The best conference schwag?

Having spoken at almost twenty major conferences in the last few years, I've picked up a fair selection of schwag items and giveaways. Now that we are busy organizing our first For A Beautiful Web events, I'd love to know what the best shwag items you've received are.

We want to make our master class events really memorable and as a reminder of what we hope will be a great day, we plan to give our attendees something really special although I can't reveal our plans just yet. Planning this made me look back at some of the items that I have brought home in the past.

Laptop/conference bags

Most of the top-quality conferences seem to offer a bag of sorts. Usually these are handy during conference days for carrying around programs and other assorted, sponsor related bits of paper. I'm not sure about you, but when I bring a bag home it soon finds itself under the bed. I'm always torn. Do I keep it as a memento or do I let it go to a new home when I de-clutter? No matter how nice the bags are, before too long I'm handing them to a bemused lady at the local charity shop. I feel guilty, it seems so wasteful.

Laptop sleeves

As they have with all aspects of An Event Apart, Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer have an eye for great shwag. In New Orleans this year I was given a fantastic laptop sleeve that I use every day. The An Event Apart branding is subtle (so I don't feel like a walking advertisement) and as this sleeve has handles it has replaced the Incase sleeve that I bought at the Apple Store.

Pens

An Event Apart is also top of the pen charts. No plastic ballpoint is good enough for Zeldman and Meyer and I still use their lovely, fat, silver pen almost every day. I will be very sad when it runs out. (So it's a good job I grabbed more than my fair share in New Orleans and armed guards won't stop me doing the same in Chicago in October.)

Mugs

Although I always seem to be late to the conference mug snatching party, at Web Directions South in Sydney last year, Adobe did give me two branded thermal mugs to carry halfway around the world. Unfortunately they didn't last long, both sprang leaks and after a few months holding pencils they were destined to become landfill.

Clothing

T-shirts always seem popular, but most of the conferences I've attended have left dressing their attendees to their sponsors. MediaTemple know how to put on a good party and their long-sleeved giveaway makes an excellent winter chest warmer too. I still wear my Internet Explorer Seven shirt with pride and somewhere in a drawer I'm keeping a Macromedia shirt that must already be an antique. I've had too many good shirts given to mention and I think that a well designed, well made shirt is one of the best freebies I can pick up.

Stuff

There's been so much more that I've brought home, discarded and forgotten about. Luggage tags, buttons, badges and pins. The best, really useful items I keep, the rest inevitably become trash or are given away. I do feel guilty about that, it seems such a waste of effort, materials and money.

So what's your take on giveaways? Does schwag make a difference to how you feel about an event you've attended? What is the best, most useful item that you've ever picked up at a conference or workshop and if there was one freebie item you'd love, what would it be?


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