From delight to disappointment, conference gift bags can inspire a range of emotions depending on the type of swag and goodies included.
As an event planner, you want to surprise your attendees (in a good way!) with conference swag bags full of clever, thoughtful, and practical gifts. Easier said than done, right?
So, what should you include in your gift bags to wow your attendees? Although the answer varies based on the type of conference you’re hosting, who your audience is, and who your sponsors are, there are some general rules of thumb to follow.
In this article, we’ll provide tips on best practices (including dos and don’ts for conference swag!) and offer 37 specific conference gift bag ideas to inspire you when planning your next event!
What Is a Swag Bag Exactly?
Swag bags (AKA goodie bags or gift bags) contain gifts for your conference attendees and offer them something to remember the event by.
“Swag” might include sponsored items or branded merch and can range from snacks and apparel to gift cards, stationery, and more! In a conference environment, swag bags are a great way to welcome your attendees, develop brand recognition, and promote your sponsors.
As the name suggests, conference swag often comes in bags—paper, plastic, canvas, or tote. However, you have the flexibility to customize your swag bag to reflect the values of your organization.
For example, if your brand prioritizes sustainability, an eco-friendly swag bag made from recycled material is a perfect place to uphold that mission. Or you could go digital with fully virtual packages full of gift cards, downloadable items, or subscriptions!
How to Come Up with Creative Conference Gift Bag Ideas
The value and contents of what should be included in your conference goodie bags can vary widely between events. At the Oscars, the gift bags are worth up to $148,000–but you don’t necessarily need a big budget to make a big impact.
Not sure what to put in your conference welcome bag? Here are a few clever and creative ways to generate fresh conference gift bag ideas your attendees will love:
Survey your attendees—before and after your event!
The most reliable source for what’s valuable to your attendees? Your attendees themselves!
Take advantage of event management software to reach out to registered guests ahead of time, ask about their interests and priorities, and then tailor your event gift bag based on their answers.
For example, you could ask attendees specific questions, like:
- Do you prefer coffee, tea, or energy drinks?
- Are you more likely to network at a cafe, bar, or restaurant?
- What’s the one thing you’re most likely to forget to pack when you travel to a conference?
You can also run post-event surveys to get feedback from your guests. A retrospective survey can provide helpful hints on how to improve your event for next time–including any in-demand conference goodie bag ideas you may have missed! As a bonus, a post-event survey can help you understand your event ROI.
Attend competing conferences
Another great way to learn about conference gift bags is to see what’s being offered at other events within your industry. A litmus test for the success of a goodie bag is how likely you are to use what’s inside—and which items you’re more likely to leave untouched!
Check out unrelated events
Stuck on brainstorming? Find creative ideas for conference swag by attending conferences outside of your field. Seeing what other types of organizations offer may give you ideas you’d never have thought of otherwise.
Explore independent suppliers
Before you can hand out swag, you’ll have to source it—and chances are, your suppliers would be happy to suggest additional ideas for your conference gift bag! They might even have insights into what’s popular or which offerings go best together.
Independent suppliers could be especially creative sources of ideas, so consider reaching out and asking suppliers for advice. You never know—they might have something in mind from prior experience that would make your tote bag extra special.
Visit local art markets
Art markets bring together creatives and makers of all types. Browse local artist’s stalls and chat with them about their process. You might walk away with a fresh perspective, new ideas, and some unique local wares to include in your conference gift bags–whether that’s enamel pins, original posters, or hand-made ceramics or clothing.
Festivals share many features with conferences–including swag bags! Check out the swag offered at different types of festivals—music, outdoors, or athletics—for ideas on what to offer groups of people brought together by common interests.
Follow Instagram hashtags like #swagbag
Social media of all kinds can help inspire creative #swag ideas, but hashtags are especially useful. Why? Because when someone goes to the effort of tagging their swag, it means they’re excited enough about their haul to brag about it to the world!
Recommended Resource: Planning your next conference? Prioritize your attendee experience by using our Experience Design Guide to meet all your event goals! 🎯
What Should Not Go in Your Conference Swag Bag?
