3 Myth-Busting Facts to Challenge How you Think About USB Drives


Ah… trusty USB drives. A conference staple for oh-so-many years now. Having used them for so long, you may not think there is anything new to learn when it comes to what they have to offer. And you may be right… unless… what if everything you THOUGHT you knew about them was a myth?!

That’s right–there are some common misconceptions about USB drives and the value they provide. In an effort to set the record straight, here are three areas where common knowledge is not necessarily based in fact.


Myth #1: USBs are nothing more than PDF files on a flash drive

Fact: USB drives can be programmed to function like an offline website

USB drives are more than a convenient way to store files. Putting your conference content on a USB means that your attendees will have access to your valuable materials through a familiar, web-like interface.

And, just as your attendees would expect from a well-designed website, the materials included on USB drives are searchable by keyword. This allows quick access to all the handouts, papers and abstracts from your conference long after your final session.

Myth #2: USB drives do not make for interesting giveaways for conference attendees

Fact: USB drives come in a dizzying array of styles that can add a fun and memorable element to your welcome kit

The standard USB drive is no longer the only game in town. Including a USB drive in a slap bracelet, pen or business card are sure to not only get your drive noticed, but used. Heck, you can even find USB drives on the end of working flashlights now (a giveaway that’s sure to light up your attendees’ faces with a smile)!

Being a member of your association is a point of pride for members. So, branding the case of a USB drive with your logo makes it an instant value-added take-home piece for your attendees. It also serves as a physical reminder of the value they receive from your association and conference.

Myth #3: USBs are good for distributing files but provide little other value

Fact: The web-like interface on a USB creates additional opportunities to reinforce your conference branding and generate revenue through sponsorships

The branding potential of a USB does not stop on the outside of the device. Having a web-like interface means that the same branding opportunities that exist on your conference website extend to the USB interface, as well. A customized USB interface can act as an extension of your conference website and gives you another outlet to showcase the materials you created for the conference.

Similar to your conference website, the interface of a USB drive provides space for advertisements. Take advantage of this unique ability to communicate exclusively to your conference attendees! Leverage cross-promotional opportunities by using this area of the interface to advertise other events or materials that your association offers.

And, just like traditional banner ads, you can use these areas of the interface to serve as revenue generators. Sponsors will be interested in the opportunity to advertise their relevant offerings to a well-defined target audience. Offer specific pricing for ads that are included on the USB drive, or bundle them along with your other conference sponsorship opportunities. This creates an additional incentive for sponsors to support your conference.


Conference attendees have been receiving USB drives for years. What started as a way to allow access to conference materials without having to rely on spotty or expensive Wi-Fi at the conference location has turned into an integral part of the way conference content is delivered. The familiar web-like interface combined with robust search capabilities provides easy access to your valuable materials from anywhere a computer can be used.

The sheer variety of USB styles that are available now means your conference has an affordable way to present conference attendees with a unique reminder of your conference, and the quality materials they receive as a result of attending. And with the opportunity to brand the drive inside and out, a USB drive remains a valuable way for your association to increase your brand recognition and stay top of mind all year long.

The Evolution of Conference Materials

Stop printing conference materials…no, wait. Maybe put them online and just offer stapled handouts. Here’s an idea: Record every breakout session and sell them to members after the meeting – Too risky!

Video didn’t kill radio. It complemented it. The web (and social web) haven’t killed print, but the format in which you provide attendees their educational materials (technical papers, abstracts, session handouts, etc.) has become more complex than ever. Go too far in one direction and you risk irritating older members and weakening your on-site education. Don’t evolve your association to the web and you look like a dinosaur.

Here’s how we’ve seen the educational materials (or learning tools) evolve since the 80s.

Are you keeping up with the Association-Jones’?

1980s | Print, Print, Print!

Conference materials were primarily in the form of a bound printed book or binder. Sometimes these were multi-volume technical papers or just long abstracts. The content was rich, but proceedings materials were bulky and inconsistently formatted.

