A First Timer’s Guide to BETT

For all technology’s amazing advances into our lives, the quality of relationships remain the most important thing for any organisation. You can’t beat a conversation face to face, and that’s why trade shows still have a role to play in connecting people offering products and services, and the people who might be interested in buying them.

In European education, the biggest trade show is BETT – held in the cavernous halls of the ExCel centre in London’s docklands. It’s an education jamboree, with an emphasis on technology, where the big players like Pearson, Capita, RM, Microsoft, Dell and so on, rub shoulders with little startups, where schools can buy anything they can think of, as well as listening to some of the big names in education and beyond.

Speakr went to BETT last year as a visitor – primarily to see if there was anything on the market like Speakr. Happily (and rather surprisingly) there wasn’t, and this year we’re returning as a paid-up exhibitor with a live product that has been tested in ten schools and more than 1000 children.

We’d like to share a few of the things we’ve learned so far in preparing for our first trade show, and we’ll share our experience of BETT when the show is over to see what we got right, and the things we can do better next time.

Why you want to go

We’re going because we want to talk to as many teachers as possible about Speakr and what it can do for them and their pupils. We want to tell our story, and connect with teachers (and pupils) who’re receptive to the idea that we can harness our Digital Natives’ profound comfort in communicating online to help them find their voice in the school environment.

Deciding why you want to go will inform the rest of your choices: the size, location, and arrangement of your stand, the ‘extras’ you’ll need, your on-stand team, your marketing campaign, and so on.

Budget

Attending a trade show is expensive. The big players spend hundreds of thousands of pounds for the four days, and even for the smallest stand, you’re still looking at several thousand pounds for the total cost of exhibiting.

Just like fitting out a house, there is no limit to the amount you can spend on a stand: lighting, audio visuals, furniture, displays, literature, competition prizes and so on. We’ve kept our reasons for attending at the front of our minds when making these decisions, and tried to focus on the things that will help us tell the story without costing the earth.

The stand

From the moment you express an interest in exhibiting, you’ll be inundated with emails and calls from the event organisers and their many partners. Despite it seeming like a classic sales tactic, the ‘book now, stands are going fast’ patter tends to be true. We booked our stand for BETT (from the 22nd to the 25th January 2014) at the start of August in 2013, and based on the show floorplan (the organisers’ bible) several of the stands we were looking at had already been booked by the time we'd agreed terms.

There are two basic choices when it comes to stands, both are sold by the square metre:

  • Space – as the name suggests, this option gives you space in the floorplan, and you need to arrange the supply of everything to complete your stand

  • Shell scheme – this option gives you partition walls, a plug socket, and some basic furniture.

You can hire one of the BETT partners to design and fit out your stand and create something dripping with lighting, visuals, and touchscreens, or go for something a little less expensive with pop-up banners, displays, literature and so on. We saved some money by designing most of this ourselves.

Engaging people

Trade shows seem to have a traditional approach to engagement, based around show literature – the guides that you’re given on arrival. You’ll be encouraged to take out adverts in the show literature, and irrespective of the effectiveness of these campaigns (of which there was no evidence), the cost was roughly equivalent to the cost of our stand for the show.

For us, it was a no brainer to use social media as our main engagement method. We’ll be running hourly draws for Speakr t-shirts (which we designed with input from our Primary School children users) and announcing the winners on our twitter account @_Speakr.

We’ve also created a ‘School of BETT’ in Speakr, so that teachers and pupils can try it, and so that we can talk about how attendees at BETT are feeling on the BETT show hashtag.

The purpose of us being at the show is to talk to people, and everything we’re doing is based around letting attendees know that we’re at the show, and encourage them to come and have a conversation about wellbeing, Pupil Voice, new approaches evidencing improvement, co-creation and usability testing with Primary School children, web technology in schools, and t-shirt design!

We’ll post again after the show to talk about what we’ve learned, the interesting things we’ve seen in Education Teachnology, and how the show went from our perspective.

If you’re coming to the Show we’re at Stand IN2, in the Innovation Section of the Hall – we’d love to see you there!