The difference between UK learning exhibitions and US learning conferences. A view from both sides of the fence.

I met many of the old faces of eLearning wandering around searching for something. What for actually I am not sure, the continued hunt for the holy grail that has never existed? Many were so surprised to find I never had a stand at the exhibition. For me it was the first relaxing day at Learning Technologies I have ever experienced. And I learned loads. I met so many who have changed their job since last year. I met many more who have gone out on their own and set up their own eLearning business. I met others whom I thought had retired only to find them back on some stand or other, ‘just helping out’!

I also had some great conversations about the direction The Learning Coach has taken, becoming a Partnership, not selling other people’s tools any longer, working with both clients and vendors to ensure the clients get the very best possible solution for their learning needs.

So many showed interest in the paper I am to release next week called i2, on the Incapability Index. Watch this space next week for more…

But my greatest eye opener, and notice of the difference between the USA and UK when it comes to exhibitions is the unbelievable manner some exhibitors waste their opportunity.

A stand 2mt x 2mt (6ft x 6ft) probably costs the vendor £2000 ($3000) and on top of that is electricity, furniture, brochures etc. One I saw yesterday had a small table, one chair for the owner, the client I assume has to stand, and a small hand drawn poster stuck on the wall saying ‘experts in eLearning design and development’. Oh dear, I don’t think I would like to employ that person to design anything. The owner ( can’t honestly call them a vendor) was sitting in the chair gabbing on her mobile phone something to do with the queue (line) at the petrol (gas) station last night. I did not stop for long.

I was approached five or six times with the chance to win a iPad or bottle of champagne in return for my business card. Not sure how to get the QRCode proudly displayed on my phone into the fish bowl, that incidentally not one person during the day had the ability to scan. And I was not handing over my business card.

So a new business idea hits me between the eyes. I should be adding a training course on how to promote your business at a trade show. Let me know if you are interested or would like a consultant to work with you in this area! (I am serious)

Is it like this in the USA? Well I have not seen it. Maybe the organisers throw you out if you have nothing in your booth other than a disinterested vendor and a hand written poster claiming you are a design expert!

What an eye opener. What a fabulous day yesterday at #lt12uk in Olympia London. For reasons different than I expected.

Since the Learning Technologies exhibition and conference opened it’s doors for the first time 12 years ago in London, I walked through the doors not as an exhibitor or speaker or presenter but as a visitor. I was to view this exhibition from the other side of the fence for the first time.

Note, to start I said exhibition. Actually three exhibitions and the conference is secondary. The hosts creating this event have narrowed their sites on how many stands can they sell for how much money. Even to the point that they outsource the creation of the associated conference to an outside consultant.

Over two days they will claim that 4000 people walked through the door, great number. Whilst a further 450 fare paying guests use a separate entrance to get to the top floor for the conference, never to be seen again.

Here was a realisation that in the USA the people who put on the conferences like eLearning Guild and ASTD, create a conference first with a fantastic line up of worldwide knowledgable people who will all speak to everyone they come into contact with, and, create an exhibition as a secondary event for the benefit of the conference people to meet those who are legitimate suppliers.

Whereas here in the UK what I saw yesterday was a different reality. This was an exhibition of any old and every old supplier all wanting to make a sale, in what felt like a frenzied environment. Most of the visitors had no idea at all that there was a conference going on two floors above, from which only a very small handful of attendees and speakers even made it to the exhibition floor. In the USA coffee and lunch is served by the expo, not here in the UK, the two groups are kept two floors apart.

Here lay another major difference. In the USA everyone is proud to wear their badge and be stopped for a chat. I have over the years met so many that I converse with on social media systems and had no idea how to recognise them, but there they are large as life, with a badge screaming their name to me. So many catch me and are excited they actually met me, to my embarrassment sometimes but it feeds my ego so don’t stop!

Here in the UK many hide their badge in their jacket or ensure it is turned backwards. God forbid you may know who they are or may wish to introduce yourself. Not in this culture, here they are terrified that the person introducing themselves is only doing so to sell them something. No wonder in an environment that has hundreds of exhibitors with little interest in the conference. I too would be scared. ‘Oh look there’s the buyer from Tesco’s quick let’s all push our brochure in her face’.

Oh what a great day. Lots of fun people to follow up with who appreciate great learning ideas and are not terrified to pay to get great results. Today is day two of LT2012, am I going back? Well the lure of the toy fair next door is interesting and the Dr Who experience is at Olympia too but, no thanks, I have a client to visit, well you may think that’s my excuse but it’s true.