An Ed-Tech Conference Session Vendor Pledge

"I will refrain from promoting my company’s products or services."

July 18, 2018

The ed-tech conference session vendor pledge is simple. It has only one requirement. One bright line. One hard-and-fast rule. One action that must never be taken. One line that can’t be crossed.

That pledge is for anyone works for an ed-tech company who participates in an educational conference session, discussion, roundtable or keynote. This pledge states that:

"I will refrain from promoting my company’s products or services."

That’s it.

Yes, participate in our higher education learning and technology conferences. Come to all the sessions, not just the ones that your company is sponsoring. Be included as a colleague in our work to leverage technology to improve higher education.

Just don’t promote your company.

It is great to identify the company that you work for when asking a question at a Q&A or participating in a discussion. Everyone who participates in a professional discussion should let folks know where they are coming from.

But don’t turn your question or comment into an opportunity to communicate about your company. Don’t talk about what your company does. Don’t recount the history of your company. And don’t share the problem that your company is trying to solve.

There are other different, more appropriate and effective venues to share information about your company. A session at a professional meeting is not the right time or place.

It is astounding to me how often people who work for companies violate the spirit of this pledge. Inevitably, at every learning and technology conference that I attend, someone will hijack a session to talk about their company’s products or services. They will do so without even really knowing they are doing it. The elevator pitch about the company that one works for is so ingrained in every professional interaction that it just sort of comes out.

My theory is that it takes real discipline among those who work for companies not to talk about what the company does. Most people who work for educational technology companies are genuinely invested in the platform or service. They truly believe in the idea that their company is doing good work in higher education. This good work might be about lowering costs, or growing access, or improving quality -- or maybe all three. Who knows, they might even be correct about the value their company brings to students, faculty members and universities.

The thing is that any time someone who works for a company uses a collegial discussion or keynote or whatever at a professional meeting to talk about their company, they lose major credibility among the higher ed people in the room. Not only does talking about your own product or service set back the goal of building relationships with colleges for your company, it further divides the school and vendor communities.

There is already a huge degree of skepticism within colleges and universities about the whole idea of collaborating with for-profit companies on core aspects of higher education. This skepticism is particularly evident in the world of technology, where the history of educational technology has been one of overpromise and underdelivery.

The best thing that people who work for technology companies in the higher ed space can do is to listen. Be present. Build relationships over the long term. Get curious about the challenges and issues that people who work at colleges and universities are facing. Relationships need to be established before higher ed people are willing to have conversations about specific products or services. And the time to share the good news about your company is never during a discussion among educators at a conference or other professional meeting.

Is there any chance that the ed-tech companies that attend technology and learning professional meetings will take this pledge?

How can companies effectively train their employees to show greater discipline and social intelligence when they attend conferences and events?


Inside Higher Ed's Inside Digital Learning

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