A One-Two Punch at Conferences
Boosts Sales to Schools
by Julia Graddy
Many K–16 publishers
rightly wonder whether exhibiting at a conference is worth the money, time, and
effort. After all, the bare-booth costs can start at $1,000 for major
educational groups such as the International Reading Association and the
National Science Teachers Association. With lots of large vendors vying for
attention, it’s tough to break even or to generate enough post-conference
interest to warrant the expense.
One good way to increase your
chances of success as a conference exhibitor is to become part of the program.
I’ve seen this one-two combination work well time and again for small
educational publishers, whether they are one-person enterprises or companies
with many authors. And it also works for trade publishers who can identify a
title or a line with content that appeals to a specific segment of the
The strategy of pairing conference
speaking with your exhibit works no matter what your marketing goal for a
conference—selling books on site, advertising, giving out catalogs,
building product or author awareness, or promoting your services as a
consultant. It works so well, in fact, that we rarely exhibit anywhere unless
we have an author on the program.
Begin by Targeting
If this strategy interests you,
your first step should be matching your book with one of the educational
associations. Their world is highly segmented, serving every imaginable type of
school, educator level, academic subject, and student need. Take the time to
study association Web sites because organizational subcategories may be
significant. For example, the National Council of Teachers of English has
special-interest groups called assemblies that focus on topics like literature
for adolescents or computers in English.
Web sites also provide a wealth of
membership profile information, and they often list the names of exhibitors at
previous conferences, so you can learn what kinds of companies exhibit and what
the attendees want to hear about.
State and regional conferences are
the best places to begin. Your Web site search will uncover national
organizations (like the National Middle School Association, for example) that
have state and large-city affiliates, with conferences. Smaller conferences
increase your chances of acceptance. The costs to exhibit are lower. You can
build a core of customers who are relatively close to you and therefore
relatively easy to reach and serve. You’ll get valuable practice writing proposals
that can be tweaked for larger conferences, and a chance to hone your
presentation and exhibiting skills too.
I’ve found that a conference with
1,000–2,500 participants can be just as profitable as one with
10,000—and, in many cases, even more so. Fewer program choices mean
larger audiences, and great opportunities to meet with session goers after your
talk. And if the exhibit is smaller, they can remember and find you more easily
on the conference floor.
Think a Year Ahead
Even smaller state and regional
educational conferences begin scheduling major speakers at least 18 months in
advance. Proposals for unpaid workshop speakers typically open about a year to
nine months ahead of conferences. You can usually use Web sites to find contact
information for conference organizers and to submit proposals online.
Expect to Speak for Free
Most presenters get no money for
speaking. But as a speaker you do get visibility in the program and access to a
selected group of people who are interested in your topic (and your book or
service), and you draw people to your booth to see the product and whatever
else you are offering. Also, because you are exhibiting, you probably won’t
have to register separately as a speaker, which can cost $75 and up.
Give the Conference What
It Says It Wants
Most conferences have a theme with
several learning strands and different types of sessions, such as workshops,
pre-conference institutes, and seminars. Make sure you follow directions
carefully and tailor your session proposal to the requirements.
Although most conferences won’t
tell you this, more than one proposal is usually allowed. Change the angle to
make your presentations fit different slots, but make sure each talk focuses on
your book’s subject. For example, one of our authors is writing a book about
middle-school literacy centers. Her first proposal to the National Middle
School Association linked the centers to differentiated instruction; her second
emphasized the centers’ value for teaching high-level thinking skills to
Sell Information, Not Your
A conference won’t accept a
proposal couched in terms of our new book on literacy centers, or allow our
author to pitch the book. Conference selection committees are looking for
practical information and techniques that their attendees want and can use.
Make the Bio Work for the
Although you can’t directly sell
your product or service, there are no rules about what to put in your bio. Most
conferences use association volunteers to introduce each speaker and host each
session. You can easily write your own introduction and hand it to the host,
making sure that it mentions your book and your expertise. After all, they add
to your credibility as a speaker.
Session and Your Booth
Make sure you tell aisle-walkers
that you will be speaking, and let people who attend your session know where
you are located on the exhibit floor. Handing out prepared slips of paper with
your session information to aisle-walkers is one effective way to jog people’s
memory; they will appreciate having the information handy, and it will help
them plan their time. A Meet the Author poster at your booth that features your
photograph and session time is another good way to alert conference attendees to
your talk. And during the talk, mention your booth number, or post it at the
end of your PowerPoint or slide presentation with your other contact
information. Or include it with your session handout. Or all the above.
Use Your Session to Create
Of course, not everyone will buy
what you’re selling at a conference. But people who attend your session may
want to buy later, so it’s wise to try to figure out how to contact them after
the conference. One way to make the most of your exposure on the program is to
collect email addresses of attendees. We create an email giveaway that our
author/speakers distribute. To encourage onsite sales, you can hand out a
coupon at your session for a discount at the booth.
With both a booth and a speaking
session at an educational conference, you will be better able to meet any
marketing goal you have for any educational conference.
Julia Graddy is the
publisher at Maupin House, which publishes practical professional resources on
writing and reading for the K–12 educator. To reach her, email