interactions. Offline tools, such as your printed conference program or proceedings book, also need to be designed with the end user’s experience in mind.
User experience is broadly defined as “the overall experience of a person using a product…especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.” When the product is the conference, we take great care to ensure attendees can easily navigate all aspects of our event. From finding relevant schedule and session information on the website and in the mobile event app, to being able to easily navigate the conference center and expo hall, we understand that every touchpoint we have with an attendee helps shape their opinion of our conference and affects whether or not they choose to return.
The printed program guide, which not only provides important event information but also sets the tone of the event, should also be designed to provide an exceptional user experience.
User experience and your conference program booklet
Just like an app or website, attendees must be able to access the information they’re looking for quickly within your printed program, and use the materials as they were intended. Elements like colors and fonts, tabs, paper type, and even the binding of the book don’t just make it look impressive, they also contribute to the book’s overall functionality.
The overall design of the book is a key component to usability and the attendee’s experience with it. Layout and formatting should be done in a way that helps guide readers through the material, provides consistent visual cues, and appropriately reflects your brand. Other key aspects of the conference program book’s design that aren’t always top-of-mind are book size, fonts, paper type, and binding, which all affect user experience.
Before you start the design and production of your next program booklet and other printed conference materials, here are some questions to take into consideration that will help you incorporate UX into your conference materials:
What is the purpose of the conference program booklet?
Does your program serve as a proceedings. book, containing “shelf-worthy” material such as abstracts or papers? If so, consider using perfect binding to create a printable spine. Just make sure it’s easy enough to pack in a suitcase for the return trip.
Conversely, if the program guide is meant to serve as a quick-reference tool to view the schedule, find room assignments, and navigate the tradeshow floor, a smaller thinner, or even a pocket-guide piece may be preferable.
Who is your average conference attendee?
If the demographics of your conference tend to skew older, be sure to use a larger font size that is easily legible, even in dimly lit rooms. Avoid pairing colors that don’t have enough contrast, which also decreases legibility.
Some attendees tend to prefer a booklet that is more portable, keeping it in their pocket rather than a briefcase or bag, which may make smaller booklets a smarter choice.
Are you providing added value with your printed conference materials?
If your attendees love having the program booklet as a place to take notes during the conference, then paper stock and binding type matters. Use an uncoated stock for notes pages, as they are easier to write on. Additionally, ensure your piece lays flat. Coil binding works better than saddle-stitch for this purpose.
If your program is a source of revenue for your conference, then you want to give your sponsors (and exhibitors) a chance to stand out, while providing the information that attendees are looking for. Advertising space should be large enough to feature a meaningful message and help attendees find them on-site.
How much content do you have?
If yours is a large, multi-day and or multi-track conference with a significant amount of simultaneous content to choose from (sessions, workshops, symposia, speakers, special events, exhibitors, etc.), you want to make your program booklet as easy for users to navigate as possible. Consider including a table of contents at the front, so users can find relevant information easily.
You can include tabs to break up sections of content. Physical tabs sit out further from the book, making them easy to see. However, sometimes this makes the book harder to store. Bleed tabs provide a graphic reference to each section while remaining in-line with the rest of the book.
User experience applies across all attendee touchpoints of a conference. As you’re reviewing and evaluating your online and digital tools, be sure to apply the same scrutiny to your printed conference materials, such as your program booklet, as well. Doing so will help ensure that attendees have a positive user experience with all aspects of your conference.
Conference program materials are often one of the last items to be checked off the event planner’s to-do list. With a very narrow delivery window, there is little room for error. What steps can you take to streamline the printing of your next conference program, avoid common pitfalls and increase the return on your investment?
Take a look at this infographic to learn some quick tips to reduce the stress of your next conference program printing project.
Conference print projects are often the last items to be checked off the conference planning to-do list. Keep these Four facts in mind as your conference program comes together to avoid any last minute surprises.
A Big Pay-Off: Save Money with the Right Paper Stock
A heavier-stock cover separate from the body pages adds expense. Save money by using a slightly heavier stock for the entire piece, including a self-cover.
Don’t Get Caught In A Bind: Know Your Binding Options A Head of Time
Perfect Bound: Text on a flat spine makes it easy to find on the shelf Plastic Coil: Lays completely flat, great for notetaking and can contain up to 1,300 pages Saddle Stitch: An economical option but limited to a maximum of 104 pages
Go Smaller for Bigger Page Counts: A Smaller Finished Size Can Save Your Budget
Double your page count without affecting your budget by turning an 8.5” x 11” piece into 5.5” x 8.5”
Add More Color to Your Piece (without Adding Much Green): The Price of Full-Color Printing Has Decreased
New technology has made conference program printing in full-color significantly less costly in recent years.
The International Wire and Cable Symposium (IWCS) understands how important technology and innovation are to its members, which is why the association has embraced digital options in addition to the traditional print offerings to deliver conference content to its attendees.
IWCS also realized that each digital format is a separate entity, and attendees use each to accomplish different things. An app isn’t simply a digital version of a printed program; it’s a different animal altogether, with its own purposes and strengths. Considering these points, IWCS wanted to make their conference materials available in a wide variety of formats.
IWCS offers content from its annual meeting in print, on a conference content website, on a USB, and through a mobile app. The association also uses an online abstract management system for collection and review.
The conference content website is a cornerstone IWCS’ digital strategy. As a result of taking its conference content online, IWCS accomplished these worthy goals.
Strengthened academic relationships Members of the academic community must “publish or perish,” and a digital publishing platform makes it easier for professionals to gain exposure. Space is much less limited online than it is in a printed book of proceedings. Since IWCS added online conference materials to its content offerings, academic participation has skyrocketed.
Extended the lifecycle of the conferenceOnline content can be accessed by search engines, which increased IWCS’ online visibility. Not only could attendees easily find the content they needed, but others in the industry could find conference materials as well. Prospective members and attendees could access IWCS’ high-quality, well-vetted content, which could give them just the push they need to join the association or register for the conference.
There’s no doubt about it: conferences are changing, and delivery of content is part of that evolution. Few are the annual meetings where you receive a printed programs on arrival and that’s the end of the story.
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 Ernie Smith’s recent Associations Now article, 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.