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How to Make the Most of EdTech Conferences: A Conversation With Steven Anderson
Episode 209th June 2022 • Marketing and Education • Elana Leoni | Leoni Consulting Group
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Elana sits down with Steven Anderson, a thought leader in EdTech and educational transformation, to discuss the upcoming International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference and how to navigate many education conferences. Steven, who attends 30-40 conferences every year, advises how to get the most from a large event like ISTE.

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[Start of recorded material:

Elana:

Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I've devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, inbound marketing or content marketing, and community building. I'm excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.

Hi, everyone, and welcome to this episode of All Things Marketing and Education. I am Elana Leoni. I'm the CEO of Leoni Consulting Group. And today I am talking to educator Steven Anderson about an upcoming EdTech conference which is one of my favorites, called ISTE. That's I-S-T-E. A lot of times people call it "It-see", so don't do that. It's "Is-tee." So whether you're planning on attending ISTE or not, we'll be talking about really helpful things that any educator or EdTech brand can do about any upcoming conference. So stay tuned.

I have a guest here that's been on all spectrums of education as an educator, and education admin, and the wonderful world of EdTech. So I'm really excited to get his perspective on all of those three aspects of coming to a conference, because they're dramatically different. I am talking to Steven.

So I'm going to talk about Steven really quickly. And as you know, I tend to gush about my friends and people that are on the show because, one, they're so humble that they never talk about themselves and, two, it gives me a chance to kind of reminisce, but with Steven and I, I've known him for over ten years. We've seen each other at education conferences and events. I can't even count how many Twitter chats we've been a part of together and talked online together before we met in person. I've personally collaborated with Steven at Edutopia. I don't know if you remember that guide a long time ago that we did for Facebook. We did the social media policies guide. We did a pop-up EdCamp at ASCD. And that went over medium well. And I've even traveled with Steven to far off places. We traveled to Qatar – Doha – to attend the WISE Education Summit and report on education there. So I'm going to give you a little bit of background about Steven, he can introduce himself, and then we'll get started.

So Steven is known as Web20Classroom on Twitter. And so go ahead and follow him on Twitter. That's Web20Classroom. And he's one of the original founders of EdChat. So EdChat is a live chat that happens every Tuesday. And I think it's still twice Tuesdays, right?

Steven:

Just 7 p.m. Eastern. Just one time now.

Elana:

Just 7 p.m. Eastern. OK. So you've attended live. You get to collaborate with really people, passionate people all around the globe talking about education in live time, which is really cool. Steven is an author. He's a speaker. He's a blogger. He's basically all things passionate about K-12 education. He's up in the middle of it. Steven was a former teacher. He's also been a director of Instructional Technology. And I specifically again wanted to talk to Steven because there's not many people that have gone through the gamut of the world of EdTech and started from being a classroom teacher. So welcome, Steven. I'm excited to talk about conferences and ISTE, and all of those things with you. Is there anything you want to add about yourself to the audience?

Steven:

I don't know. Whoever that person is, he sounds pretty cool. No. It's really a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to be able to talk to you. It's been a very long time and unfortunately pandemics and things like that keep us apart, but I'm glad that we have these opportunities to have a chat.

Elana:

I know every time I see you I feel like your beard is getting longer.

Steven:

It is getting longer. My hair is getting longer, too. It's like I've let it all go, I guess.

Elana:

Well, thank you for joining. Let's just get into it. Let's get into the conferences. This is kind of where – I mean, I know I definitely met you in person for the first time at conferences. And since then we've always kind of ran into each other at conferences. Why don't you tell the audience without intimidating too much how many conferences do you typically go to? How many ISTE's have you been to? What types of conferences? I know it's a lot. And then maybe we can get into just from your vantage point as a teacher, as an administrator, and now in EdTech how do you begin to choose what conferences you go to?

Steven:

So, number of ISTE's, I think this is number 11. I think. It might be more than that. But I think it's 11. Number of conferences a year is a lot. I'm in the neighborhood of at least 30 to 40, but those run the gamut of all different types, not just EdTech. Some of them are just general education. Some of them are school safety, some of them are school communications. There's a lot of them and I have been on all different sides. The first conference I ever went to was an ASCD conference in San Francisco. And I had a friend tell me that I should put in conference related to technology, because no one was doing technology at that conference. And it was like a guarantee to be able to present.

