BETT – New Eyes on a Venerable Tradeshow

London – BETT claims to be the largest education technology convention in the world. From what I could see the scale of the show is about the same as ISTE (nee’ NECC) in the US, although the content is distinctly more international. There are some differences from US education trade shows, but the differences were not vast.

What follows are the impressions of a first time attendee and the lessons I hope I remember for next year.

Overall Take

Lesson – be very clear on what you are after and focus your efforts.

With over 600 exhibitors even the most intrepid and well shod attendee couldn’t make it around to every stand. I planned ahead with the PCI team and then took the better part of the first morning just mapping out my plan of attack. Even with all that I’m not likely to reach every vendor I wanted to talk to.

Lesson – you may not see the future by attending this show, but you will learn that the problems with implementing technology are relatively universal. You may glean an idea or two on how to tweak your offerings.

I’d heard that the UK is about 2-3 years ahead of the US on the technology diffusion curve, but that isn’t evident at the show. What is hot and what is not are not all that different (white boards, iPads, etc.). It may be that while the solutions sets are similar they are simply faster at implementing because the market is more concentrated.

That said it is really valuable talking to people who are tackling the same problems from a different perspective. It helps bend your thinking to see the issues in a different cultural context.

Lesson – know where funding for your type of solution is coming from – just like home this will determine more about the health your business than anything beyond your product offerings. BESA and NASEN are good sources of this kind of information.

The economic climate in England is just as dreary as the weather. The funding issues here are worse than in the US because there was no stimulus. Given this environment the show was surprisingly crowded and busy – I was impressed by the crush of people. What I heard was that technology is the place people feel they need to invest to prepare kids for the future. More specifically, like the US, Special Needs is also likely to be protected a bit more to insure accessibility. Another parallel to the US is that while national spending isn’t likely to be cut drastically, local spending is where the real pain will be felt. This is very similar to the state budget crisis in the US.

Lesson – come prepared to get the most learning done on the show floor not in sessions. If you want to attend sessions plan on rising early (not so easy if you are on US time).

Don’t come for the sessions. I was excited to see a strand of presentations just for Special Education Needs (SEN as it is called over here) and showed up the first day only to learn that sessions are by reservation only. There are also relatively few of them – meaning unless you get here first thing every day and get your seat booked you won’t get in. But this show is far more about the exhibit area than shows in the US – the sessions seem like an afterthought.

Lesson – Perhaps CEC and the SPED vendor community in the US should start advocating for named strands at NSTA and IRA and other major shows.

One of the things that really impressed me about the show is the focus on Special Needs. There is an entire area of about 30 stands on the show floor dedicated to vendors who are focused on SEN and an additional Fringe exhibit hall off premises with another 15 vendors or so.

This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the US. The general education shows like NSTA (NECC), IRA, or TCEA don’t go out of their way to create a focus on SPED – either in the exhibits or in the sessions. Yes we have specialized shows like CEC and ATIA but since inclusion is a huge focus we also need to be part of the generalist shows in a more meaningful way.

Two Travel Tips For USA Newbies

Lesson – Do a little legwork and figure out where you want to stay to maximize your London experience.

Don’t worry if it is far from the convention hall. The experienced crew was down by Parliament, newbies like me were in Kensington.

Public transportation is really good. Unlike US conferences there is very little value in staying close to the venue (although it is in a very nice part of town).

Lesson – Be sure to check up on TripAdvisor or Fodor’s or similar sites for reviews of the hotels.

Don’t expect a large room. I moved hotels after I found out that my room was so small that I had to sit on the bed to use the desk and had to stand my suitcase upright in order to open the door. Even by European standards it was a very small space.

Better yet – if I attend again I’ll use VRBO and rent an apartment. If space is really an issue for you consider staying in one of the US chains where you will find amenities you are used to – although it does feel a bit like cheating (yes I moved to Marriot).