1990s | Introducing Floppy Disks and CD-ROMs

Much like the 1980s, printed conference materials were still in heavy production with the growing popularity of three-ring conference binders. Except now, technology kicked in with 3.5 inch floppy disks and PDF files. Yes, even the digital versions were clunky, but they were still “digital.” They offered search capabilities across content, cost savings (especially for high page count, high quantity materials) and less bulk for attendees.

Scanning and OCRing technical papers were the primary ways to turn paper into digital. Using high-speed scanners and conversion software, search-ability was 95%. As we approached 2000, MS Office documents were becoming a major means of supplying content, and converting from Word to PDF was very common.

In the mid-1990s, conference CD-ROMs were introduced. Amen! With both print and digital delivery solutions, conference organizers were unsure of which to provide attendees, so for many years, attendees frequently received both. These digital offerings had a simple menu and a few options to navigate to technical papers. In addition, the powerful Adobe search provided users a fast way to find content.

2000s | Growing Online Popularity

In the late 1990s into 2005, conference CDs were the hot commodity. Some groups started putting all their technical papers and speaker presentations on CD-ROM, and only printed a program book for conferences. Some associations took to the CD for creating multi-year archives of conference materials dating back 5 to even 20 years.

Putting conference handouts online was a passion for meeting industry professionals, but the reality was resistant attendees and a lack of bandwidth and Wi-Fi connectivity at events.

In 2003, PowerPoint presentations began to erode the integrity of the written paper. Regarding educational meeting content, bullets and slides versus written-out paragraphs weakened the integrity of the conference giveaway. A slideshow without the talk wasn’t as valuable. The good news was authors were supplying digital files, and content had more color, depth and smaller file sizes, (sometimes) making it good for the faster web.

By 2006, large bound content was printed far less, and customized seminar and course content continued to be printed.

Around 2007, flash drives entered the market, competing against CD-ROMs. Even though they were more expensive, flash drives were “new and cool” and reusable to attendees, which added value and increased sponsorship opportunities. Regardless, everyone wanted to “go green,” and attendees began to see paperless conference themes with recycled paper and conference content on CD-ROMs and flash drives, with only a printed program or conference learning journal for note-taking.

2010-Present | Conference Handouts in Print, Digital and Online

Today, we’re still seeing a mix of content delivery, from print to digital to online. Associations have more of a grasp on a content strategy. The buzz of a green paperless meeting is turning into offering what makes the right sense at the right cost. Often, attendees will be offered content delivery choices upon registration. Some associations are leveraging social media websites like Twitter and LinkedIn or Online Event Communities for attendees to engage with each other and associations’ educational content.

More associations are now looking at different delivery methods in order to give conference attendees and members access to educational content anywhere, anytime and anyhow.

Online Conference Libraries, aka online archives of conference handouts and proceedings, are on the rise. Associations are quickly figuring out that putting their content in these centralized hubs allows their association to be discovered by search engines like Google in the abyss of the world wide web. The sites’ easy search tools allow users to find the exact conference materials they’re looking for, whether the annual conference was five years ago or two days ago. What’s more is associations can often charge for access to content or limit access to conference attendees or members.

But conference attendees don’t just want online access to conference handouts and proceedings. They want access on their iPads, Kindles and smartphones, as well. Trying to read PDF files is great on a desktop computer, but it doesn’t work so well on smaller reading devices like your iPhone. As a result, conference materials are starting to be produced in mobile-friendly eBook format. Converting conference content into ePub or Mobi doesn’t just make it easier for attendees to read your conference program—it allows them to change the font size, highlight and personalize it for their own unique reading experience.

Life just isn’t so simple anymore when the number of content delivery alternatives continues to increase.

This may not be your exact timeline, but it’s an aggregate. Where does your organization fit in? What’s going to be next?

Is Your Association Attracting Generation Y Membership?

In the words of Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin’.”

I’m not sure if Bob Dylan was intending for his 1964 hit to reference associations, but it’s fitting, isn’t it?

Recently, Steve Manicor and Tracy Gundert sat amongst other association professionals at the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) meeting where a hot topic was the changing demographic in associations. Networking and educational content were big talking points, and here I’ve mixed in my Generation Y perspective.

