So, last month I travelled to one of the big conferences in my field. The copies of my own handout weighted about 5 pounds; on the way back, I took another 5 pounds worth of other people's handouts. This was the case for pretty much everybody else. This seems kind of wasteful for a couple of reasons.

  1. When I got back home, I ran the handouts I had collected through the scanner, backed up the files in Dropbox, and put the handouts in the recycling bin.
  2. The conference organizers offered the possibility of making handout pdfs downloadable from the conference site prior to the start of the conference.

In fact, a couple of people (including one of the keynote speakers) told me over a coffee break that, if it was up to them, they would forgo paper handouts altogether and just provide a pdf that people can download and look at during talks. This is something I agree with, if only because it makes post-conference storage and retrieval way easier (also, pdf handouts are awesome when you are sitting in a talk by a 23-year-old grad student who is under the delusion that older people can read 10 pt text comfortably).

Question: is there any reason, other than force of habit, to keep on distributing paper handouts? Technology is not an obstacle, I think, given how these days everybody brings a laptop or a tablet to conferences.

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    Well, I have been attending conferences from several fields and some interdisciplinary ones and I have never seen a single handout. Just being curious: What’s your field?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Nov 26, 2015 at 9:35
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    I've noticed trend towards fewer printed proceedings; from 4 computer science conferences I attended this year, just one had printed proceedings given out, the others handed just had USB flash sticks.
    – kfx
    Nov 26, 2015 at 10:34
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    And two of the Computer Science conferences that I attended this year had open proceedings published online and free wifi at the conference hotel.
    – user38309
    Nov 26, 2015 at 13:35
  • @Wrzlprmft: theoretical linguistics, which admittedly lags behind other fields in the adoption of certain types of technology.
    – Koldito
    Nov 27, 2015 at 14:19

1 Answer 1


There is almost no reason to give out paper handouts any more.

Almost none of the conferences that I attend hand out anything paper other than an updated program, if that. Instead, everything is either in a USB stick or simply online at the conference web site. Conferences with full papers tend to give out a USB stick; conferences with abstracts tend to place them online.

And here is where I see the only reason one might still want to bring a piece of paper: if the conference is handing out USBs stick or some other form of program that must be produced many weeks in advance, then if you want to give your audience some piece of information to look at that was not available then, you might bring paper. To me, however, that sounds like a relatively rare case and not something that needs preserving as a typical custom.

  • Jake, I edited "now something that needs preserving" to "not something that needs preserving". If I guess wrong at what you meant, please roll it back. Nov 26, 2015 at 17:26

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