And so my very first ever conference, I not only attended, but presented. And it was an experience to be able to do that. And since then, I've been all over, all over the world to conferences like, you mentioned the WISE Conference. I've done that six times. I've done conferences in Denmark and France and Dubai, and just all over the place to have that opportunity to both as just an attendee, but as a speaker as well. And it is a different perspective each time, so from the classroom trying to look at what can I go in to see that I can take back to my classroom, and from an administrative point of view, what are people talking about that then I can introduce to my district or introduce to all of my teachers. And then from the kind of the business side of things, what are we seeing that people are gravitating towards to want to implement, or what are those things that people think are trends really viable in the classroom? So I've had, I've had a lot of those opportunities, especially here lately, to kind of think about what does the future hold?

nd then all of a sudden March:

And we've been talking about this for years and years and years. My phone was blowing up from folks saying, "You got to help us, you got to help us, you got to help us." And it's an interesting shift. It kind of set us back, I think, a little bit. There is some movement forward, but I think it kind of ultimately set us back, but in terms of conferences it's been interesting. My first in-person conference was this year at FET in Florida, which if you've not been to FETC, it's kind of ISTE Jr., but another large scale conference. And it was interesting to see some of the things that folks were presenting and some of the conversations that were had. There was a lot of learning – how do we set up the classroom for the next pandemic, how do we continue remote learning if we have to, and those are shifts in conversation, but the nature of what they're talking about hasn't really changed.

t had an in-person ISTE since:

Elana:

Yeah. The interesting thing about conferences is that by the time people get accepted on what they propose, sometimes especially the way the world is moving now, pandemic, post-pandemic, endemic, all of the different shifts right now, whatever you propose and got accepted may or may not be appropriate for right now. So I think that's always the rub for all the conferences. So I'm wondering how people can kind of pivot a little bit to make it more applicable, or like you said, what are the trends. Are we truly moving forward, or are we kind of somewhat going backwards into the buzzword catchphrase type of sessions? I'd be really curious.

Steven:

Yeah. I think that the whole buzzword type session, that will never die and never go away, but I wish it would. We have a tendency in education to kind of latch onto what the rest of the world is doing because there's money to be made. I mean, EdTech is more than a billion, three billion, ten billion, whatever – it's billions of dollars of an industry if you look at it all combined. And so there's money to be made. And there are people in this space who are considered influencers who latch onto those, and they garner a lot of trust from what they've done in the past or who they are, or whatever, and use it as a platform and an opportunity to promote themselves, which I am not a fan of. I pick and choose the kinds of things that I look at or that I tell people, "Hey, this is something you should look at very carefully."

minutes or:

And there are research-proven methods that technology can enhance that we need to be aware of and be utilizing in our classroom. It's not about the tool, because everybody's screaming about Twitter this week. "Oh, Elon Musk has bought Twitter." Well, you know what? If Twitter tanks, Twitter tanks. It's not the end-all, be-all that we have made it out to be. Has it has it provided a lot of opportunities for people like me, or people who are listening, to connect to a wider community of educators? Definitely. Are there other tools out there that do that? Definitely. It's not the one thing.

And so when we hitch our wagon to that one thing and then suddenly it goes away, you know, we have a tendency to freak out about it. There may be people on this call who don't remember things like Glogster. I was around when Glogster was the thing, and all Glogster was was an online poster maker that you could put some videos in. And now I can rattle off 50 tools that do the same thing, but when Glogster went from a free model to paid, people lost it. "What do you mean, I have to pay $3 a month? What do you mean, I have to pay $10 a month?" Well, technology unpaid is not sustainable. Free services are not sustainable. There has to be income coming in. Yeah, yeah, we use Facebook and we use Twitter, but what do they also have? They have ads. Well, we all know the problem with that. So I doubt there are people who remember Google Wave. Everybody thought Google Wave was the next big thing.

Elana:

I did not.

Steven:

Tom Whitby and I we helped create EdChat to give away invites to Google Wave. And we had people coming from out from underneath every corner of the globe trying to get an invite to Google Wave. There is even somebody who created an EdChat Wave thinking that was going to be something that was going to be the next thing. So when we think about conferences and we think about what is it we want to present, I always tell people, "Present what you're passionate about." So it's just like in the classroom. If kids pick up on your passion for what you're teaching, they're going to be engaged more, they're going to retain more, and they're going to be more likely to want to continue that learning.

And the other thing is don't focus on something specific like a tool, because you never know. What if that tool goes away tomorrow? What if that tool suddenly becomes unviable because they make some huge UI or platform change? Don't rely specifically on a set of tools. Rely on the pedagogy around that tool. So, Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a great example. I love Flipgrid. And people were scared when Microsoft bought Flipgrid that it was going to change and it was going to go away, or what have you. Thankfully, it has only improved, but the Flipgrid sessions I enjoy going to are the innovative ways that people are using that tool in order to enhance learning in their classroom, not the "here are the 40 things that I do with Flipgrid in my classroom." What's that one thing that has had a lot of impact, and tie it back to pedagogy. And not just pedagogy, playback to research.

