As a keynote speaker, I often look at conferences the same way attendees do—as a fantastic way to buy the love of my family and friends by bringing home gifts. I’ve seen attendees stop by dozens of booths just long enough to grab whatever free thing was within reach and shove it into a sack the size of a small pony.
I’ll admit, when I spoke to a group of 500 salon owners in Minneapolis a few months ago, I did the same thing. My wife was very happy with me, and I learned that sometimes the best gift a man can give a woman is a giant pink bag filled with beauty products. (It was extremely pink, by the way, and I felt extremely manly carrying it.)
But that’s not really why you do giveaways. You don’t want us to give away the things we receive; you want us to like them, to use them and remember you and come back again for more conferences or more products.
Alas, if you give me a T-shirt, I will use it for painting; if you give me a stress ball, I will give it to the first child I can find; and if you give me a pen, I will lose it. I’m guessing you’re hoping for a better ROI than that.
So here are five inexpensive gifts that will make attendees remember you, and your event.
Everyone already has one, but none of us mind having an extra. They’ve gotten pretty cheap, and you can put your logo on them easily enough. Plus, if I ever bother to use one to save something, then it will become important to never lose it—which means I’ll be staring at that logo every time I’m on my computer.
There’s a decent chance your conference keynoter has a book to sell, and buying them in bulk is usually not very expensive. People generally don’t throw books away, and you can easily put a sticker with your logo on the spine or back cover. (This goes for CDs as well, though a CD lacks the satisfying heft of a book.)
If you’re reasonably confident that the keynote speaker will do a good job, handing out his or her book can be a smart way to tie your gift to the theme of the conference.
Discounts to Next Year’s Conference
This “gift” has the added benefit that it doesn’t require you to purchase anything, and it will encourage attendees to keep coming back year after year.
If you combine it with an expiration date (for example, “Sign Up by April 25 to Save 10 Percent, or Wait Until April 26 to Receive No Benefit Whatsoever!”), you can get them signing up sooner than they might otherwise, which should help with planning.
At a conference I attended recently, the welcome bag included a “certificate” for a free caricature. Four caricature artists were at the closing party, and attendees could sit for a five-minute session. Over the course of four hours, probably 150 people got one—most individually, but some in groups of two or three—and in the bottom right corner of each caricature, the
artist put the name and logo of the conference where the drawing was
I asked the organizer how much it cost to hire four caricature artists, and all she told me was, “It was a lot cheaper than buying everyone a backpack.” And more memorable, since I’ve been given so many conference bags that at this point, I can’t even give them away to my wife’s co-workers anymore.
A Really Expensive Vendor Giveaway
“But wait, Jeff—you said these were cheap ideas!” They are cheap, for you. And it’s great advertising for your vendors. Typically, conference organizers give away an iPad at the end of the conference, but everyone who wants one has already bought one, so that doesn’t encourage them to stick around. And typically, vendors give away one expensive prize to people who drop off business cards, but they don’t have to be present to win.
So combine the two: Encourage your vendors to skip the booth giveaway and combine them all into one massive free-for-all at the closing session. I attended one conference of travel agents where the closing prizes included cruises, round-trip airfare to Dubai, three-night hotel stays in Sweden and other mind-boggling giveaways that had the attendees rabid. Nobody left early—literally nobody.
So there you go. The best conference gifts are enjoyable to receive and advantageous to give. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get ready for my next speaking event. It’s for a banking conference in Ohio, and I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll give me a bank. We’ll find out soon!
Jeff Havens is a professional development expert who addresses leadership, generational issues and other areas of professional development through a unique blend of content and entertainment. To learn more about Havens’ keynote presentations and corporate training, visit jeffhavens.com.