Going Paperless with Your Conference
Going Paperless with Your Conference
By Carole Garner, Director, Conference Management
If you are a planner and have not had the opportunity to either implement or experience a conference app, we highly encourage the shift to this great technology. And, we dare you to…gulp…go cold turkey! In the U.S., that means throw your paper-based conference proceedings (program) out the window and take all the content contained in that program…online. The sooner you make the commitment to going paperless with your conference, the sooner you will reap the savings, give yourself another 2-5 weeks of production time before finalizing your program content, and elevate the image of your conference as cutting edge.
Several excellent conference app resources have surfaced in the past couple of years, along with affordable (sometimes free!) apps that may also serve your purposes. The conference app can be a one-stop option for conference communications both on-site and in engaging attendees before they arrive at the event venue. Your organization may also be interested in reduced waste and carbon saved if shipping of printed material was avoided. Here are some things to keep in mind when going paperless:
Engage with your internal stakeholders to gain buy-in when shifting entirely from a paper program to the app. Before you approach the decision makers in your organization, come armed with data that supports the shift including cost savings. Show how you plan to broaden your engagement with potential and existing attendees, and present new sponsor benefits and/or new sponsorship opportunities. Acknowledge that there are tradeoffs and consider a pro/con list to accompany your case. If your organization values sustainability, estimate the carbon savings from not printing a program.
Start early and communicate often in prepping your attendees for the new paradigm. No one likes surprises and shifting to a conference app does not need to be a surprise. Create a comprehensive communications plan to first notify and inform your audience of the new (and exciting) technology supporting the conference and then encourage interaction with the app pre-conference, typically at least four weeks in advance of the conference.
Make sure infrastructure at the conference venue is sufficient to support your attendees’ internet needs. Once everyone gets to the conference, they will need sufficient access to the internet to use the app. Although many smart phone users also have a data plan they can leverage to download or update their app, if you are providing a tool that requires internet access, it’s best to include that access along with it. Work with the facility’s internet provider to understand the bandwidth capacity, availability of wireless access points in the meeting space, and any other factors that could compromise internet speed and/or access.
Have a backup plan. Cold turkey can be a relative thing. We have seen several conferences successfully go paperless for their program when they have included a one-page agenda-at-a-glance for those who may not own or are not savvy using a smart phone or tablet device. Providing agenda signage is also helpful to attendees.
Involve sponsors, volunteers, or staff as App Ambassadors. Having people stationed at critical locations and times, armed with an iPad and a smile can go a long way towards making your app welcoming. These ambassadors are especially useful the first day of a conference and should be easy to pick out of a crowd (think sponsors wearing company logos or colors or volunteers with conference branded shirts). Make sure your team is well trained and prepared to answer general questions about the app as well as the conference in general.
Track your results for both types of green, dollars and trees! Close the loop with those stakeholders that you had to convince at the beginning. Emphasize how much time and money was saved or if information was distributed more accurately by going paperless, and include any waste and carbon avoided because they used the app. Don’t stop at your internal stakeholders. Let your attendees know about the impact they have had by participating in the new initiative and let them know you’ll be doing it again next year!