Associations are Facing a Shift in Demographics

If we look at associations today, it’s becoming clearer that the median age of members is continuing to rise. In order for associations to continue to grow, it’s important to start looking at ways to attract the next generation.

The problem with attracting Generation Y is that we are of a different breed. As a “Gen Y-er,” I can attest I need more than a face-to-face annual meeting with keynote speakers and a printed manual to join your association.

As you know, networking and educational content remain critical to attracting new members, but technology and the generation gap have complicated things.

Networking Isn’t Just Face-to-Face Anymore

Are you providing your members with a place to network year-round? Are you leveraging your association on Twitter and other social media sites?

Networking remains an important factor in gaining new members, but the way we network has evolved greatly. Networking isn’t just face-to-face anymore, and Generation Y loves to “Facebook stalk.” Before we meet new people face-to-face, we like to check them out on social media and learn about their interests. Whether it’s through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or a conference website, it’s important for associations to provide a place for their members to engage, network and, of course, “Facebook stalk.”

Face-to-Face Meetings Have Evolved, Too

Are your annual meetings educational and fun?

If you’re still holding your annual meeting in outdated session rooms of older convention halls with the buzzing fluorescent lights, metal chairs and one-way speaker communication, you’re risking your members being uncomfortable, bored and not engaged. The associations attracting Generation Y members are leveraging breakout sessions, themed events, social gaming and different presentation formats such as pecha kucha, fish bowls and so forth. It’s about the attendee experience.

How Findable is Your Educational Content?

How are you leveraging your association content to attract new members? How are you making sure they are finding your content on the internet? How are you making your content more usable and shareable?

Access is critical! A printed conference program is no longer sufficient. To keep Generation X and Y happy, you now need a printed program, a conference flash drive chock full of speaker presentations, session handouts available online before, during and after the meeting (don’t forget about Wi-Fi and mobile-friendly access!) AND an eBook. (Ok, so you may not need ALL of these, but member expectations are rising in regards to what they are getting for their money.)

Consulting your crystal ball won’t help. Understanding how members and attendees want to receive your association’s educational content is not a guessing game. The key is to ask members what they want, provide options and be multifaceted.

Generation Y Learned Differently

We aren’t trying to be a pain in your association – This is how Generation Y learned!

In college, we learned through two-way discussion sessions and watched streaming presentations. We bought printed course books and study guides, but we also were required to read scholarly journals online (that we didn’t have to search for far and wide on the internet).

We network online. We spend more time on social media websites networking than we’d like to admit. We use Facebook and LinkedIn to build relationships and share information just to stay connected. If we know we’re going to meet someone new, we like to connect with them ahead of time online.

And guess what – My Generation X boss feels the same way.

So while you listen to some Bob Dylan, talk to us on Twitter!
How is your association attracting new Generation Y membership? #omnipress

Three Conference Materials You Don’t Want to Ditch

During these times where laptops have replaced our desktop computers and iPhones make iPods useless items we once obsessed over, I think we’d all agree that keeping up with technology can be an exhausting, never-ending chase. Maybe this is a good time to stop chasing our shiny, new technologies, and think about what we shouldn’t be so quick to toss in the trash.

In the conference realm, more and more planners are posting their conference materials online creating a place where content is more accessible and findable for attendees. This is fantastic, but before jumping on the bandwagon, don’t forget about these useful conference materials that you may want to keep around. (AND when you’re through, make sure and check out these nine considerations to make before posting your conference materials online.)

Three conference materials you don’t want to ditch:

  1. Learning Journals/Conference Notebooks: Attendees appreciate having one place where they can take their personal and session notes, and find out where their next session is located. In a perfectly green world, we would all have paperless conferences, but let’s be serious, attendees still love these learning journals. Plus, there are definitely ways to spice up the ol’ conference notebook. Check out how ACVS combined their conference final program with a conference notebook (AND increased their ad sales doing it). With a conference notebook those problems involving internet access and battery life are out the window.
  2. Flash Drives: While flash drives are not used much anymore in everyday life, they work very well for conferences and meetings. With CD-ROM drives disappearing from laptops and $50 per user Wi-Fi at convention centers, flash drives are a great way to deliver content and have a little more control over access. By making all your content available on a conference website (even when password protected), people are still able to share passwords with each other. Sure, information on a flash drive can still be copied, but it’s definitely a lot more work than sharing a nine character password.
  3. CD-ROMS: Yes, I prefer to listen to my music via my iPhone versus a CD, but when it comes to conferences, CD-ROMS can be a great way to share a lot of information at a very low cost. Once again, worries regarding the internet and battery life are non-existent.

