Conference Opportunities, Real and Imaginary

By Craig Perrier

Education based conferences, in their best format, are dynamic hives of interaction.  Having planned and attended dozens of these events, I am happy to affirm that my practices and network improved with each attendance. Likewise, it is important to note the shifts to the experience’s teachers can have at state, regional, and national conference.  Gone (mostly) are the one-dimensional sessions where presenters literally read papers to the audience.  For example, the American Historical Association’s annual conference which attracts between 4,000 – 5,000 educators includes a variety of session options.  Their “modes of presentation” includes these categories: Roundtables, Multi-Session Workshops, Poster Sessions and Experimental Sessions.


The energy at a professional conference can be invigorating and enlightening.  People who attend are most likely receptive and excited to discuss new ideas and apply changes to their practice. In turn, attendees are pulled in many directions.  As a provider of professional services or resources, your preparation for the conference should include the mindset that you are in an intense competition for teachers’ time and attention.


To help put that mindset into action, I have included a list of eye and mind catching practices I have experienced along with some I have on my conference attendee wish list.


  1. Host a Happening: Yes, receptions after the main conference agenda has concluded are great (note Sunday nights are not that the best time). But what about an event at your booth during the day! It is rare indeed.  The one time it did happen for me was by a publisher who poured wine (it could be any beverage or food) for people who stopped by at a certain time.  I made time in my schedule to be there and made sure my librarian knew about their books!


  1. Provide a Professional Service: I have been to one conference where the hosts (not an organization) provided free professional head shot pictures. Everyone I talked to loved it. The service doesn’t need to be related to your field (free business card design, resume consultation, etc.) but as people line up for the service, you have their attention to market, survey, and promote your brand.


  1. Provide a Technology Based Service: Similar to the option above, but this is technology related. Conference goers have and think of tech issues they encounter during conferences.  Besides trouble shooting, this can also be framed as “how to…” or “tips on using…” a specific technology or device.


  1. Respond to emails and reach out to cards you collected: This should be a no-brainer, but the amount of “black hole” experiences I have received is mind-boggling. Every contact you receive is an opportunity to market, learn, and sell.  Closely related to this is avoiding having someone who doesn’t know your product or service be at your booth.  It conveys indifference to the person who stops by, is a waste of time, and creates questions about your company’s acumen and vision.


  1. Conference Apps: Yes, programs are still printed, but apps are the convenient way to organize your conference experience. Getting an advertisement on that tool or app will be a constant reminder of your presence and support for the profession.  Loyalty matters and equating your brand with the conference is a valuable reminder to attendees that you are a leader in the field.


  1. Support a Session: Conference sessions are made know well in advance of the actual event. Be sure to review the sessions and identify which are closely related to your field. Once you do, reach out to the presenters to see if they would be willing to explicitly mention your service or product during their presentation.  Then, after the session is over, be available outside the room to interact with the captive audience.


Make no mistake, free swag and resources at conferences are always great as are appreciation dinners and happy hours.  But there are other ways to generate contact time with teachers. As you evolve think about how you can contribute to the conference experience.  It will make the host organization happy, elevate teachers’ experiences, and distinguish you in a crowded field.

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