It’s that time of year again in the UK: the Bett Show, aka Bett. It’s the biggest ed tech show in the UK, in terms of number of visitors (approximately 35,000), size (it’s housed in a conference center measuring 100 acres) and the number of things going on over the four days (several seminar streams, a keynote talks area, a few thousand exhibitors, some of whom host their own seminar programs etc etc etc).
It’s the place to launch new initiatives, new products, new books. It’s the place to meet old friends and colleagues and find new ones. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to obtain some high quality professional development from experts in their fields. And how much does all this cost for the visitor? Not a penny.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that most companies pay a huge amount of money for their stands, leading some educators to dismiss Bett as ‘just a trade show’. It is very much more than that, but what’s wrong with a trade show anyway? It gives you the chance to find out more about a product you’re using, meet the supplier of that product or service and see what’s coming just around the corner. If you’re a technology co-ordinator in a school it’s the perfect opportunity to see what’s ‘out there’ so that you can plan your spending and your direction for the year ahead and beyond.
If you’re planning on going yourself, keep an eye on my website for details of a sort of quick-start guide to Bett. If you’ve never been to Bett before, and especially if it will be your first visit to London, the guide should prove useful. Just to reassure you that that is not a bit of shameless self-promotion, my guide is free, and you won’t have to provide any contact details to get it. Just grab-and-go, so to speak.
The Bett show started over thirty years ago, and in those days the name was an acronym. I think, if I remember correctly, that it stood for something like “British Education Technology and something beginning with the letter ‘T’”. Everyone now just calls it ‘Bett’, and nobody bothers to capitalize all the letters any more.
I used to think that the nearest thing to Bett in America would be the ISTE conference. Both events are huge, both attract big name speakers, both attract an international audience. But when I went to ISTE for the first time, in 2006 I believe, I was bowled over. The size of the exhibition area (in those days at least) was that you could have slotted the Bett exhibition hall into one part of it and still had tons of room left over. I am not sure if that is still the case because since then Bett has moved to its much larger current home.
Some things were the same though. A huge buzz for a start. During the ISTE conference I keep going on pure adrenaline through ridiculously long days. Bett is the same. Each year I promise myself that I won’t accept any invitations to breakfast meetings or evening drinks receptions. It’s the one promise I never manage to keep. It’s ok during Bett itself. But I’ve learnt to not agree to any important meetings or deadlines in the week following!
Another similar thing is the great feeling of meeting people in the flesh who you have previously known only through Twitter or Facebook. In fact, one of the things that the Bett organizers never do, but should, is provide the option of including your Twitter handle on your name badge. So people write it on themselves.
One thing that is very different is the starting point. I loved the sheer exuberance of the openings of the two ISTEs I’ve attended: bands, comedy, whoops and standing ovations. We Brits do it a bit differently: low-key talk by an education minister (usually) while 200 other things are going on at the same time. No cheerleaders, no shrieks of delight and joy, all very British stiff upper lip, in fact. Give me the ISTE approach any day!
If you are going across the pond to Bett, here are a few things I’d recommend doing.
- Register for the show in advance, as it will save you a bit of time when you arrive. You’ll find the details on the Bett website.
- Look at Transport for London’s website to find out how long the journey will take from your hotel to Excel -- and then add an hour. For a start, the train service on that line seems to run only every 15 minutes despite the fact that the number of people using it increases by probably hundreds of times over the Bett period. Secondly, because of that, you may well find yourself on the platform four or five rows back from the front. Work it out: if you miss 4 trains that run every 15 minutes, you’ll be standing there for an hour. By the time you get to Bett, you’ll not only be late: You’ll be frozen.
- Get yourself a travel card for the duration. Not only will it save you time in train stations (the ‘tube’), but it will also enable you to use the buses, which no longer accept cash.
- Plan your time in advance because there is so much to see there you won’t want to miss something just because you didn’t know about it. The list of seminars and exhibitors is on the Bett website. But to be honest, it’s a pretty awful website in my opinion. For example, you can’t just download a list of seminars, you have go backwards and forwards in this very fancy but not-great-to-use interface. A far better option is to download the Bett app. It lists everything in a really easy to view format, and has more functionality (for the visitor personally) than the website. And of course it’s free.
- Keep checking my website for details of my 2018 guide called Getting the Best out of Bett 2018. That will be up there soon (maybe even by the time you read this), and will be free.
- If you’d like a much more comprehensive guide to getting the most from conferences in general, not just Bett, think about buying my book. You’ll find the description on my website. BUT wait! You can’t buy it yet, because I’m about to publish an expanded version which will be available in paperback as well. That may be a week or two in coming, and in the meantime, I’ve removed the links to where people can buy the book so that they don’t buy an out-of-date version. But if you don’t want to miss it then sign up for my books bulletin.This is called, funnily enough, Terry Freedman’s Books Bulletin. Here’s the sign-up form. I’m sorry if that all sounds like a bit of an advertisement, but the book has received excellent reviews so I thought I ought to bring it to your attention in the context of talking about conferences.
If you do get to Bett have a great time -- and don’t plan on sleeping too much while you’re there! It takes place from the 24th to the 27th January. And just to remind you, the offical website, where you can register, is here: www.bettshow.com.
Terry Freedman is a freelance writer, consultant, trainer and speaker in the field of education technology. He publishes the ICT & Computing website.