Pedagogy stands the test of time. The way that we teach now hasn't really changed, and that's OK, provided we're utilizing technology in a way that enhances that pedagogy that takes it to a next level. That's also backed by research that we're using those research-proven methodologies. And there's a lot of things that people knock in just the education general community that are research-proven to work. The lecture style has a very high student retention rate, but if you're doing it all the time, it probably doesn't. So it's understanding; it's not only understanding the research, but then understanding the pedagogy, but then understanding the research behind it. That stuff stands the test of time when you're presenting at a conference.

Elana:

So if I'm going to a conference as an educator and I'm going to ISTE and I'm hearing a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter and there's a lot of ISTE newbies, but then there's a lot of veterans too, but even veterans are, like, "I don't know what this ISTE is going to be like." How do you maybe take away their anxiety? I mean, they have anxiety in a fun, excited way, but it's intimidating. Where would you recommend they get started? What has been proven to be "whatever you do go here because you can't go wrong?" Is there any of those places for you in ISTE from the educator standpoint where you just go in and go, "Gosh, that's great learning?"

Steven:

sked me this question back in:

This year it's hard to predict it. I thought FETC was going to be just cram-packed full of people. And there were a lot of people there, but it didn't feel like there were a lot of people there. And so it felt like there was a lot more opportunity to breathe and to kind of explore and to move around and look at things, but from an educator standpoint, I think you have to go into the conference knowing that you're, A, not ever going to be able to see or do everything you want to. If you sit down with your little program and you say, "I'm going to go to this session, I'm going to do this session, I'm going to do this," you're going to burn yourself out the first day, because if it's set up the same way, they're going to do it the same way this year, you could have, I don't know, eight sessions in a day. And that's a lot of sitting, and that's a lot of just brainpower to try and absorb all of that information.

I would always tell my teachers that we would send to ISTE every year when I was with the district, "I would do a max three to four sessions a day. Do two in the morning and do two in the afternoon." You need to give yourself that time, that break, just like we do with kids. It's the same sort of learning. Yeah, we have a longer ability to sit there and be able to consume that information, but still you've got your limit, too. And so, take that break and take that opportunity to go into it realizing there are going to be some things that you miss, but that's why being able to hook into things like the ISTE hashtag, where people will go to a session and they will take virtual notes and they'll post them, and then that was a session that you may have wanted to attend and didn't get the opportunity to.

Also go into it knowing that you're probably going to get to a space on your schedule where you've got four sessions that you need to attend all at the same time. How are you going to be in the same place all the same time? Don't be afraid to reach out to the people who are doing those sessions, either through Twitter or social media or wherever it is to say, "Hey, I could not attend your session." I cannot tell you how many people have said to me after a conference or after a session. "I wanted to come to your session, but I just couldn't because I was doing this or I had to go here. Can you send me your deck?" Happily. Here you go. Here's everything that I did. If you need anything, let me know, and I'll schedule a call and we can talk about it. Don't be afraid to reach out, especially for people who you may consider, like, edufamous or Twitterati, or whatever the buzz term for that is. I am not a celebrity. I am an educator who has a passion for ensuring that every kid everywhere has the opportunity to learn and grow. I'm just like everybody else. And so I may look intimidating because I have a mile-long beard, but my goal in life is to help as many folks as I can. Don't be afraid to reach out to your favorite person that you chat with or that you tweet with.

And then I think the last thing is using – this was something I learned very early on going to conferences and that you may hear people joke about, but it's the Rule of Two feet. If you go to a session and the description – this is my biggest pet peeve with sessions is that you write this description and then you get in there and the presenter wrote the description in a way that it would get accepted, but now they want to present something completely different. That is a big pet peeve for me. So use the Rule of Two Feet. If your needs are not being met as a learner, leave, go to another session. Realize that not everybody writes their descriptions accurately or in a way that completely depicts what they're going to do. So don't be afraid to use those two feet to go. And use it as a time to break or go to another session that you wanted to because you had two at the same time.

So those would be the kinds of things that I would look at. But the biggest thing is to realize that it's going to be overwhelming, especially if it's your first one. It's going to be. It's not like your local school conference where you've got six or seven rooms to choose from. There are hundreds of sessions to choose from, and you will not be able to see all of them, and you will be overwhelmed. And that's OK. Use it as an opportunity to say to yourself, "This is what I need for next year based on who I am as a teacher or what my kids' needs, or this is the thing that I want to improve." And then build what you're going to do, your scheduling, and who you want to talk to based on that. Don't just try to go in there and hope and pray that you get to do everything, because even as someone who's been to dozens, I never get to do everything I want to, and taking that break and time away is important as well.

