The business of vocational education – revenue streams and models

So today I really wanted to talk about some more specific items rather than theoretical positions.  What is often called where the rubber hits the road, and the obvious place to start is around the idea of revenue streams and business models.

Before I go any further I want to reiterate something I have said many times before.  There is always a lot of discussion around the topic of the cost of education, which is often framed by the statement ‘ education should be free.’  Now while I would hold it as a fairly self evident truth that education is a social good and that the ability of people to access quality educational outcomes should not by necessity be contingent on their own personal ability to pay for those outcomes, what is sometimes lost or can perhaps mislead people when this statement is used is the undeniable fact that there is always a cost associated with the delivery of these outcomes.  Someone, either the government, an organisation, an employer or an individual has to pay for the costs associated with the delivery of educational outcomes.  So with that said let’s move on.

Revenue streams

Realistically when we look at revenue streams within the delivery of vocational education (and I would argue education in general) there are only two types.  I will look at both of these types and the issues and advantages they have and then move onto the kinds of models which we have seen grow from these streams.

Government supported.

Those with a keen eye will notice I have used the term government supported rather than government funded in the title of this section.  The reason for this is simple.  In terms of what I am talking about here I want to include not just direct funding, say through entitlement programs or apprenticeships, but also also things like VET FEE Help, which is often considered fee for service, and targeted or one off government funded programs which have training as a component.  The reason for this is simple there is a common denominator across all government supported training, this denominator is the simple fact that how this funding is allocated, its level and even it very existence is utterly at the whim of government.   We need look no further than this year to see the issues which reliance on government supported revenue streams can have.  Changes to models in most of the states have irrevocably altered the landscape, with particularly in Victoria a significant number of providers either struggling or leaving the market because their funding contracts were not renewed.  We are in fact seeing the ramifications of removal of funding (albeit for different reasons) from a provider currently playing out with Dawkins/Vocation debacle.  The freezing of VFH payments at 2015 levels also had a similar effect where even quality providers have struggled to maintain their businesses as a result of the changes.  So given these issues what are the advantages to delivering government support training?  Often the big sell shall we say, is enrollments. people, and by people I mean potential students seem more likely or willing to enroll in these sorts of programs.  There is a consumer attraction operating for providers who are able to offer government subsidised positions in training courses.

Fee for service.

For the sake of this discussion I am going to take fee for service training to be any training for which there is not some component of government support.  This would therefore be where an individual, organisation or employer directly contracts or pays a provider for the delivery of an educational outcome.  It is an interesting side note I think that in the world of organisational learning and development fee for service training is the norm rather than government supported training.  There is a view, quite strongly held by some that fee for service training is the more secure and safe basis on which to build a training business. Now while I do not by necessity disagree with this as it is clear that there are definite advantages to fee for service training there are also still significant risks.  While the advantages are things such as generally higher levels of revenue, less time spent on reporting and other administrative activities and in general more flexibility in terms of the range of qualifications which can be delivered, it needs to be remembered that as with supported training, while it is less susceptible to the vagaries of government it is susceptible to the vagaries of business, particularly where providers deal with only thin segments of the market or where the market is highly competitive.  I know of a number of companies who were exposed heavily to particular market segments, one to the mining sector and one to government who had 60-90% of their business disappear overnight as a result of the GFC.  In one case the business has survived but is now a much smaller entity than it once was and in the other they have folded altogether.

Business Models

So with these revenue streams in mind we can then look at the various business models that have arisen as a result of them which will then eventually allow us to consider which of these models or others might be the most ethical and sustainable.

Rapid growth model (The VET FEE Help Model)

This type of business model exploded over the last few years since the introduction of VET FEE Help driven by government support, the ability to charge significantly higher prices due to that support, commencement payments and significant enrollment numbers driven by brokerage.  This perfect storm created an environment where an expansionist business model could thrive in a way that it had not been previously able to.  Organisations enrolled large numbers of students, which generated significant commencement payments from the government supported program (VFH) took that money, a significant portion of which technically should have been used to support the students learning experience and ensure that educational outcomes were met, and ploughed it into the expansion of the business, primarily in order to increase the size of the business to be able to then enroll more students, to access more payments and further expand.

