Event Management

30 Ideas for Conference Bags People Won’t Throw Away

This is a sponsored post from Arrow Promotional. More information about Event Manager Blog’s sponsored posts.

Conference bags must breed in the dark: everyone seems to have at least a dozen stuffed in the back of their closet. A conference event swag bag should be more than a hole with handles. Conference gifts and corporate goodie bags account for more than $20 billion worth of business worldwide.

A functional, stylish conference bag can make a strong first impression. After all, who doesn’t want cool stuff? But an ugly bag filled with lame, useless swag bag items will end up in the nearest rubbish can when no one’s looking.

Here are some swag bag ideas on how to pick a smart conference bag and fill it with things attendees will find effective, desirable and memorable.

Take It or Toss It?

A few years ago, I asked a venue hotel to show me the trash from 20 attendee rooms after the event. It was both revealing and depressing. The trash cans were filled with conference bags, workshop materials, promotional items and the client’s $100-a-piece product demos.

What I learned was there’s a giant difference between picking up something on an impulse and making the decision to take it home and use it.

Here are some ideas to help you decide what’s worth your time and money.


The key question every attendee asks is, “Do I need or want this?” So you have to help them to see themselves using it. Here are the top things people will keep and take home.

  • Attendee-specific information
  • Electronics
  • Attractive clothing
  • Anything for children

This brings us to the reject pile. There are some items that are just destined for the garbage can. You may notice this list includes some of the obvious and traditional event items. Attendees see them every time. Just how many water bottles, coffee mugs, ball caps and pens does anyone need?

Here are the top items people will toss before they go home:

  • Printed collateral
  • Anything that won’t pass airport security
  • Super-branded items
  • Cheap, low-quality items

The airport security issue is important. At a recent event, a sponsor was giving away souvenir bottles of hot sauce. They were fantastic – custom labeled, funny copy and made by a small company that was used as a business example in one of the general sessions. The bottles went fast! The next day at the airport I saw that hundreds had been thrown in the trash. They were all two ounces over the limit for carry-on fluids.

You have to think things through.

Although there are some gold standard swag bag items that almost any attendee would be glad to have, the perfect conference gifts will depend partly on what type of event you are hosting.

The conference bag is the first gift you give an attendee. Here are 31 conference swag ideas and tips to add value to your conference bags for 2020. If you want our top 10 and check out real examples check out the video below.


<strong>FUN</strong> SWAG BAG IDEAS

Swag is half the fun of attending a conference. Here are some of the best swag bag items and ideas to deliver a spot of novelty.

‘Luxury’ Swag Bags for Events

Offer a limited set of special swag-bags that include high-end items like gift cards, tech products, and tickets to shows or sporting events.

Then offer these exclusive conference bags to the first 100-500 people who register, or make them available as random-draw prizes for attendees who complete pre-event surveys. You are not only encouraging early registration and participation; you are also building the perception that your conference bags are valuable even before the event has begun.

What type of event is it good for?

Luxury gift bag ideas are best reserved for large events with a substantial budget. These types of events can attract the kind of sponsorship that can offset–or even fully fund–the cost. It also doesn’t make sense to offer 100 luxury early-bird bags if you are expecting only 200 attendees in total.

They can also be used as a reward for high performance in a corporate goodie bag, or as a way of saying “thank you” to guests at a charity ball.


Keep branding classy and elegant so attendees feel comfortable using the gift in their daily life.

What should you keep in mind?

If your event attracts a large number of guests from out of town, try to avoid products that will be difficult to take on an airplane–large items and bottles of wine could pose a problem for someone without checked luggage.

And if you are debating the value of adding luxury products to your office goodie bags vs. giving your employees a bigger bonus, remember that gifts usually aren’t taxed as income, whereas bonuses usually are. You may also be able to score a better deal on a large purchase order. If the product (or gift card) is guaranteed to be a big hit with your employees, they may appreciate the gesture more than a boost to their bonuses.

Quality sporting garments with minimal branding

While most adults are particular about their fashion choices, sportswear tends to be fairly generic. Even if it’s an item they wouldn’t buy for themselves, there’s a good chance they’ll wear it.

Sportswear is meant to be practical, so getting the style exactly right is less essential. And when it comes to free stuff for goodie bags, practicality is king.

What type of event is it good for?

This kind of product is suitable for most events, but the type of sportswear may depend partly on the event’s target demographic.