Elana:

Yeah. Gosh, so much to unpack there. I would say that one thing you said around think about what you want to do next year. Also think about people you want to bring. So as people continue to go to ISTE and other EdTech conferences, they say, "Gosh, my colleagues would be really good, because there's this whole track on social and emotional learning. And then there's this other track about school communication that my administrator really wants to attend." So they start building their cadre of people. And I see that. I see people walking in with their districts and stuff. And that's really cool to see. I think just to sum up all the goodness, you said it, and I'm going to have a hard time because you went fast.

ably going to be hashtag ISTE:

So I plant in the Bloggers Cafe or the PLN Lounge, and there'll be little areas that people are just – made for networking. Sit there, get on the hashtags, go to not as many sessions, because I've tried to do that back in the early days and it burns you out. Make sure you're doing socials afterwards as well, meeting people, and just relaxing and having fun. I learn in a more informal way. So think about how you – do you learn in sessions, or do you learn just kind of saying, "Hey, how did you do that? That looks cool." More often than not, those presenters will actually be at lounges. You can go up to people like Steven and say, "Hey, you said something cool. Do you mind showing me?"

I'm a person that gets a little intimidated, but I loved when Steven said, "Hey, go up to anybody. They would be more than happy to give you the slides." So that is your permission. If you are shy like me, or "I don't want to bother people. They're all busy. There's people around them," whatever it may be. So the Rule of Two Feet, EdCamp rule is so important. You own your learning. I know that that's not true sometimes where people are giving you professional development, but this time is for you. Whatever conference you're at, it is not rude for you to get up and go to another session. It's just your learning needs are not being met.

So I think I covered them all, Steven, but those are all really good tips. From an EdTech perspective, now we're switching gears. We're in the world of the Expo Hall. And for you educators, the Expo Hall – you could spend your entire time in the Expo Hall and learn a ton. The transition of the Expo Hall to the learning centers where educators are doing presentations all the time is so amazing. I learned so much from the Expo Hall just alone, too, but from the EdTech perspective, Steven, how do you make the most of a big conference, especially if – I know that's a big question. And people spend an hour on this topic alone, but what are some things you have done to really engage users, to engage customers? And what are, like, maybe the missteps you see EdTech brands not doing, and you're like, "Oh, kind of – don't do that?"

Steven:

Yeah. I mean, the vendor floor at any large-scale national conference like that, it can be very overwhelming. I came back not too long ago from a conference, it was not an education conference, but the vendor floor was literally a mile and a half long at the one of the convention centers in Orlando. And there were probably 2,500 vendors there. And we're talking huge, huge spaces, but I've seen any kind of conceivable way to get somebody to stop in a booth that you can imagine over the course of the years. And even for a time worked for Promethean, and the year that we launched ClassFlow, which maybe some folks may be familiar with, that we had a two-story booth. And on one side on the bottom was one we put demos. We have a bunch of boards and everything. And on the other side we had a fully replicated version of Ron Clark's classroom that he brought his students to, so that you could stand there and watch Ron Clark teach, which normally not too many people get the opportunity to do every year.

So I've seen people use drums. There was one ISTE where they had people who were, like, head-to-toe in green spandex running around. That was interesting. There are all kinds of ways that vendors use to try and draw people in. I think the ones that are most effective are the ones that really create a personal connection with the person who's there. And it's not just the little tchotchkes or things that they give out. Don't get me wrong. I got two daughters. I have a 13-year-old and a 9-year-old, and they love when I bring them back T-shirts and stuff like that. And those things, they're fun and it draws people in and whatnot, but what really matters is the personal connection of why is this person stopping.

And I've worked for vendors and have gone to conferences to represent vendors. And I know that if someone's going to stop at my booth, it's because they want to be there. I am of the opinion that if someone is walking by and they are not interested, if they are just walking by, I'm not going to bother them because I want the people to come to my booth who are interested in what we're doing, or interested in what we have to provide. And I don't work on sales, and so I don't have a sales background, and I understand that those things are important, but I want to talk to the people who want to be there, who I can make a connection with.

And what I don't see enough in the EdTech industry is thought leadership. I don't see enough of these high-profile vendor names that, if we were to rattle off between the two of us 10 or 20 of them, not doing enough in the thought leadership space. If you're a leader in school communications, what are you doing in order to help push that forward to be not only just a sales leader in that space, but also a person, an entity that brings in a knowledge from outside to promote a better school-home communications? Or if you're in whatever space it is bringing in outside folks to make that connection. One thing I've seen that is successful is office hours where you can actually, as an existing customer, so it's not an opportunity to – maybe it is. Maybe it turns into an opportunity to sell, but you're an existing customer with an account – especially if there's some high-profile folks within every organization. Now you've got a face-to-face opportunity to spend with them. And, and so I've seen office hours be really super successful and being able to just do simple account reviews, 15 minutes, and you know, you sign up ahead of time, you come at this time and then do that account review. It's not so much about the stuff that you give away.