Now while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this model or approach, it is contingent on the actual delivery of the education outcomes which are part and parcel of the government support. I think most people still feel the anger and the ramifications which followed on from when it was discovered that in some cases these rapid growth model businesses were producing completions rates in the low single digits

Funded delivery model

This is a model which has been adopted in a number of areas, one area where it has and is used a lot is in the community services sector and in particular by not for profit organisations.  This is a model which seeks to develop a scope of delivery which maximises the access the provider has to programs which attract direct government funding. (rather than support) The costs associated with a student entering the course are kept as low as possible, which then allows, hopefully, volume of enrollments across the range of courses to offset the costs associated with delivery.  Given that this model is popular within the NFP sector the drive for profitability is generally less and there is also usually lower overheads produced by thinner staffing models and often training being part of a larger business.  Under for profit models however, as with the Rapid growth model, there is a need to continue to generate enrollments across the suite of programs offered in order to maintain both sustainability and profitability.  It is in general difficult for providers delivering under these models to expand without external or organisation investment, or through debt raising.

Fee for service niche model

A significant number of providers in the fee for service market apply a niche market model to their delivery in order to limit costs and to enable a targeted spend in terms of marketing and positioning.  This model often sits at both the top and bottom end of the market in terms of qualification level with providers tending to either deliver high level qualifications or their own accredited courses where while numbers are small, associated fees can be quite large due to low competition.  Or at the other end they tend to deliver low level (often short course programs like white card, RSA or First Aid) where while competition may be significant, volume is very large and recurring, so that even a small margin on low cost programs multiplies out to significant revenue.

Everything to everyone model (The public provision model)

This is a model where the provider has a massively large scope, spanning foundational and certificate I programs through to very high level programs, across multiple training packages, with the vision shall we say of being able to cater for the needs of any student regardless of their choices in terms of study.  While the other models I have spoken about above generally apply to the non-public side of the education market this model is or has been the model in which the public provider has operated also since the beginning.  It is important however, as I said early on in these pieces that regardless of models we should expect our public providers to operate as businesses, at least with regards to providing the best possible ROI on investment and value for money in terms of costs of delivery, given that by in large most public providers would cease to be able to operate without the support they receive from their respect government owners.  Problematically given that they are owned by various governments essentially they are seen as having to provide services across markets and areas where there is little or no chance of breaking even let alone creating even a small profit margin.  There is significant tension between the ability of these providers to naintain cost effective delivery and ROI and the demands placed upon them by their governments.  Of course the argument is that the purpose of a public provider is to ensure that services are available in markets where without significant government support such provision of services could not occur.  Additionally it is also argued that often there are other social assistance requirements which public providers have, which increase the tension between their delivery of programs and the costs associated with the delivery of those programs, particularly, though not limited to administration costs, which if we look at various reports and budget submissions may be as high as 60 cents in every dollar of funding in some cases.

It is important to note that I have here only covered, in broad strokes some of the models which exist in the sector, primarily to see how streams of revenue impact upon the kinds of models of delivery which exist and how those models in turn utilise the revenue streams on which they are most focused.

 

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Staying afloat in the volatile world of VET

RTOs, Funding and Financial Viability

We have seen a whole lot of changes in the VET sector recently, particularly around government funding and who is being expected to be paying for VET in Australia.  A couple of weeks ago I looked at the major ways in which VET in this country is paid for, that is income contingent loans, entitlement style funding, trainee and apprenticeships and special purpose funding programs.  In that piece I left out (on purpose) the concept of Fee for Service training, where a person or an organisation simply pays a provider to deliver a qualification, but in the context of what I am talking about today, fee for service training is an important element in how VET is paid for.  So given all of the changes that have happened to funding in the sector recently, what does an RTO need to do in order to ensure that they are financially viable both now and into the future.

The first two things are obvious (well at least I think they are), but sometimes as we have seen spectacularly in some cases they are often overlooked or their important placed second to maintaining a constant flow of new students  and financial considerations.

  • Provide High Quality training, and
  • Be compliant – Not just on paper, but be really compliant.