Ask yourself: What’s the most important part of your conference? Did you say the “The Attendees”? Regardless of your concerns to go green, be online, or cut costs… It’s all about creating the best experience for your attendees. Listen to them, give them what they want. If they want to take notes by hand, give them a learning journal. If they want to be able to access information without having to go on the internet, give it to them.

Your best option as a meeting planner is to give them options. By giving attendees their conference materials in multiple formats, they can choose what works best for them.

What’s your conference material “cocktail”?

The Lighter Weight, Greener Approach to Conference Binders

Feeling the pressure to go green? So was one of our clients when they were looking for a way to convert their three-inch conference binder into more green conference materials. Not only did they end up with “greener” conference materials, but they also impressed their attendees with their new light-weight, versatile materials in multiple formats.

More Bang for their Buck

For the same price, this client was able to convert their three-inch conference binder into three different conference materials:

  1. Conference Notebook. With a conference notebook (or as some call it, a learning journal), they were able to include important information such as the schedule and sponsorship information, as well as evaluations that could be torn out. It also included extra pages for note taking during the meetings, making it less likely that attendees would throw away their notebooks after the conference ended.
  2. USB Drive. All of the content that was once in the heavy binder was now all conveniently placed on a USB drive, including speaker bios, handouts, presentations and sponsor and exhibitor information. The USB also included a note-taking option for attendees who preferred to take notes using their laptops. The USBs were secured to the front cover of the conference notebook.
  3. Hosting Conference Materials Online. By placing content online, attendees had opportunity to view the conference materials online one week prior to the conference and find updated materials after the meeting, allowing them to print their own handouts if they choose. This site was also mobile-friendly, giving attendees quick, convenient, on-site access.

Attendee and Association Reactions

Attendees were very happy with the new products! They loved how there was a place for the flash drive in the notebook so they didn’t have to worry about losing it. This also made the conference materials easier to hand out for the event staff. Additionally, attendees commented on the convenience of having to carry less than a pound of conference material versus the seven-pound binder. Overall, attendees felt like they were receiving more conference materials even though the cost of the new conference materials was the same.

Which methods are your associations using to go green?

Want to Automatically Launch your Conference Flash Drive Content? Too Bad.

There’s a few common ways our clients deliver their digital content to their members, attendees and customers:

  1. Online
  2. CD/DVDs
  3. Flash Drives

They all have pros and cons, such as cost, whether you’re looking to provide up-to-the minute information, whether the delivery method is appropriate to your audience and their platforms, and if you’d like to provide your attendees with a tangible and useful take away from your event.

Flash drives are a great choice because:

  • Flash drives can be branded.
  • You have many options for storage size.
  • You can deliver many types of digital content.
  • Flash drives serve as another storage solution for your users. Whether they use the extra space, or delete your content altogether, it’s a valuable giveaway with your brand on it

However, there’s one feature that our clients commonly ask for on flash drives, and that’s autorun. They ask, “Why doesn’t my content automatically launch when I plug in my flash drive? My CDs do that!”

Well, the reason is because that behavior has been and is still a great way for someone to place a virus on your machine. Envision this scenario: You insert a flash drive, it automatically installs a virus, and then you get to explain yourself to your IT department.

Because of this potential, the major players completely disabled the ability to do this with flash drives (although I’m not sure why Microsoft still allows you to do it with a CD, but at least you can manually turn it off).

So maybe I should add another item to our reasons that flash drives are a great choice:

  • Flash drives won’t instantly install viruses on your machine using autorun.
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