And the things to remember about ISTE, well, the thing to remember about any conference is know your audience. Who is going to be there? ISTE pulls a lot of teachers, but it also pulls a lot of technology directors. It pulls a lot of folks from other parts of the district org that we don't normally – may not get to talk to you in kind of an EdTechie way. Or ASCD. Well, ASCD used to be all curriculum directors and chief instructional officers. Well, now it's kind of shifted into teachers. And so, how can you position what you're doing as a vendor to reach that audience?

So it's understanding who is going to be there. It's not so much about the little toys and things that you bring. Yeah, those are fun. We all are picking them up for our kids or putting them in our classroom, but really, how can you make a personal connection with that person who stops in the booth to ask a question to see what you're doing? This happened to me at FETC. I stopped at a booth because I saw somebody doing something really super interesting. I ended up staying there for 90 minutes having a conversation, getting a demo, talking to them, and have been talking to them ever since because it was something that I was interested in. But there are dozens and hundreds of other vendors there that – I always do a lap. I always walk through the vendor floor. I do it one day, and then I'll wait a day, and then I go another day. And the ones that really stuck out to me are the ones where I can make a personal connection or I can make a personal connection to someone who – they're not somebody who just comes and stands in front of me to say, "Hey, do you want to know about, you know, about cloud hosting?" No. Don't have any interest. "Yeah, but do you know –?" Like, I don't need it. Please leave me alone. Like, that kind of in-your-face kind of stuff is really just off-putting, in my opinion, and for some people it works, but to me it's ultimately making a personal connection with the people who stopped by.

Elana:

It's interesting, because my team is in organic social media all the time, and what we try to talk about is we want brand awareness, but you only want brand awareness with the right people. To do that, you start to create value, what you said with that thought leadership, and I was just snapping silently, like, "Yes, we do need more thought leadership in education." And we don't need to treat thought leadership as an end to a means of a sale. We do it because we're passionate about it. And this is what drove us to create the company in the beginning. And I'm not saying that all are like that, but I want to reframe it. And I want to inspire you that, all that are listening, think about if you are working for an EdTech, or if you're an educator that maybe is an ambassador or certified, whatever, ask them, "What are you doing? Can you create more content for us? We'll happy to give you some thoughts around what content might be valuable."

But there's so many things that EdTech can do, but it starts with being genuine, being authentic, and showing up. And, sure, within a booth, I don't want you at a booth that's just like no effort and you can't see a demo and there's two people just, and it's kind of a little sad trombone, but you do want a little tchotchkes, you do want some of these things, right, but I love the office hours. I think that that is genius. And you don't need to have a lot of people come to it because so many people buy tech, but they don't have the time to actually implement it. And oh my gosh, I get to talk to an expert, and they can help me. So those are all really great.

I think the one stakeholder we haven't really talked about is the education admin. And they're not a dominant force at ISTE, but they are at other conferences, too, but I do know EdTechs are searching them out. So EdTech companies are trying to search out those decision makers, right, people that either are influencers and buying the product or actually sign the dotted line on the contract. So I guess maybe a twofold question: As you came to the conference as an admin, how do you navigate it without being bombarded? And then from the EdTech perspective, how did they find you in a not creepy way and engage with you?

Steven:

Yeah. So those are great questions. So from my perspective was, I was a decision maker. So I controlled the budget, I signed on the dotted line, like you had to sell to me and convince me that this was going to work in my district. The thing I think to remember and the thing that I always went into was, I was not going to make a decision based on a conversation I had on the vendor floor. It might help start a conversation, it might help me come to a clearer conclusion, but I'm not going to sign a contract on the vendor floor. And I think many of my colleagues would feel the same way that we – I always approached the vendor floor in two paths.

One was I wanted to go talk to the people who I already had a preexisting relationship with, so the vendors that we were already doing business with, whether it was websites or hardware, or whatever it was. I was going to go talk to him because I want to see if there was anything new. Yeah, we had regular meetings and we talked all the time and we probably talked beforehand and they asked me, "Hey, are you going to be at ISTE?" "Yeah, I'm going to be there." "Oh, well, stop by the booth. We're going to be doing this." "Yeah, I'll stop by whether you called me or email me or not, because I want to see what you're doing, because we already do business together, but that doesn't mean that's not an excuse just to leave me alone. Like, we do business together, I should be talking to you a lot."

But on the other hand, I always wanted to look at what was new. And so I always took a step back and looked and saw where a lot of people were going. And I know that that cannot be a good indication of what a product is or the viability of a product, but in general, especially in EdTech and especially at the ISTE floor, there will be a lot of people around certain types of vendors or certain vendors themselves. And if I saw a large group of people around someone and I didn't know who they were, I had never heard of them before, I would at least go and stand and check it out and see what was going on. And if it was something that I was interested in or something I thought our district was, then I would stand and I would listen to a pitch. I probably didn't have 30 minutes to stand and listen to a pitch. So I need the elevator, I need the 5,000-foot views so that I can quickly decide in my mind, "Yep, this is something I want to pursue," or "This isn't something I want," and then I'll make time for the things that I want to listen to.