Anyone who doubts the importance of these two things in terms of continued financial viability, should perhaps think seriously about whether or not they have a place in this industry.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a very large provider or a very small one, if you are not providing high quality training and maintaining your compliance you will pay for it in the long run.  Take for example a large provider who is heavily reliant on VET FEE-HELP whose quality of training is called into question, or their compliance is off.  Their risk rating for their Tuition assurance scheme might risk substantially or worse still it could be revoked, leaving them without the ability to utilse the funding source that drives their business.  What about a small provider who is heavily reliant on government entitlement funding like Queensland’s Certificate III guarantee program, who is delivering courses that don’t meet time requirements (Volume of learning and nominal hours for example), who find as a result of this that the government decides to radically reduce the level of funding for the course, to match the amount of time it is being delivered in.  Both of these circumstances would be extremely detrimental to the financial viability of an organisation, but also point to the next thing the providers really need to think about when they are thinking about their business.

  • Don’t rely on just one source of income!

Unfortunately a lot of providers, both big and small and even both public and private rely far too much on single sources of funding or types of funding and fail to spread their exposure to variations in the market place.  Contestable funding made things more difficult for the public providers because most of their delivery and services were based on a model where government funding remained constant.  The proposed changes to the funding of training in South Australia, could have huge effects on those non-public providers that have relied on it for years.  A change to how VET FEE-Help is paid (for example if it moved to a completion model rather than a census date model) would have an enormous effect on the cash flow for those providers for whom it is a substantial proportion of their income stream.

So what can providers do to ensure that they can be financially viable over time.

  • Spread your funding risk
  • Build income streams not related to funding sources.

If providers are going to rely heavily on funding, be it income contingent loans or other sources of funding, then they need to make sure that their risk is spread as much as possible, add special programs to your entitlement funding programs, become an apprenticeship and traineeship provider as well as a VET FEE-Help provider, make sure that if funding changes in one area that your business can absorb those changes through the income from the other funding streams.  The most important thing you can do however, is to try to build income streams that don’t rely on government monies.  All providers who want to continue to be viable should be ensuring that they look at things like

  • Fee for service for individuals and organisations
  • skill sets as opposed to full qualifications
  • non-accredited training and
  • partnerships with organisations and other providers.

Building your fee for service base is one of the best ways that providers can continue to remain financially viable as it untethers them from the vagaries of government policy and funding decisions. The problem is that most providers don’t do this very well at all.  The biggest problem for most RTOs is that, that is all they see themselves as, providers of VET qualifications and in some cases skill sets.  The best way for providers to build their fee for service business is to start to look at themselves as training organisations rather than just RTOs and look at developing their skills and programs in the non-accredited space.  Look at what you are good at and capitalise on that.

Anyway that’s what I think.

 

Education Brokers and the Facebook scenario

Firstly this is not an attack on the Educational Brokerages in Australia, it is more of an explanation and discussion on how the system works and why.

Everyone complains about Facebook, almost all of the time.  They complain about changes to the interface, the way it deals with what turns up in the news feed, how many ads they see, what the company does with all of the data it collects and who actually owns that data (I will give you a hint it’s not you).  The problem is that all of these complaints and issues grow from a mistaken belief about the place of Facebook users in the grand scheme of things.  As a lot of people often suggest if you want to find out why things are being done in the way they are being done, follow the money.  So if we follow the money in relation to Facebook, we quickly realise that Facebook users are not in any real sense of the word Facebook clients, they are in fact simple objects within a data set and consumers to be advertised to.  Facebook’s real clients and the people who they are really trying to keep happy are their advertisers who generate all of the income for the site and their shareholders.  Now while it is true that if you have happy consumers you are probably more likely to generate better income, when you have a billion users a lot of people have to not only complain, but stop using the system before the company would take notice.

So if we apply the same logic to the Educational Brokerage sector in Australia we can quickly see what is happening.  In fact all we have to do to find out who is important to these organisations is to ask a really simple question, which is of course, who pays them?  The answer, of course, is equally simple, they are paid by training providers to provide them with students.  So the income stream for brokers is tied completely to the continuing recruitment of students for their client RTOs.  If there client RTOs are unhappy or there are not enough students, or the costs are to high, or compliance issues start to impact and they leave the relationship, then the broker either has to find other clients or increase the number of students being recruited for the clients it still has to address the income shortfall.

