Recently we attended the National Council for the Social Studies national conference in Washington, DC. You probably have attended a large national conference or two in your career. So you know the displays big companies put on are impressive.
As is typical at these big conferences, large publishers all have presentation areas made up of multiple booths put together. These companies ship in huge crates of background displays, seats, tables and books. They rent plush carpet for their salespeople to stand on all day and offer a lot of free books and squeezy balls to give away.
Next time you attend, try walking the outer aisles. Stroll the fringes of the conference. You’ll find a lot of interesting, innovative companies. And some oddballs.
The aisles on either side of the main hall are where conferences slot space for companies that can only afford to buy a table space or one booth, not five. These companies often have loaded their offerings into their car and driven in, instead of flow in with crates shipped.
Our fringe-area table space was next to a former teacher selling beaded lanyards and a curriculum she created and had success selling on Teachers Pay Teachers. Across the aisle was a couple I met at the last NCSS: They sell a poster of the periodic table of presidents (and amendments). They attract a lot of people so we’re happy for the traffic.
Down a few tables was Sutori (formerly HSTRY) a cool online timeline program. These companies are not well-known names in education–yet. Some may never become large, but I’ve watched other ed-tech companies who began attending conferences at the fringes and are now renting four-booth flashy displays.
Conferences cost a lot of money. Because Listenwise sells a subscription for schools and districts, we won’t know whether a conference was worth it from a sales perspective for seven to nine months. And that’s usually after we’ve had to make a commitment to attend the next year’s conference.
That’s why we often won’t attend a conference unless we also have won a spot presenting or giving a poster session. These presentations give us extra opportunities to share Listenwise with a larger audience.
This year we did a poster session with a social studies teacher from Massachusetts who uses Listenwise. Poster sessions can be a crapshoot. Sometimes the poster sessions are in the main exhibit halls and hard to find. They aren’t placed where there’s much foot traffic.
This year NCSS had prominent locations for the posters, right inside the entry of the exhibit hall. The area had traffic all day and we had a lot of interest in our presentation about engaging students to be citizens of the world using public radio. (Slides here.)
But even on the fringes, I love attending conferences because it puts me in direct contact with our audience–teachers and administrators. You never know who will walk up to your booth. Sometimes it’s a teacher who has been using Listenwise for a long time and wants to stop by, say hi, and tell you how great it is. Sometimes it’s a district administrator who is looking for a new literacy product.
My opening question is usually: Do you listen to public radio? That gets people to stop in their tracks and respond (often with an emphatic YES!). The conversation flows from there.