But I always went into that floor with the knowledge of what was our technology plan? Where were we going? What was my supe interested in? What were we struggling with as a district? I always had those floating around in the back of my mind so that I knew, if I saw something that could fill a need or fill a gap, I made time to go there. I made time to stop and talk.

But I think one of the things at a lot of conferences that are doing now, I know FETC and ISTE do this, is they have kind of a startup area where they have those brand new vendor areas, and those don't get enough love. They don't get enough people coming by because you think, "Oh, startup, it's brand new, what do they know, they haven't been around," and they just might have a little kiosk where they have – because they're just starting out. They don't have you know, a $50,000 booth or $100,000 booth. I know of one EdTech company that has spent half a million dollars on a booth to try and pull people in that they already have name recognition, because they think if it looks big, that means that they are doing really well. Something that big is money wasted.

But the startup has just maybe a little table and just the founder there. Where else are you going to be able to go to a conference and talk to the person who created this product that is trying to fill a need, that's trying to get their business off the ground? That could be really super cool or could really potentially change the game? And so I love the fact that many of these conferences are starting to add those. I wish more of them would do it in a way that kind of put a lot bigger spotlight on the startups, and look at and kind of bring them up to the top, because I don't think they get enough love, but now, even as someone who's just not directly involved with the school district, I advise decision makers.

And so those are kind of the paths that I take. I look at my clients, and I say, "OK, who needs what and who can I go talk to?" I've got tons of friends in the industry I go talk to, but I will spend a lot of time looking at startups and looking and seeing kind of where? What is? Because that to me tells me trends. If you're going out there and you're putting money in and you're looking for investors and you're trying to create this thing that I would think are really passionate about, maybe it's filling a need that we just haven't recognized yet that you have the forethought and the vision to kind of see. And so I'm going to spend some time down there because they definitely don't get enough love and they should.

Elana:

Yes. Yes. And I've loved that you mentioned them because it is what Steven said. You literally go around, and they're in these small little booths, but every single one is manned with a founder. And you get to talk to him about their why and their passion. And it's so exciting for me. Plus they are yearning for educator feedback, too. That's why they're there. They're here to listen to educators. And then also entrepreneurs. They can say, "Hey, I tried this, but it failed." And right now those seed startups, so the younger startups, they need help more than ever in EdTech. You all can listen to Sandro's talk. We'll put it in the Show Notes. But Sandro comes from the world of EdTech accelerators and talked about how the pandemic really squashed a lot of the baby startups. And we saw a lot of merging big companies swallowing up other companies and just acquisitions here and there. So really good to give love to those people.

One other side I want to mention is – or I want to ask you specifically, Steven – is when you are an administrator from an EdTech perspective, beyond being a customer, because so many of them come to me and say, "I only want to talk to buyers," how do I get to them at conferences? Certainly they have email and they have existing clients and prospects that they should be inviting, but how do they attract them beyond the general traditional ways? Have you seen people try to attract you when you were the decision maker? It was like dinners or, gosh, I don't know, what they do to lure you.

Steven:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I can't tell you how many meals I've eaten in a day because people invited me to places, or had to just turn down because there were so many, but, yeah, I think it goes back to what I said before about personal connection. The reality is that vendors buy the list of the attendees and they look for certain titles. So they're looking for specific titles, and then they send them a mass email. And even to this day, I still get tons of those just as a regular attendee and, "Oh, come to this booth" or "Come see this." And you have to check off that box now when you register, like, do you want to get things in the mail. Please don't send me anything in the mail. Please just send it to my email.

But the thing, I think, where I actually had not heard of a particular vendor, this was many years ago, I had not heard of a particular vendor before and they personally reached out to me. Now, if it had been automated, it felt personal. They knew about me, they knew who I was, they knew about my district, they knew what we were doing. And they invited me to a dinner that was just me. And I'm not saying that you have to spend all this money on just trying to woo these one people, but if you've got a particular district in mind, or targets in mind, I would look at them specifically and personally. Whenever somebody messaged me, or somebody called me or they emailed, and they knew that we were launching this initiative because they had read about it on our website, or they had seen it in the paper, or they had seen the TV article about it, they knew what we were doing. They had read board minutes or whatever it was, because we were the third largest district in the state. So we are obviously very attractive from a bottom-line standpoint, but we're also very innovative in what we were doing, and we wanted to be the best.

And so those ones that reached out to us personally, those were the ones that I gave my time to. If I'm interested in something and you invite me to a dinner and there's a couple other people there, that's cool. I love meeting people, and especially if they're people I know, which I probably do, then it's an opportunity to hang out, but to me it's the personal connection. It's either getting invited by my account manager, "Hey, we're going to go do this thing, and we want you to come." And it doesn't always have to be dinner. Even from the vendor side. I've taken people to waterparks, I've taken people to paintball. I mean, we've done activities to do that, not just about dinner and drinks, that sometimes it's just providing an experience that we might be the only one who thought of or could be able to provide, but it was personal. It was – we had a personal connection to what we were trying to do, whether I was a prospect or I was already a sale and we're trying to do a little bit more.