For example, a classic, well-designed polo shirt made of high-end cotton is likely to be a favorite among the usual suspects at a golf course: doctors, lawyers, and business executives. It’s a solid choice for a business goodie bag. Yoga leggings are less gender neutral, but they could work well as favors for a women’s conference.

What should you keep in mind?

The one-size-fits-all approach is more problematic with adults than it is with children. One option is to separate alternate sizes into differently-colored bags.


Whether high-end headphones or a compact travel set, your attendees will likely have a use for them. If not, they probably know someone who will.

What type of event is it good for?

For this gift bag idea, the question should probably be rephrased: what kind of headphones are good for your event? High-end headphones are best suited to events involving the music and AV industries. Lightweight earbuds are more appropriate for mid-sized business events. And a bluetooth headset could add a touch of luxury to a corporate swag bag.

What should you keep in mind?

To reverse the usual saying, one man’s treasure is another man’s junk. State-of-the-art headphones are often bulky, and they may not be worth the luggage real estate for someone who isn’t an audiophile. By the same token, someone accustomed to high-quality speakers may have no interest in the tinny sound of earbud headphones.

Food and beverages

Most people appreciate a surprise snack in their event gift bag. Consider offering a selection of themed bags so that attendees end up with products that match their tastes. For example, you could divide the bags up by the types of treats they offer: wine, tea, coffee or chocolate.


Consider using local, artisanal suppliers for a hometown touch.

What type of event is it good for?

Bite-sized treats are especially useful for events with very busy schedules. People who are on the run need to recharge their batteries with regular snacks.

What should you keep in mind?

Food allergies and dietary restrictions should never be overlooked. If you can’t offer hypoallergenic, gluten-free, kosher, halal and vegan versions of your gift bags, you should at least make sure to label all the ingredients carefully.

If you include alcoholic beverages, double-check that the bottles are small enough to meet the restrictions for carry-on luggage.

Toys for children

The answer to the question, “what did you bring me?”, toys can be a great addition to a gift bag. Although children may be picky eaters, they are often very easy to please when it comes to toys. Also, what parent doesn’t like to come home with a gift for the kids after taking a business trip?

What type of event is it good for?

If your target demographic is mostly over thirty but under fifty, a significant number of your delegates are likely to have children of their own, or nephews and nieces to spoil.

What should you keep in mind?

Gender-neutral toys have the widest appeal. Consider offering toys that relate to the location of your event, such as a stuffed animal from the region or a culturally-themed LEGO set.

Those without children may not be interested in these items. Set up a donation drive so that bears and other toys that planners don’t want can be redistributed to children who will appreciate them.



Carrying a conference bag around the expo hall doesn’t have to be onerous. Here are some ideas to add the utility conference-goers will really appreciate.

Use a QR code cheat sheet in your conference registration packet

A cheat sheet with QR codes that link to all the great eventtech you’re showcasing at your event is a great way to give your tech a final adoption boost.

Your event apps and games aren’t the only things attendees might want to access quickly; social media profiles, promotions for local sites and attractions, sponsor profiles, and hotel booking information can all add value to their experience.

On the back, include essentials like information on transportation options and a list of emergency numbers. Even if you have an event app that includes all of this information, a hard copy is handy to have.

What type of event is it good for?

Although this kind of printed welcome packet is arguably good for all events, it’s a particularly good remedy for events that have experienced last-minute, late or low eventtech adoption in the past. It may go straight into the recycling bin at a tech conference.

What should you keep in mind?

Not all of your attendees will know how a QR code works, but you can get around that with a simple graphic and some instructions, like “Just open your camera and point!”.


It runs out quickly, and it’s easy to forget. Don’t underestimate the appeal of practical gift bag items.

What type of event is it good for?

If your event is hosted in a sunny location, most of your participants will appreciate a little extra sunscreen.

What should you keep in mind?

If a significant number of your delegates will be travelling by plane, try to ensure that the bottle will pass the airport-security restrictions for carry-on fluids so they can take home any extra left over.

There are also potential environmental risks to consider. Although its impact is disputed, some environmental groups believe that a common sunscreen ingredient (oxybenzone) is harmful to coral reefs. Legislators in Hawaii are already trying to implement a ban on sunscreens that contain oxybenzone.

