It can be hard to make an event successful. It’s not that hard to stop it from being a failure.

Recently, I went to an edtech event that wasn’t a definitive failure, but it was definitely bad. Out of the ten or so edtech events I’ve attended in the last year, this one was the worst.

I want to state upfront that the organizers of the event are smart, wonderful, well-intentioned people. Still, my experience was lousy enough that I felt inspired to write about it.

Reflecting on the day’s proceeding, I’ve devised four ways to ensure that your edtech event is, at the very least, not bad.

  1. Engage the audience!

    This sounds obvious. Guess what? IT IS. The first four hours of this event consisted of vendor pitches and dry presentations on the status of the edtech market. The audience was not encouraged to ask questions, there were very few breaks and none of the vendors made their presentations interactive.

    I think the organizers became carried away in packing the day with quality content, forgetting that the delivery of content is just as important as the content itself. I suggest that edtech event organizers ask vendors to mimic the classroom experience they advocate with their products/services. On that note…

  2. Don’t just talk about edtech; use it.

    Most vendors focused on how technology could improve student engagement and learning. Yet their pitches consisted of the traditional powerpoint-and-presenter, sage-on-the-stage approach. No real-time polls, no tweetchats, no product demos — nothing that actually reflected an authentic shift in how teachers (read: presenters) engage students (read: event attendees).

  3. Personalize.

    I was at this event on behalf of my company, Education Elements. We live and breathe personalized learning, as do many of the other vendors that attended. Yet the event itself was nearly devoid of personalization.* There was no choice of whom to listen to when, or how to engage. There was no way to access resources online at a later date, no medium to provide feedback during or after the event.

    There were breakout sessions at the very end of the day, but the first four hours of the event were so tedious that many people left early. While I acknowledge that one-day events are different than a regular classroom experience, the organizers could have put more thought into how learning would unfold over time, pace, path or place.

  4. Put the Educator First.

    The event felt like it was designed for vendors. I was there as a vendor, and even I felt guilty; the event favored sales pitches over authentic and transparent dialogue.

    On top of that, attendees were trapped for six hours in a room where the vendor-attendee ratio was nearly 1:1. While organizers don’t have control over final attendance numbers, there was an atmosphere of suspicion in the room immediately after introductions revealed the split in participants.

    The organizers could have avoided that tension by exercising more empathy during the planning process. The whole “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” thing. By creating a more engaging and collaborative event structure, the organizers could have transformed the large crowd of sponsors from sales vultures to fellow learners.

My four suggestions won’t guarantee a home run in event planning; they should, however, allow for an experience that helps non-vendor attendees feel engaged, appreciated and respected.

Not bad feelings to leave with, in my opinion. Such feelings set the stage for real talk about attendees’ struggles and successes. With most schools funded by public dollars, education leaders are particularly wary of for-profit companies. They need events that build trust with empathetic vendors. If educators and vendors both leave an edtech event having developed valuable, trustworthy relationships, I would safely call it not bad. Maybe even…good?

*(Admittedly, at this event our own presentation didn’t embody this philosophy. We’re learning and iterating, too.)

Photo Credit: The Land of Cockaigne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567. Public Domain.