WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
A Passion for Paperless
BY LIBBY BINGHAM, CAE, AND MEGAN DENHARDT
At ASAE & The Center’s 2005 Annual Meeting & Expo in Nashville, our logistics team
was panic stricken. After working for months
to collect, organize, print and ship all the
education handout materials, we found that
boxes of handouts were missing. While the
mystery was never solved, the lesson was
clear: There must be a better way!
We took a collective deep breath and
started to evaluate our programs and
processes. How can we avoid overprinting
or scrambling to print more onsite? How
can we satisfy the “session hopper” attendee
who wants materials from every session
without attending? Eventually the solution
hit us. What about going paperless?
Immediately, we were told it was a terrible idea. Why pay for a program, travel
across the country and not go home with
a binder of materials? Why are we always
trying to save money at the expense of
our members? Or our favorite, “But we
have always had handouts!”
Still, ASAE & The Center took a risk and
went paperless at our first Association
Technology Conference in January 2006,
with 500 attendees. Actually, we went
paper-free. There was no onsite guide, no
handouts, no paper evaluations. All the
handouts were posted on the conference
Web site and loaded onto a jump drive for
each participant. There was one printing
station onsite. Name badges were on a
lanyard with a laminated schedule at a
glance (with session names and room
numbers only) and a map of the expo hall.
While not a total bust, we quickly learned
that paper-free was too extreme. Participants wanted an onsite guide with all program information listed, and both exhibitors
and content leaders wanted recognition. So
we tried again for a paperless annual meeting in August 2006, with roughly 5,500
attendees. This time we were only paperless
for session handouts, posting them on the
annual meeting Web site. We added 10
onsite printing stations. The onsite guide
included session titles, descriptions,
speaker listings and room numbers, along
with exhibitor information and advertisements. Attendees also received a learning
journal with a schedule at a glance and
blank pages for taking notes.
The annual meeting was a much bigger
success. Our post-conference evaluations
showed that participants were fine with
going paperless for session handouts. We
also received feedback on how to make the
entire process better. ASAE & The Center
now has an organizational commitment to
paperless conferences, symposia and
meetings whenever possible. Here are a
few of the lessons learned along the way:
COMMUNICATE EARLY AND OFTEN
Clearly articulate if you are going paper-free or just paperless. Be clear about what
you are or are not providing and reiterate
that to both participants and speakers.
• Reinforce benefits such as access to all
handouts for the conference.
• State clearly that not all sessions will
have handout materials, as this is at the
discretion of the speakers.
• Tell attendees when handouts will be
available on the Web site and for how
long after the meeting.
• Inform speakers of the paperless
approach from the very beginning of the
• Offer resources, ideas and sug-
gestions for adjusting the presen-
tation so attendees can follow
along without the printed
material in front of them.
• Emphasize the importance
of meeting deadlines and
submitting handouts to be
included on the Web site.
• Monitor the stations to fix
printer jams and load recycled
• Find sponsors to offset the
expense of providing stations.
• Encourage participants to download material they want and bring their
laptops as opposed to printing.
There are two approaches to providing
participants with jump drives:
• Empty Drives — Give attendees an
empty jump drive as a value added feature. This allows them to select just the
materials they want, which they can
download at their leisure.
• Loaded Drives — Pre-load the drives
with conference handouts and other
information and hand them out along
with badges. Keep in mind, though, that
loading the jump drives can take up to
Remember that reducing paper doesn’t
have to mean you are reducing the value
of the program. Going paperless can be a
smart, socially responsible and efficient
path toward creating more interesting and
effective avenues to learning.
Libby Bingham, CAE, is senior manager, and
Megan Denhardt is senior manager of learning, for
ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership.
Bingham may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org;
Denhardt may be reached at mdenhardt@
asaecenter.org. For more information about
ASAE’s paperless meetings, visit ASAE & The
Center’s Knowledge Center at asaecenter.org/