Everyday toiletry bag items

Simple items like kleenex, breath mints, and chapstick are convenient bonuses for most people. Think about the items you always like to keep in your purse, briefcase, or glove compartment. The products you take for granted are exactly the types of things your attendees might forget to bring with them.

What type of event are they good for?

These gift bag ideas would be most valued at an event outside the city centre, where it might not be so easy to pick up supplies. Kleenex is most likely to be a hot commodity during cold-and-flu season, as well as the allergen-packed months of spring.

What should you keep in mind?

Try to avoid overly scented products. Many people have allergies to perfumes.



Phone chargers

Who doesn’t need an extra phone charger? Most events rely on event apps to share information and facilitate networking. There’s a high likelihood that delegates will be using their mobile devices even more than they would in a normal working day, and we all know that phones and tablets don’t run on steam.

What type of event is it good for?

This type of conference gift item has pretty universal appeal, but it is especially suited to events that draw a large crowd from out of town. Most people leave their chargers plugged into the wall, and that makes them easy to leave behind when travelling. If your delegates are coming from a region with different voltage standards, a free charger may also save them from buying an adapter.

What should you keep in mind?

Unless you include a question about your attendees’ phone model in a registration survey and then customize each bag, you run the risk of giving away chargers that are incompatible with your attendees’ devices.

Power banks

Although a little more expensive than a phone charger, the utility of a power bank is obvious. Conference attendees are constantly on the go, and they may not always have time to wait for their devices to recharge at a designated station.

What type of event is it good for?

This kind of corporate event gift is best suited to conferences that have long hours and run for several days. The less time your delegates have for leisure, the more likely they are to need a power bank.

What should you keep in mind?

The best quality power banks carry a hefty price tag, and power-charging stations are prime real estate for corporate sponsors to advertise their branding. If free power banks cut down on traffic to charging stations, you may reduce their appeal for sponsorship.

On the other hand, if you are looking for the perfect gift to deck out your corporate goodie bag, a high-end power bank is a surefire way to make your employees leave smiling.

Google Cardboard

Although still a niche product, Google Cardboard offers a relatively affordable way to experience VR.

What type of event is it good for?

If your event caters to the tech or gaming community, consider offering a Google Cardboard headset. When combined with a branded VR experience, Google Cardboard can also be a great choice for a promotional goodie bag at a hosted buyer event.

What should you keep in mind?

Only the most recent phone models work will with Google Cardboard’s software. Older phones will have difficulty processing the visual graphics.

Even with the best graphics interface, the visuals have somewhat low resolution and less-than-perfect head tracking. These shortcomings can cause an effect called “simulation sickness.” Keep VR experiences to 15 minutes or under to minimize adverse reactions.

USB sticks

Some laptops no longer feature USB ports, but USB sticks are still in wide usage. If you pre-load the USB stick with digital versions of sponsor and exhibitor brochures, attendees can review them later without having to lug around piles of paper. Delegates will also have one more way to share files, even if the WiFi goes down.


Add a branded casing to the USB stick for extra marketing value.

What type of event is it good for?

While a USB stick may not be welcome at a Mennonite festival, it’s likely to be well-received at just about every other type of event.

What should you keep in mind?

With the fast pace of most events, many attendees won’t explore the contents of a free USB stick until after the event is over. Save time-sensitive information for the event app, or highlight it on prominent signage.

External hard drives

Cloud storage is becoming increasingly popular, but many people like the added security of backing up to an external hard drive. Others may have storage needs that exceed the free options for cloud storage, and would prefer not to pay for upgraded subscriptions.

What type of event is it good for?

External hard drives are significantly more expensive than USB sticks, so this product works best as a corporate goodie bag idea for high-budget events.

Additionally, if your event serves the gaming industry or other media-heavy sectors, the extra storage capacity may come in handy for sharing promotional materials with attendees.

What should you keep in mind?

As with the content on USB sticks, files shared via an external hard drive are unlikely to be viewed until after the event. It is also a good idea to make sure that the files are named in a consistent format and organized into categorized folders. Your attendees are more likely to view exhibitor promo material if it is easy to search.



Charitable donations

Many charities will allow you to make a donation in someone else’s name, and they will often provide a certificate to acknowledge the donation.

What type of event is it good for?

If your event serves NGOs or other special interest groups, charitable donations are a way to reinforce your shared values.