After some brainstorming, you might find yourself overrun by ideas for what to include in your conference tote bags. So, before finalizing any of your conference swag ideas, go beyond the benefits of each item to consider why certain types of swag might not make a desirable gift for attendees.
Here are some examples of items that might not be a good fit for your swag bag (and why it matters):
Avoid anything that can melt
Snacks are a great way to build goodwill with conference attendees in a hurry, but any food that depends on weather conditions to stay intact is best avoided!
Don’t include “gifts” your attendees have to pay to use
While gift cards to cafés or restaurants may be welcome networking aids, asking attendees to spend to take advantage of your swag makes it plain old advertising—no longer a gift!
Skip low-quality items
Go for quality over quantity! Anything that breaks in a day or is noticeably low quality won’t do much to make attendees feel appreciated or expand brand awareness.
Leave out anything difficult to pack
Keep airport security in mind: What might people have to remove from carry-ons before boarding their flight? What else isn’t a good idea to pack in a suitcase?
Avoid overly branded gifts
Branding is important, but if the logo is the most important thing about the item, odds are it’s not very useful! We’ve assembled some tips on creating branded merch below.
Tips for Nailing Branded Merch
Branded merch is an excellent way to build brand recognition. That said, we encourage you to give gifts your attendees will appreciate regardless of branding.
Providing items attendees will actually use in their daily lives—and that inspires others to ask, “Hey, where’d you get that?”—is the trick to successful swag branding.
So, unless your branding is central to your organization’s mission—if your aesthetic is especially gorgeous, for example; or you’ve developed a strong relationship with the community and want to showcase your involvement—limit your branding footprint by:
Minimizing focus on your logo
Keep your logo to a reasonable size. Think of your favorite athletic jacket. Most likely, the logo is a smaller detail in a corner–rather than an obvious, dominating presence.
Placing the logo to the side of an item, for example, maintains your branding without making it the central focus.
Choosing consistent branding colors
Brands are more than just logos! A coherent color scheme is another effective way to convey your branding without emphasizing your logo.
Using high-quality materials
Remember, these objects are representing your organization. You want people to associate your name with quality!
37 Conference Gift Bag Ideas for Your Attendees
Now that you know what not to put in your bags, let’s talk about what does belong in your goodie bags!
Remember to customize everything that goes into your swag bag to your conference experience–and don’t hesitate to get creative! If possible, consider working with your sponsors to elevate your conference gift bags.
Here are 37 specific gift bag ideas for conferences to consider for your next event:
Stationery & office supplies
These practical staples are always a welcome addition to any gift bag:
- High-quality pens. Everybody needs a pen, but perhaps never more urgently than at a conference. Ensure the pen is high quality so attendees can rely on its performance throughout the event.
- Highlighters. Help bring your attendees’ note-taking to the next level.
- Notebooks or notepads. These are also perfect for conference environments. Go easy on the customization to ensure the notebook can later be used for other purposes!
Tech gizmos & gadgets
You don’t need to break the budget to include a few cool tech accessories, such as:
- Flash drives or portable hard drives. Digital storage is always useful! For an added bonus, offer protection or portability for the device—for example, a cloth bag for hard drives or a keychain for flash drives.
- Chargers and power banks. Including cords, wireless charging ports, and everything in between in your conference bag has huge potential to save conference-goers a lot of frustration.
- Smartphone printer. Portable and quality are keywords here!
- Headphones or earbuds. A spare pair of earbuds stashed in someone’s backpack could save their workflow—and their sanity.
- Pen light. You never know when a flashlight keychain might come in handy.
Consider these eye-catching gift ideas to add personality (and a flash of color) to your swag bags:
- Stickers or decals. Contact local artists to design these for an added boost to their desirability. Stickers are especially great options for cheap conference bags.
- Posters or prints by local artists. Conference gifts for attendees benefit from a personal touch. Try commissioning an illustration of a local landmark to offer aesthetic memorabilia of attendees’ trip to the conference!
- Enamel pins. Pins make a fun keepsake for attendees. Consider a slogan or fun saying that’s relevant to your conference or field.
Food and drink
Include consumable goods paired with practical swag (like a bag of locally-roasted coffee beans and a mug to enjoy them in!):
- Custom mugs or teacups. These can be branded for the conference, your field, or just fun collectibles. Travel mugs are always useful. You could also contact a local ceramics artist for a truly unique and unforgettable offering.
