Something I've often noticed at education technology conferences is that the exhibition area is pretty dead.
There are potentially several reasons for this, and certainly things that the conference organisers could do to help prevent this happening. But in this article I should like to suggest reasons that attendees should take time out to visit the exhibitors.
It may tell you how the conference is seen by companies
An exhibition area comprising three stands either tells you that it's a new conference that nobody knows about, the organisers are not very good at attracting business, or that companies don't think much of the conference -- or at least not enough to want to spend their time and money attending.
Mind you, I think an exhibitor area with only three stands is an advantage: it means you won't have too much trouble seeing them all.
It tells you where the organisers' affiliations lie
Well, possibly. It may be that the conference organisers will take money from anybody, but there is a chance that you will glean some insights into their political (with a small 'p') stance. For example, why is one union represented but not another? Why are there several IOS products but no Android ones?
It's good for networking
It's always good to meet new people, and in my experience exhibitors are quite interesting to talk to. They know a lot about their product, and they have (usually) seen a great many schools. Many of them have also been teachers themselves so they speak your language.
It's good for seeing the latest products or information
Visiting exhibitors' stands enables you to see the latest technology they're hawking, and sometimes even prototypes that won't have appeared in their catalogue yet.
You can see products in action
Reading a product description in a catalogue is one thing. Far better is to see a demonstration of it in person. YouTube videos are alright, but you can't say to the screen "Yeah, but what happens if...". Well, you can, but I doubt that you'd get a response.
Put a face to a name
If there's a person whom you've dealt with by email and phone, it's nice to put a face to a name. It helps if you need a bit of a favour, like an extension to a trial, or you need an order to be prioritised.
Ask for quotes
If you're thinking of adopting a type of product but are not sure which is best for your school's needs, visiting exhibitors during a conference gives you the opportunity to compare products, and ask each of them to supply you with a quote. You can also ask them to contact you to arrange an in-school demonstration.
It's very tempting to focus on grabbing a coffee and chat with fellow delegates, but you'll get a lot more from the conference if you pay attention to the exhibitors' area too.