For example, if you are hosting a convention on poverty reduction, you could make donations towards the micro-loan program run by KIVA. The donations can be made in your attendees’ respective names, and they can select the initiatives they want to support.

Try to find charities that give your attendee some choice over how the money is applied.

What should you keep in mind?

Make sure that the charity you select doesn’t present a conflict of interest, either through political leanings or religious affiliations.



Gift cards to women’s retailers

As always, the greater the selection you offer your attendees, the more likely they are to take advantage of the deal. Gift cards are a nice touch for any swag bag, but they can be particularly helpful when trying to cater to a female demographic without making assumptions about their preferences that could be perceived as sexist.

What type of event is it good for?

Yes, it’s a women’s event, but what kind? Women’s interests and fields of work are just as diverse as those of men. While a gift card for a lingerie store makes sense for a women’s fashion event, it might not be as well received at a religious retreat for nuns. A gift card for a yarn retailer could be a popular item at a women’s crafting event, but it might miss the mark at a meeting of female business leaders.

What should you keep in mind?

If your event attracts a large number of international delegates, they may not have easy access to the retailers in your country. Try to ensure that the retailer has a global presence, and that the gift card’s monetary value can be converted to multiple currencies.


Add a festive touch to gift cards with seasonally-inspired cardholders.

Charitable donations to women’s causes that are made in the attendee’s name

If the event caters to women specifically, there is a high likelihood that the attendees would appreciate a donation to a female-targeted charity.

What type of event is it good for?

This kind of gesture is most suited to an event that already has a feminist focus, such as a roundtable on female leadership or a series of lectures on improving female literacy rates in developing countries.

What should you keep in mind?

Some charities have religious affiliations. If you are hosting a secular event, try to avoid making donations to overtly religious causes.


A more balanced world was the theme of International Women’s Day 2019.


Ideally, even the bag itself will be something the attendee wants to keep.

It may be easy to dismiss as nothing more than a disposable container for all the products you’re giving away, but it can take your game to the next level.

And there is no shortage of choice. There are literally thousands of options at different price points. Before you select one, do this quick exercise. Think of three or four of your top clients or typical attendees.

  • Would they truly want the bag you are considering?
  • Why would they want to take it home after the event?

Let the answers to those questions be your guiding principle when you consider other factors like budget and CSR (corporate social responsibility).

Useful Tips to Help You Pick the Right Conference Bag for Your Event

Provide a selection of multiple colors and print designs.

Thanks to new technology, you can have beautiful printing on your bags at an affordable price. Research shows you have a better chance of the bag making it home if people can pick the ones they like best. Let people select their design or theme ahead of time, during the registration process.

Consider your demographic when choosing colors.

Providing a variety of thoughtfully-chosen colors can help you avoid making assumptions about what your attendees want. For example, some registrants at a women’s conference might prefer a pink bag, but others might be offended if it’s the only option.

Use the exterior color or design to create themed bag categories.

For example, a travel and tourism company might use blue bags for beach-themed goodies and green bags for mountain-themed swag. Special colors could also be used for conference gift bags containing hypoallergenic or vegan products.

Don’t put a date on it unless it’s worthy of memorializing.

Someone might want a dated keepsake from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, but for most other events, a timestamp will just make your giveaways look outdated as soon as the event is over.

Think style first and marketing second.

Go for attractive colors, interesting fabrics or papers, and a stylish look. If your attendee wants to reuse it, the marketing potential of your initial investment will have a much longer life span.

If your bag features a logo, make sure it’s integrated into the design.

You don’t want a logo that looks like an afterthought. If you have the budget of a big corporate event, consider hiring a professional designer to create a custom bag design.


The conference logo doesn’t have to be the center of attention to be noticeable.

Put your logo on the lining of the bag instead of the exterior.

The price-point is ideal for mid-sized events. Attendees will be reminded of your brand every time they use the bag, but they won’t feel like a walking billboard.

Feature a small embroidered logo design instead of a large printed one.

Sometimes less is more. An even more affordable option than customized lining, this small tweak will add an extra touch of class to a small-to-medium-sized event.

If your event has multiple sponsors, consider using branded tags looped around the bag handles.

Removable branding will increase the likelihood of the bag being reused, and you can promote more than one brand at a time.

Make it ergonomic.

Bigger isn’t always better. If your event’s options are limited to paper bags with wiry handles, keep them small with lightweight goodies. Remember, attendees have to carry them around all day.

