January is proving to be a challenging month for many reasons. It seems months since we were last paid, the weight that I shifted in the second half of 2019 is almost all back and the thought of arriving at or leaving work in daylight is unimaginable. It also takes a while to get back into the swing of things at school, nobody comes back from the festive break feeling rested and refreshed, that goes for; teachers, pupils and parents.
So that is why, like so many of us, I look forward so much to that week at the end of January every year when I can jump on a flight down to London for London Education Week, specifically, for BETT conference. BETT is widely regarded as the main industry show of the year for those interested in education technology. This year BETT promises to bring together 800 leading companies, 103 exciting new EdTech startups and over 34,000 attendees. According to their website; "people from over 146 countries in the global education community come together to celebrate, find inspiration and discuss the future of education, as well as seeing how technology and innovation enable educators and learners to thrive".
This will be my fifth consecutive visit to BETT and I am looking forward to it this year in particular, because I think I have finally cracked how to get the most from my time, so I thought I would use this week's blog post to share some of my top tips.
A few warnings to first-time visitors
If this is going to be your first visit to ExCel for BETT, you cannot start to imagine how big this event is and from what I have read, it likely to feel even bigger this year as BETT seems to have taken over the second hall which was previously used to host The Education Show at the same time as BETT - I am not sure quite how this worked before as I never made it over to the other show. If you are only down for the day, good luck. I would probably suggest that if you only have one day, you just have to wander and get a feel for what is out there and if you have something specific in mind, make sure that you get to that stand or presentation, but realistically, you aren't going to achieve very much in one day, so use it to learn what to do differently next year!
Personally, I like to have three full days at BETT (Wednesday > Friday). I would probably plan a couple of meetings or perhaps take in one presentation, but other than that, I use my first day just to wander, get my bearings and grab some free swag. I then don't allow myself to pick anything up for the rest of the week, so get all the handouts and bags back to the hotel and use Wednesday night to make a plan for Thursday and Friday. The app has had a major update this year and whilst the random appointment invites are starting to get more than a little tiring already, it is a great way to see what presentations and workshops are on offer. I have certainly used this to create a schedule for each day of around five or six sessions. I won't get to them all and I really won't stress about very many of them at all, but at least I have a plan.
If there are companies or people that you are working with that you know are going to be at BETT, email in advance and get an appointment in the diary, I have wasted hours in previous years, wandering past booths waiting for someone I want to catch to come back from a lunch break or become free. This year, I have already booked appointments to see seven of the main app/service providers that we work with at our school.
Don't burn all of your energy out during the day
Clearly, for most, the focus of BETT will be the time spent at the ExCel. However, be sure to leave time and energy for the evenings as often, this is when the most powerful opportunities can be found. There will be evening events hosted by big players such as Apple and Microsoft, often targeted at their affiliated groups such as MIEs and ADEs, but open to all. So if you know someone who might be in the know, as for an invite! This year, I am looking forward to evening events on both Wednesday and Thursday, but I am also looking forward to using the time to socialise with some of my fellow ADEs, but also other Scottish teachers who I know are travelling down to BETT - it isn't often that we get time together to talk and touch base... especially on a school night!
I always stay relatively central for BETT. The hotels near the venue tend to be ridiculously over-priced, but do cut down your travelling time and I appreciate that some perhaps would like to have the option of heading back to their hotel for a midday break.
The best way to the venue is to take the Jubilee line to Canning Town, then switch to the DLR until Custom House. If using an Oyster Card, remember to tap off once you get to the upper level of the station, the machines aren't always easy to spot in the crowds! On my arrival day, I fly into City airport and you can walk from the terminal building to the ExCel, there are very reasonable left-luggage facilities at the venue (£1 if I remember correctly).
The great thing about London is that because of the underground, the weather isn't really an issue. Leave your jacket at the hotel and bring as little as possible. I like to have a battery pack in my back pocket, but as long as I have my phone and my Oyster card - I'm sorted. Food and drink is expensive at the ExCel, so you might want to bring that with you.
Quick Top Tips
Make sure you download the Bett Connect app before you arrive and create your schedule. But be warned (remarkably) the Wifi tends to be awful - so make sure you have plenty of data.
Keep a charged battery pack with you - you will be using your phone a lot to; tweet, photograph, take notes and check where you are going next on the app!
Create an email address specifically for Bett and only allow exhibitors to scan your badge if you really want to make contact, your inbox will never fully recover.
Tweet. Get as much content out there as possible. I use the Text Replacement feature on my iPhone to create a shortcut for BETT specific hashtags so that I don't need to type them out every time.
Use Bett as an opportunity (or an excuse) to meet face to face with like-minded educators who you engage with regular through social media.
Come to Bett being very clear on what you want to look at.
Make sure you give yourself time after the event to sit and think about the takeaways from Bett. You need to do this before you get back into the swing of school – you won’t have time on Monday! Whilst I fly down, I specifically plan my trip so that I take the train home, this way I can make the time to come up with my key action points to share with SLT.
Yes it’s big, and certainly can be a little daunting for first-timers, but Bett is the most exciting edtech event of the year. Yes, ultimately, people are trying to sell you things, but for those who have been attending for several years, it is our biggest annual reunion. How often do you get to meet with colleagues from across the country, and from overseas, who are all interested in achieving the same goal?
If you are attending BETT, I will be at the Sphero EDU stand (SE23) on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10am - 1pm. Please do come and say hello!