Use Your Conference Program Book to Increase Learning, Engagement and Revenue

conference program book ideas

The conference program book is typically used as a resource for attendees to navigate an in-person conference. But it can do so much more. With a little creativity, you can turn a simple program or proceedings booklet into a tool that enhances the event experience.

More Than an Agenda: The Changing Role of the Conference Program Book

The program book has traditionally served as purely informational tool. Attendees us it to browse the schedule, note sessions of interest, learn about speakers and sponsors, and find important event details. If your booklet serves as a conference proceedings containing all presented abstracts or papers, then attendees also use it as an ongoing reference piece. In either case, it’s a tool that can provide a lot more value to both attendees and sponsors.

During our time at conferences, we’re seeing organizations get creative in how they use their printed program book to enhance learning, create peer engagement, and deliver more ROI for their sponsors. Here are just a few examples.

1. Turn a static program book into a dynamic workbook

Historically, conferences were designed to deliver passive learning. Attendees would receive information from a speaker or panel and internalize it, with minimal discussion, action, or reflection. But this type of learning can lead to information overload. It also decreases information retention. Recognizing this, many organizations today design their conferences to facilitate more active learning. They create session formats and select speakers that can integrate activities, projects, and discussions into their presentations. And they use their program book to support these activities.

“It used to be fairly common to see customers include pages for notetaking at the back of the book,” notes Omnipress Director of Market Development, Dan Loomis. “But we’re seeing a lot more creativity in how the layout of the book prompts thinking and reflection throughout the entire conference.”

Here are a few of our favorite examples:

Select speakers include a reflection question or short multiple-choice quiz as part of their session description page. Attendees complete this activity while they’re waiting for the discussion to start, and it becomes a point of discussion during the session.

Worksheets and handouts
Include worksheets, reference materials, and other resources from speakers directly in the program book, instead of as separate handouts.

Prompt questions
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…” Schedule time during your conference sessions for attendees to discuss and compete these questions together. This is activity also helps simplify your book design and layout. If you’re left with space to fill on certain pages, it’s the perfect place to throw in a question!

Doodle spaces
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.

You can even get your sponsors involved. One particular conference had a partner sponsor the doodle space. At the end of the conference, attendees could snap a photo of their doodle and send it to the sponsor through a QR code in the book. The sponsor chose their favorites to win a small prize, and featured the winners on their social media channels.

2. Treat it like a yearbook

For industry veterans, the annual conference is a way to re-connect with peers they don’t see often. And for newcomers, it’s a chance to establish a new network of contacts. At the Industrial Laser Safety Conference, attendees use the proceedings book as a fun way to facilitate these connections.

“Our attendees started this on their own with the standards book,” cites Jana Langhans, Marketing Manager for the Laser Institute.  “They would have people on the standards committee sign the standard. It didn’t take long for it to to segue the proceedings book.” Attendees seek out authors to sign their abstracts, have fellow attendees provide contact information, and write notes of encouragement to each other. “It’s become a fun activity that our members look forward to each year.”

This yearbook-inspired activity helps encourage networking and increases the value of sponsor advertising, as participants are more likely to reference the book after the conference ends.

3. Blend print and digital learning and sponsor content

QR codes are an easy and cost-effective way to turn a static page into an interactive experience. In your conference program book, you can extend learning beyond the conference, increase engagement with your organization, and provide more value to sponsors. Using a QR code, you can connect attendees with other information and resources, including:

  • Videos, related articles, and other session materials provided by your speakers
  • Other educational programs offered by your organization on adjacent topics
  • Sponsor video, website, or promotional materials

Or, another option is to provide a digital flipbook as a companion to the printed program book. Digital flipbooks provide the tactical “page-flipping” experience, but also include dynamic content like embedded audio, video, and trackable hyperlinks.

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.