Backpacks will provide your attendees with long-term utility.

If your event has a large enough budget to pay for a durable, tastefully branded backpack, the marketing potential may be worth the investment. Are the majority of your attendees over thirty-five? If so, there’s a good chance many of them will have school-aged children. And what child doesn’t need a backpack?


Make it stylish enough, and a teenager might even want to use it!

If your demographic is young and active, gym bags may be the way to go.

Beyond the obvious appeal to fitness events, this may be a good option for tech conferences, which typically draw a younger demographic. They’re not just interested in laptop cases. Studies show that millennials are more likely to have regular fitness routines than any other generation.


Don’t be surprised to see a software logo on a gym bag.

For maximum CSR, put your swag in upcycled tote bags.

Upcycling is the new recycling. Cotton bags may not be adding to landfills as quickly as plastic ones, but the resources required to produce cotton have a much bigger environmental impact. Cotton uses more pesticides than any other crop worldwide, and the organic alternative consumes more than twice as much water for the same yield. Upcycling offers an ingenious way to repurpose discarded fabric and reduce demand for new material. A local craftsperson who specializes in upcycling might be able to meet the needs of small-to-medium-sized events. For events that operate on a large scale, retailers like Hipcycle offer a variety of products.

Combine luxury with CSR by offering boutique upcycled bags.

For example, Looptworks makes high-end bags, tablet cases and wallets from discarded textiles, including upcycled airplane seat covers. Added bonus: the company goes out of its way to hire staff who experience barriers to employment. This kind of luxury product may only be appropriate for VIP attendees at exclusive events, but it is one way to make an impression!

This list offers a few ideas to get you started. The possibilities are endless, so don’t be afraid to use your creativity.


Here’s a fun and unexpected idea: a tool belt filled with chocolate tools!

The Moral of the Story

Fill Your Conference Event Bag With Value

Who doesn’t like gifts? A conference swag bag ought to be a clear win with attendees, but it’s surprisingly easy to get it wrong.

As a teenager, I can remember receiving well-meant gifts from my grandparents plastered with the word “Florida,” but what was a fun vacation memento for them wasn’t the trendiest style for me. And unlike these presents, chances are your conference gift bags won’t escape the trash for sentimental reasons.

Prioritize Conference Gifts that Fulfill a Practical Purpose

The trick to pleasing attendees with successful conference gifts is to consider all the angles that matter most to them.

This doesn’t always mean gift bag items directly related to your registrants’ field of work either. As the comic below playfully illustrates, people working in very niche professions might already have all the tools of the trade and would rather receive generic crowd-pleasers.

The ideal swag bag items may provide a solution to a common problem that a group of attendees might experience, or fulfill a need that is anticipated at the event itself. If it fills a practical purpose, it is much less likely to be tossed.

Make sure your swag bag is filled with products that are meaningful, functional and relevant. When considering any item, ask yourself: is an attendee likely to take it, or toss it?

Share Your Strategy with Sponsors and Exhibitors to Influence their Marketing Bag Ideas

Remember: your sponsors and exhibitors will be giving out their own promotional goodie bags.

You can and should share your conference bag strategy with them. They have their own objectives. The best brands use swag items to lure in booth traffic and get them involved in a conversation right away. These exhibitors will appreciate anything that helps them stay on message so that they can look and feel like a part of the big picture. You can’t control what sponsors and exhibitors give away, but you can influence them.


Whether it’s the conference bag or the items you fill it with – make it matter. The conference bag is the first gift you give an attendee. It becomes personal. So make it too good to throw away. Just imagine how it could increase the image of your organization and the impact of your conference if the attendees loved your bags and considered them filled with unique, exclusive, and valuable items?

To make sure you haven’t overlooked a knockout gift bag idea, try to put yourself in your attendees’ shoes. What might you want or even need if you were a guest at the event? Alternatively, what might you resent carrying around all day?

Many of us can’t resist a freebie, even if it’s something we’d never buy. But keep in mind that many attendees are travelling with limited luggage real-estate. A cheap pen that might leak all over their packed clothing is not going to make the grade. And if you are going to include reusable water bottles, make sure they’re phthalate- and BPA-free.

If you are unsure about whether an item should be included, ask yourself: if you had to repack a bag of luggage to make it fit, would you bother?

You want to get it in the bag, not in the garbage bag.