How Print Can Help Anchor Your Next Virtual Event

When done right, print materials can help associations connect with their digital audiences and engage them on a deeper level.

Virtual event planners are aware of digital fatigue: 74 percent of professionals say they spend a majority of their workdays looking at a screen. But when an event is virtual, there’s no way for planners to avoid putting attendees through a certain amount of screen time.

Incorporating print could be an effective way to re-engage your virtual audience and free them from the clutches of Zoom fatigue. Studies show that people are more likely to understand information when read on paper, that they find that their minds wander [PDF] during meetings without paper, and that they find printed media more relaxing.

Here’s a look at how print can help attendees focus on, remember, and enjoy the virtual events that planners are doing their best to execute.

Print in Action

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several associations have used print materials in virtual events. The Computer Science Teachers Association distributed a virtual event swag box as a way to engage members and humanize the event. Meanwhile, the Parkinson Association of Northern California provided a printed program, a book from its keynote speaker, and a custom wristband for its annual virtual conference.

For Amanda Caldwell, conference meetings manager at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, using print materials was a way to bring virtual event attendees closer to the organization. A few days before its 2020 AEJMC Conference in August, the association sent a box with a printed program of the event, a water bottle, a nametag, a pen, and a few handouts for sponsorship opportunities.

“In this virtual environment that we now live in, you lose that emotional connection to your attendees. We felt that sending this box a day or two before the conference gave them that tangible thing to hold in their hand,” Caldwell said.

She said the printed programs were particularly valuable, as they made it easier for participants—especially less tech-savvy ones—to navigate the dayslong event.

“We have 15 concurrent sessions every 90 minutes for four days. So we’re talking 350-ish sessions. When you have a printed program, you can lay out your day a little easier,” she said. “You can flip through your book and see what else is going on and not have to have multiple monitors.”

There was also an element of nostalgia and tradition, as attendees have received print items from AEJMC during in-person events in years past.

“I had a lady call me and say, ‘I didn’t get my book yet! I’ve gone to 30 conferences, and I need my book!’ Because she’s saved them all,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell plans to use print materials in future AEJMC conferences, and she recommends that associations considering the same offer print materials that are vital resources, like a program, that enhance an attendee’s event experience.

In terms of producing these materials, AEJMC had the benefit of an in-house designer, which meant it only had to outsource the printing process. But, don’t worry, there are several options out there for associations that want to put together swag boxes or other professional-grade print materials.

(johnnyscriv/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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