By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
Many of us have attended technology conferences over the years. Year after year, we attend hoping we will find a unique piece of technology that will create a spark in the classroom. Sometimes we sit through lectures or discussions in the hopes that someone will have a new idea on the use of technology. There is no doubt that attending a technology conference can be of great benefit.
Unfortunately, we sometimes come out feeling like a conference has been a complete waste of time. Why is that?
Well, there can be several reasons for this. Perhaps the conference was geared toward teachers and you are an administrator. Perhaps the conference brings in the same vendors year after year. Believe it or not, sometimes even the venue itself is not conducive to a technology conference.
In any case, I’ve provided some tips that should help you improve your experience:
• Read as much about the conference as you can before making a decision on whether or not to attend. Some conferences are geared toward teachers. Others are geared toward technology administrators. Each type of conference will attract specific attendees and specific vendors.
• Identify specific vendors that you wish to visit. Although it is usually not possible to sit with a sales representative for an extended period of time at a conference, try to spend at least ten minutes with each vendor.
• Prepare questions for sales representatives in advance. You don’t have to write them down, but doing so will give you a better sense of direction.
• Challenge vendors to get past their canned sales pitches of, “Our product will increase your student test scores,” or “Our product will keep your students engaged.” These issues are a given. Ask specific questions about how their product is different.
• Be sure to collect as much product print material that you can get. This will allow you to read at a slower pace, with no pressure to buy. Most print materials today will have a website that you can link to at a later time. Again, with no pressure to buy.
• Refrain from giving a sales representative your business card or contact information unless you are serious about being contacted. Believe me, they will, over and over again. Don’t fall for the, “Write your name and e-mail address on this piece of paper, so I can contact you if you win one of the prizes that we are giving away today,” line. This is often a clever way to get your contact information.
• Lower your expectations. Know that you may not find a single piece of technology that fits your needs. Relax and enjoy the conference. Take time to observe.
• Consider going to the same conference every second or third year. It gives more opportunity for product lineups to change and it saves money too.
• Consider going to different conferences instead of the same conferences every year.
• Consider the venue. Is it difficult to get to? Is the conference close to hotels and restaurants?
• Consider how much time you plan to spend at the conference. It is difficult to combine lectures and discussions and evaluate technology products in a single day.
Hopefully these tips will help make your conferences more productive and enjoyable. Be sure to say, ‘Hello’ should you see me making my way through the vendor booth area.