Elana:

Yeah. And from a tech perspective – I work with a lot of EdTech companies. And a lot of the times it's interesting to see each company try to gauge ROI for each event, right? They're like, "Is it worth it?" So what's the return on investment, because it is a lot now that we're coming back to in-person. I've got to fly, I've got hotels, I've got parties, I've got the booth, I've got all of these things, right? So what actually came out of it? So you can come and approach conferences from the brand awareness perspective, that big reach, the big net, "OK, we reached this many, we got this many leads," but what I'm hearing from you is go smaller and go more focused and go more intentional. And if you have one great conversation and take out the heads of LA Unified School District and then you get a sale as a result of that, would you rather have that or a big plethora of leads that you're really not sure if half of them are in your target market and they really just wanted to sign up to get the beer that you're giving out?

So I think it's a personal decision for each company, but they have to really weigh their approach and balance those two. You certainly want to get more prospects, and you want to make sure that they're the right prospects, but I am on the camp with you. Personal, deep relationships will win everything else. And if that person that you have that personal deep relationship with that went to a waterpark with you. Sometimes more often than not, they switch to another company, they switch to another district. So those relationships last forever. And I thank you for bringing that approach to conferences, because sometimes it's just more and more and more, I need to do this, that, and then we all burn out. And what even happened? And it takes us three weeks to even follow up with people, right?

Steven:

It's so true. It's so true. And what you said is dead on. Like, would you rather have 1,000 scans for leads and only, like, four of them are viable, or would you rather have this personal relationship with the decision maker that you had this opportunity? And again, I'm talking about extreme example. You don't have to take everybody to the waterpark or to paintball or to a $100-a-plate dinner and drop a lot of coin on all of that, but vendors ask me that question all the time – Excuse me, I would always say the vendors that I continue to do business with were the ones where I felt like I was the only thing that was keeping them in business. I was the only client that they had. And I switched vendors for a particular product because they never called, they never talked to me, I only got the marketing emails. And then when it came time for renewal, they just sent me the renewal bill thinking, without ever talking to me, saying, "Oh, well, they're just going to renew because they've been with us forever."

Just because I've been with you forever doesn't mean that I don't have the opportunity or the means to change. They think because I've got 10,000 teachers, "Oh, you don't want to retrain everybody." I'll retrain everybody at this point if I'm going to have a better relationship. My account manager or my rep said to me, I felt like every time I talked to them, I was the only thing, even though I know they might have 100 accounts or 1,000 accounts or whatever it is. Those were the ones that I did business with and the ones that I expanded my business with.

And then the same thing applies to a conference. And I know that's where you're exactly right. You have to weigh what is it that you're trying to do. So that's why, hopefully at this point if you've decided to go to ISTE as a vendor, you've already had the conversation of why are we going. And to me, it's always about the why. Why or what is the one thing we need to get out of this conference? Is it we need to make these connections with these people? Is it we're doing brand awareness? Is it that we want to launch this thing and have everybody be excited about the launch? What is it that we're doing and then use that as the driver.

Elana:

Love that. So focus. I'm feeling like a little bit Karate Kid. "Focus now, my son." I know, we can talk about conferences forever. I hope to see you at ISTE. Will you be there this year?

Steven:

You will see me at ISTE.

Elana:

And then just one thing that I do from a vendor perspective, and I don't consider myself a vendor, but I work with EdTechs. I have just a fun informal party. And that's what I do. And I take out some clients here and there, but it's really about the relationship. And our parties are very small that we can have those long conversations, you can have those relationships, and we invite some of our educator friends. So I think it really depends on all the things you talked about. So I really, really appreciate your advice from the educator perspective. I hope educators that are listening walked away with, "Alright, I think I can navigate ISTE and other conferences," because if you can navigate ISTE, you can navigate them all. It's the biggest one I've ever been to. And from the admin perspective, too, think about what you want to get out of it. How do you want to make the most of it and focus? And Steven gave a lot of tips from the EdTech perspective; being very intentional about what you want to do. And how do we create those relationships that can last a long time?

So Steven, the last question I'm going to ask you – we ask all of our guests is – it's about inspiration, especially inspiration in this time of a lot of us are virtual. A lot of us are trying to figure out this new kind new normal still. And there's a lot of burnout. There's a lot of burnout in education, so much so that teachers are leaving. They're calling it the great exodus. All of these things. And EdTech, we're burning out. Everyone is burning out in every industry. How do you specifically get inspired? Are there things you read? Are there people you connect with, or do you go out for a jog? Like, what keeps you going in the world, and Steven, and you're doing so much?

