Avoiding the sales pitch, and the rewarding results

I’ve never been to the Learning Technologies exhibition until today. Its an annual event hosted [currently] at Olympia, specifically for individuals for whom learning delivery and staff development forms part of their responsibility. It provides an opportunity for those with personal and corporate development interests to connect with like minded peers and business who may be able to support their activities. There’s definitely a corporate focus to the event, but you can find plenty of educational similarities between this sector and further education. The exhibition runs alongside a conference, with high profile names from educational and corporate development fields speaking.

Visiting the Learning Technologies show was a conscious decision in place of what has, for some, become an annual pilgrimage to the BETT show at the start of the year. I’ve enjoyed BETT in the past, but the focus upon products and services over delivery and learning outcomes isn’t as engaging for a manager as it might be for a someone with a greater operational responsibility.

One thing that struck me when I arrived was that outwardly, this appears very similar to BETT. The environment is immediately recognisable; stands, exhibits and lots of salespeople waiting to entice you to their stand (all with varying tactics and levels of success). For some reason I hadn’t quite expected this – I guess I was hoping for something different. Lots of sweets around, and even the odd massage on offer, but generally bags (literally) of printed matter to collect and heave back home with you, all destined to for a long term stay beneath your desk. Probably for around twelve months until you visit the same show again next year. I really don’t support this frenzied approach to collecting marketing materials; you won’t learn much by just grabbing a bunch of flyers.

Along with the exhibition stands, a number of ‘lecture theaters’ were distributed around the show rooms. Each had a full agenda of speakers covering a variety of subject areas. Again, these didn’t quite turn out to be as valuable as I had expected. What shocked me was the poor level of delivery from some exhibitors; dull presentations, word for word scripted commentary, and little in the way of audience interaction. By far the best I happened to see was from the director of Unlimited Potential, who led a great session about the particular needs of Generation Y, and how coaching can release the potential from a generation with very different skills and priorities. Besides listening to a handful of lectures, I had some great conversations while I was there. For me, this was the most meaningful part; talking to some people about their products (of course), but also taking the conversation further. Here’s what i mean.

You have probably heard of Smart Technologies. They make interactive whiteboards. I stood for a moment in the middle of a stand – hosted by Stejles – taking in the exhibit, which comprised of a couple of interactive displays, and a little peripheral equipment. A representative named Sam came over and introduced herself, asking if i needed help. I didn’t really need ‘help’, but I did explain that our organisation already uses a large number of interactive boards, manufactured by Smart. From a business perspective, I’m sure Sam was pleased to hear this, even if it wasn’t going to result in a ‘sale’. I was as interested in what you can do with the software as I was the hardware – software that is bundled free with your interactive device. I learned a few things, including one really significant one – that some of the Interactive Whiteboard software enables remote participation in a learning session, via screen sharing. How great is that? We’ve recently been looking remote participation, but from a different perspective; video conferencing had been an obvious contender for delivering sessions remotely. But this is a different approach, a simple one, and one that makes full use of simple and largely familiar application. I learned a little more about Sam. She was once a teacher, and her background meant that she understood how I was thinking. We explored how the successful use of Interactive Whiteboard technology can be really engaging and stimulating, and considered why many staff only employ a handful of the possibilities offered by this technology in the classroom.

There were several instances like this during my day when I met ‘sales’ staff who were more than happy to talk beyond the conventional boundaries of their script. How revealing this is, and how rewarding too. It is those conversations I recall as I sit on the train writing this post. Already those less genuine conversations are fading. Thank you to those people for engaging in a genuine, personal conversation, rather than following your script!