- Coffee from local roasters. Offer decaf or hot chocolate options for non-coffee drinkers. Encourage attendees to trade amongst themselves!
- Loose leaf tea + infuser. Your attendees will appreciate this for comfort and unwinding after the conference.
- Customized trail mix. Conference snacks are a quick and easy way to build goodwill with attendees. Bear allergies in mind by offering various snack options!
- Bottle openers. Handy for those after-conference mixers—attach a keychain for bonus points.
- Water bottles. Whether recyclable or reusable, any attendee will be thankful for the hydration help.
These are practical swag bag ideas that guests will actually use–either on the road, once they get home, or both!
- Mini first-aid kit. This can be as simple as a pack of band-aids or a more elaborate kit for the outdoorsy explorer.
- Lip balm, hand cream, or sunscreen. Protect attendees from the elements! This may be especially useful if the weather is harsh during the season you’re hosting the conference.
- Toothbrush. For extra utility, make it a miniature size for travel.
- Sleep mask or earplugs. Hotel sleeping is never easy. Help make it easier by blocking out light and sound!
- Incense. Spice things up with a memorable scent. This is another great opportunity to contact local crafters for added value.
- Handheld massager. Although it’s a bit pricier than other gifts, a handheld massager will help attendees relax after a long day at your conference.
- Fidget toys. These are great items that can help signal your event’s willingness to accommodate attendees’ diverse needs.
- Throw blanket. Cozy and practical—especially for those with a long journey home ahead of them!
- Cooler bags. Your attendees will remember you every time they pack a homemade lunch or head to the beach.
- Bookmarks. Especially great for academic conferences or other events geared toward avid readers. These cheap swag options are easy to customize–so you can create variations for attendees to swap and compare!
Seasonal clothing and apparel
Keep your attendees comfortable with season-appropriate gear and apparel, such as:
- T-shirts, hoodies, or sweatpants. These staple garments can—and will—be worn again and again. Throw a fun, industry-relevant slogan on to add some personality!
- Warm or athletic socks. Encourage attendees to explore the area by giving them the aid of comfortable footwear.
- Sunglasses. Many attendees may have forgotten to pack these!
- Slippers. For padding around the hotel after sessions.
- Scarves, toques, or baseball caps. Be sure to customize the headgear depending on the season your conference is held in
- Flip flops. Both casual and useful! Consider finding a way to match sizing to your attendees.
- Umbrellas. Another great idea for protection against the elements in your event’s host city. Use a compact design for easy travel!
Evergreen swag for any bag
These gift ideas never go out of style—and give you an opportunity to show your attendees what you care about:
- Gift cards. As evergreen conference swag bag ideas, café and restaurant gift cards encourage networking between conference-goers and support local businesses. For added goodwill, opt for gift cards from Black-, Indigenous-, LGBTQ-, or women-owned brands or businesses.
- Map of the city or a tourist guide. In-person events mean an opportunity for attendees to explore. Recommending places to eat or grab coffee can be especially useful for networking sessions! You could even get creative and include walking tours, or guides to local flora and fauna.
- Swag for charitable causes. Some businesses sell swag specifically to raise money for a particular cause. Let your recipients know what cause their gift bag supports!
What Will You Include in Your Next Conference Swag Bag?
We hope you’re feeling inspired to put together an awesome swag bag for your next conference! When in doubt, remember to pick items that reflect your audience’s interests, serve a practical need, or tie into your org’s mission or industry.
In our experience, the best conference swag bags often contain something unexpected or fun that attendees will remember and want to use—so don’t be afraid to think outside the box (or bag!).
If you go the route of branded swag, stick to practical gifts to ensure your conference attendees have something to remember your event by that they’ll be happy to use when they get home.
Prioritize quality and utility when considering what to put in a conference welcome bag, so your attendees will look back fondly on your event every time they use your swag!
Recommended Resource: 📺 Are you looking for cost-effective, easier ways to build and manage your events? Watch 8 short videos to learn how to deliver events in any format that engage attendees and offer sponsors more value—no matter your team size or budget!