Make no mistake however, as is the case with Facebook users, potential students are not the clients of brokers, they are simply the consumers of the service they provide.  They are in reality very little more than a product with a certain value attached to it, which is generated when they are ‘sold’ to a provider.  The value of a can of beans to Woolworths is that someone will pay money for it.  The value of a potential student to a Broker is that someone (a training provider) will pay money for them.  The more money a provider is willing to pay for a student the more value that student has to broker.

Now to be fair this should not be taken to suggest that potential cash value is the only driving motive for brokers nor it is to suggest that potential students don’t have a cash value for RTOs who don’t use brokerage services because they certainly do.  It simply suggests that as with Facebook the person who does not pay for the ‘service’ in this case the student is always going to be a secondary concern to the needs of the person who pays the bills, in this case the training provider.  When we add to this the concepts of the Brokers themselves being independent contractors, and or working either entirely or partially for commissions, we can easily identify the pain points within the system.

Is someone working on commission going to recommend a Cert III or IV course to a student which might generate $600 worth of income or is there the temptation to recommend the diploma level course which will generate $3,000, particularly when the RTOs (who remember are the ones paying the bills) might make $15,000 from the Diploma course as opposed to $3,000 for the Certificate IV.  Again it is important to note that I am not saying that this is the driving force behind all of these operations, but when we start looking at the money we can see why people might prefer to recommend a Diploma over a Certificate IV or even utilising VET-FEE HELP over accessing direct government funding.  As someone from a brokerage said to me a while ago, ‘our business is recruiting diploma students, it is up to the individual to decide if it is the right option’.  Now while this is true, I would suggest it is also true that even for people who are deeply involved in the VET sector funding arrangements can be complicated to say the least, and for a potential student having a ‘personal learning consultant’ recommend undertaking a Dual Diploma of counselling and community services, which they don’t have to pay anything for up front, becomes an easy thing to agree to because well it sounds good and seems much easier than trying to figure out the morass of funding available.

So here is a question for everyone to ponder.  What would the role of the broker be if the person who was paying them was the student, if their income was generated by creating the right result for a potential student rather than being driven by the training provider?

Marketing Vocational Education – Matching ethics and finances

No matter what anyone would like to think , Learning is a business, a business worth 100’s of billions of dollars worldwide and unfortunately where ever you have enormous sums of money involved there are always going to be those who seek to take advantage and utilise unethical practices in pursuit of financial gain.  We have over recent months seen the effects of this in the Vocational Training industry in this country, particularly with respect to VET-FEE HELP and the Educational Brokerage Industry but also in other areas as well.

It also doesn’t matter whether we are talking about public providers (TAFE) or non-public ones, there is still always going to be a need to work within budgetary constraints, ensure there are sufficient students in courses, make sure that the business you are running (and lets no kid ourselves TAFE is a business whether they want to think of themselves that way or not) is sustainable and can provide for the needs and expected outcomes of students and stakeholders.  So the question becomes how do you manage to do all of this, provide a high quality service, a sustainable business and still uphold your ethics.

My number one rule is a simple one

Don’t use Brokers or Educational Consultants

 

So why not, well from my point of view Brokers or educational consultants bring nothing to the table except either the necessity to increase the cost to consumer of your course or decrease the amount of income that comes to you.  Of course the argument for their use is that they bring in far more students than would be possible without them.  However the question which need to be asked is are the students appropriate for the programs you are offering.  Do they come to you already properly pre-screened or is all that is happening (and I think this is more often than not the case) they are simply getting a name on a form and directing the person to you and then you, the provider, is having to do all of the work.  So the question really needs to be asked, what is it that they are actually providing, are they doing something which the provider can not do internally and what is the quality of what they are doing.  If it is just a numbers game, trying to get as many people on the books to generate as much income as possible then why not, but if  the provider is actually interested in quality students and quality outcomes for those students then in my opinion they are much better staying away from brokerages.

