Conference bound? Here’s what you can skip

The blogosphere is full of productivity tips. Some are ridiculous, and some are good. One of the best ideas I've come across? Do not take conference swag. Ever.

Stick with me here. I realize that perusing the exhibitors' halls at conferences is like the adult version of an Easter egg hunt. And we all loved those.

But I think this tip has a simple brilliance to it. Here's why you should skip the swag, if you want to get more out of a conference:

1. You are at the conference to network. Now that I have kids, it's always a hassle to get away to a conference, especially if there's an overnight component. The reason I go is to meet people that I wish to work with in the future. I'm guessing that this is your motivation, too. So figure out who you need to meet. List these people. Then spend the time between sessions trying to talk with them, rather than perusing the exhibitors' hall. If you want to fill your Easter basket with something, fill it with business cards, not free pens.

2. "Free" is not a good excuse. Whole books have been written about why our brains get excited by free things. We are not rational creatures. But here's the deal -- when we want an object in our lives, generally we seek it out, and then are willing to pay money (or something else of value) for it. If you don't do that, odds are good that you didn't really want it. And so the object will just clutter up your life. Even if it's useful. I have 15 conference tote bags in my closet right now. They were all useful, which is why I took them. But 15? Now getting rid of them is just a time suck as I'm having to clean out my closets for a renovation. I would have been better off buying one canvas tote I loved and skipping the free ones.

3. The good swag doesn't travel alone. Let's face it -- because you want that free water bottle, you'll take the booklet of information the exhibitor gives you. It seems rude not to, right? But unless you are merciless about dumping your paper in your hotel room, those brochures will sit in your free canvas tote bag for the next two years. Then they will require time, two years from now, to go through again. If someone is giving out info at a booth, it’s because they want people to know it. Which means it’s on their website. A better approach: skip the swag, skip the paper, save the trees!

4. Swag weighs you down. You want to be able to flit between sessions if necessary, grab a drink, shake a hand, or take notes without it being a production. Nothing undermines an initial meeting more than you having to shove a bag of swag, plus a stack of paper, and your purse, into a corner before you can say a proper hello. Yes, of course, you can go drop the swag in your hotel room. But remember, you're better off using the time between speeches or sessions to network, not run back and forth to the elevators.

Have you ever wound up using any conference swag in your normal life?

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5 Responses to Conference bound? Here’s what you can skip


  1. Thanks for this post Laura! I’m on my way to BlogHer and it’s very timely advice. No swag for me.

  2. Cara Marcano says:

    CAn you post your column or the link about running while pregnant? also can you post your recommendations for the support shorts/ prego version of support bra… how much did you run while pregnant? I am 13 weeks and can still run about 3 miles but loosing motivation. I gained 55 lbs with my first pregnancy and can barely look at a vegetable this pregnancy so hoping light running might be possible through 2nd trimester?

  3. So true! I’ve mostly benefited from other people’s conference swag–like when they literally dump it all out on the table in a bar to get rid of it. Or when my friend the oncology nurse passes on those awesome–now discontinued–drug company pens. Best secondhand swag so far: flash drive.

  4. Beth Watson says:

    I have an interesting take on swag, a term I am reading about for the first time here. As a giver of swag through my day job, I sometimes catch myself feeling resentful of the people who stop by my booth only to pick up the free luggage tag or pen. What do they do with all that crap?

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