Steven:

I definitely don't jog, but I probably should start. Man, the pandemic would have been perfect for that. No. What I do to stay inspired is I unplug. Like I literally unplug and – my daughter just turned 13. And she went on a two-night overnight camp with her school. And so couldn't use her phone. I promise this has a point. And so when I picked her up after three days of not having her phone, and she's like every other kid, she's got text messages, Discord and TikToks, and all those things. I said, "How was it for three days without your phone?" And she's, like, "It was amazing." She said, "My friends and I actually looked at each other and talked to each other, and now we have all these ideas of the things that we want to do together." And I said, "It's amazing what happens when you unplug."

And unplugging doesn't – maybe not fix the problem, but it at least gives us an opportunity to take a breath, because I think we, for so long – I was for so long plugged into Twitter and social media and doing everything, and the pandemic hit. And I was just, like, I didn't have the energy. And people will notice. People have tweeted to me, it's, like, "Hey, you don't tweet as much as you used to." And I don't. I tweet things that are thoughtful or that I'm thinking or that I think are just wonderful to share, but I don't have this anxiety around being plugged in. And I have been preaching that for years. Like, you don't have to be constantly plugged into social media or even to EdTech to feel like you're a part of it.

So I continue to find inspiration in just getting away from it. And with my kids and – even with my daughters, we went to New York City for their spring break, and just talking to them. And I got a dozen ideas for new sessions based on the things that they were telling me that were happening in their classroom, just by listening to them. And they were things that I know they've told me before, but I just didn't have the bandwidth to be able to think about it, but getting away from it, I was able to think about it. So that's how I continue to find inspiration.

And the other thing is talking to folks like you, and several of my other friends that we've stayed very close together, and even just a simple text message. My friend Adam Bellow – if I get a random text message from Adam Bellow, that just makes my day because we don't get to see each other face-to-face, we don't get to talk very often, but, man, he'll send me a text message – "Hey, buddy, how you doing?" I just melt because it's just wonderful. And my friend, Shaelynn, she'll text me and I just melt, because you're still connected, but those are the things that I find inspirational, and that's where I can get my energy from so that when I do have to go at it full throttle, I can go at it full throttle.

Elana:

Yes. But another theme is intentional connections, right? And for those of you who might say, "Gosh, Adam Bellow's name is familiar," he was a podcast guest. So we'll put his link to the Show Notes in here, but he was one of our first podcast guests and just really talked about the ins and outs of EdTech, because he's also one of those wonderful people that have started as an educator and then went to the world of EdTech as a founder.

So thank you so much, Steven, for spending time with us. And for those of you listening, please know that we appreciate you taking the time to learn alongside Steven and I. We're learning all the time. We would love to meet all of you, so please reach out to us. Steven, how can people get in touch with you?

Steven:

Yeah. I'm Web20Classroom everywhere, so Twitter, Instagram. I think my kids even have me on TikTok. I've never posted anything because I'm not smart enough to know, but, yeah, you can reach me on the website Web20Classroom.org, blog Web20Classroom.org, at Web20Classroom.org. You can send me an email. It'll come to me. So it's everywhere.

Elana:

Awesome. Well, thank you again, everyone. And I hope that whether you're an educator or an EdTech brand, you took at least one thing away that you can do differently. It could be something big, it could be something just small, and say, "Gosh, I really need to pause and rethink the way I approach conferences. What do I want to get out of it personally?" So think about all the things. We will have Show Notes that highlight the major points and all of the resources, and the additional conferences we talked about as well. You can access those at Leoni Consulting Group.com\20., so 20, 2-0. And that's Leoni Consulting Group with two G's. So thank you all. And we will see you all next time on All Things Marketing and Education.

Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode. If you liked what you heard and want to dive deeper, you can visit Leoni Consulting Group.com\podcast for all Show Notes, links, and freebies mentioned in each episode. And we always love friends, so please connect with us on Twitter at Leoni Group. If you enjoyed today's show, go ahead and click the subscribe button to be the first one notified when our next episode is released. We'll see you next week on All Things Marketing and Education.

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Elana Leoni, Host

Elana Leoni has dedicated the majority of her career to improving K-12 education. Prior to founding LCG, she spent eight years leading the marketing and community strategy for the George Lucas Educational Foundation, where she grew Edutopia’s social media presence exponentially to reach over 20 million education change-makers every month.

Steven Anderson, Guest

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About All Things Marketing and Education

What if marketing was judged solely by the level of value it brings to its audience? Welcome to All Things Marketing and Education, a podcast that lives at the intersection of marketing and, you guessed it, education. Each week, Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, highlights innovative social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies that can significantly increase brand awareness, engagement, and revenue.

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