At the beginning of November, I attended the CCUMC conference in San Antonio, Tex. For those of you who don’t know what CCUMC is, you should check out the website here. In a nutshell, it is a group developed and lead by Technology Managers in higher education. The group has a mission of providing a forum for sharing information and ideas relating to educational technology. In a way, it is a baby (infant, really) of InfoComm.
The beauty of the conference that I discovered is the fact that is is so small. I estimated about 250 people attended the conference. I would also estimate about 20-30 exhibitors, although I could be wrong about that — there could be more, I did not take an exact count. With a conference of this size, it allowed me to connect with people, including other people in the technology field at higher ed, along with vendors and manufacturers. When I say connect, I mean connect in a meaningful way that does not happen at the very large trade shows.
An example is my introduction to the Kramer VIA-Pad. As I walked around the exhibits, I spoke individually with the representatives. They listened to me and asked questions. At the Kramer table we talked about how I have several VIAs on my campus. Well, do you have the Pad, they asked? I had no idea what they were asking, so we started talking. Come to find out, this little device is very cool and solves a significant issue we have dealt with on campus. In particular, we often have guest speakers. These guest speaker typically want to use their own computers, but have never tested out how they work when connected to an AV system. Additionally, they want to use the wireless network for their presentation. Both of these needs cause problems for us as we try to support the event. The Pad (NOT to be called a PUCK, I was gently reminded) connects into a USB connection on the presenter’s laptop and connects wirelessly to the VIA. Yeah, yeah, I said, we have seen those from other vendors. Yes, they pointed out, but this is at a very attractive price point. Second, they showed me how you can “sync” the Pad with a VIA and it carries with it the SSID and user account information for your wireless network. OK, now they had me interested. We talked more and more, and by the time I left the table I had texted back to the home base, let’s get a VIA-Pad and try it out. At a large trade show, one or two things would have happened that would have been different. First, I would have wandered aimlessly around a booth with hundreds of other people and maybe not even seen the Pad. Second, if I had seen the Pad, I would not have know the price point, and I would not have known that it carries network information as well. The value of speaking directly, and unrushed, with the reps was valuable to me, and I believe in the end will be valuable to companies who sent representatives. This experience was repeated over and over again as I spoke with reps from FSR, Extron, Crestron and D-Tools.
A second experience that I appreciated was connecting with people on a personal level. The representatives at this conference are treated equal to the attendees. That is, they attend presentations they are interested in, they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with you. You see them walking on the streets and they recognize and talk with you. Again, all of this building relationships for future needs.
As a manufacturer who wants to connect directly with people from higher ed, this is the best way for you to meet and connect with your potential clients. There are no large booths, or expensive parties, like you see at the other conferences (although, I am not complaining about those!). Therefore, sending two or three representatives to this conference is very cost effective and provides a strong return on investment. If you are a consulting firm that does business nationally, or desires to, then this is even more important for you. The best advertising you can give yourself is a face to face audience with a couple hundred people who are interested in your services.
Next year’s conference takes place in Indiana, so start planning for your trip now!