So if providers are not going to utilise brokers and consultants then what can they do to ethically market their programs.  Well for a start there is the old stalwarts of reputation and word of mouth.  Now of course these two options are not going to line your coffers with gold, but then again if that is what you want you probably stopped reading much earlier than here.  As with any business the having a reputation for good high quality service will make it much easier for your business to be sustainable and it will generate the second one, word of mouth.  If students are happy with their experience and they get the outcome they wanted, then they will tell other people and those people will  think of you when they are in need of the service you provide.  To give you an example, a student who graduate from us last year, went on to be the manager of a large community services program and because of the experience he had learning with us, when he need to have 50 staff trained he didn’t even consider going anywhere else or even talking to anyone else he came straight to us and engaged us to do the work.  He also recommended us to other in the organisation which generated another 30 students for us.  That is 80 students as a direct result of one person having a positive experience and getting the outcomes they wanted.

Which brings me to my next point, don’t neglect your past students, you have got their details stored in your systems, remember them and they will remember you.  It is important to remember that this isn’t about selling to them. don’t just send them details of your upcoming training or special offers or things like that, actually remember them.  Many years ago I worked for a training provider who used to email all of their past students on their birthday and held a monthly birthday draw for cinema tickets or dinner out or the like.  85% of their business was either repeat business or direct referral from previous students.  I even saw on more than one occasion, ex students mark, friends, work colleges and family into the office  so that they could sign up for a program, and CEO’s of large companies ringing up and saying ‘I did your training about 10 years ago and it was fantastic, I still use it today and I need you to come out and deliver it to all of our executive and senior management teams.

Never underestimate the power of past students

 

Also too many training providers keep looking for individual students, isn’t it better to talk to one person and get 5 students than to have to talk to 5 people.  Build relationships and network with organisations, offer them more than just training.  Offer the L&D and HR people support with funding and training needs analysis and finding them suitable training providers if you can’t give them what they need.  When they do need what you have to offer they will come back to you, because you didn’t try to sell them something the didn’t need.  Be different, if you are the third person to call me this week offering me the same of boring diploma of management or certificate III program then you are going to get the same answer that they everyone else got.  Not interested.  Know what you are good at, explore niche markets, build a value proposition and give people what they want and need, not just what you can provide, there is a very big difference.

Ethically building a reputable sustainable business takes time, just being in this industry for the money provides outcomes for no one, so in the immortal words of Google ‘Just don’t be evil.

 

Customisation of Learning – Connecting L&D and VET

A lot of training providers talk endlessly about their ability to customise a program to meet the needs of an organisation.  However, how many of them actually do it or do it in a way that really meets the needs of the organisation?

 

 

I think unfortunately, or fortunately for those who do, not many.  Often in the VET sector customisation means little more than choosing different electives, although not too different or there might not be someone able to train them. Unfortunately in most cases, just changing electives is not really customisation, it is far more a case of here are the options we are offering what would you like to choose. This of course is not something that is just confined to the VET sector, a great many licensed and proprietary training programs offer very little in the way of real customisation, however it is the ability to customise training to suit specific organisation and even individual need that is a strength of the VET system.

Customisation is building the training program in such a way that it achieves the goals that the organisation wants.  It is about using their documents, their policies, their procedures.  It is about building a program that produces a participant who has the skill set that the organisation requires, and who is able to utilise that skill set in their work.  The common complaint about this kind of customisation from providers is that you still have to do what the training package says, they have to be assessed on the performance criteria and you have to make sure that the skills and knowledge which are taught to the student are not so workplace specific that they are not easily transferable to other workplaces and roles.  Now of course, this is true, but I don’t think that anyone ever said that what was listed in the performance criteria was all a program could to contain.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the packages that you cannot add additional information or assessment or training.  What it says is that this set of skills and knowledge, assessed against this set of performance criteria is the evidence that is required to deem this person competent in this Unit of Competency.

The other issue that is often bought up is where there is something in the performance criteria that for whatever reason the organisation doesn’t do or does completely differently.  An example of this is a unit of competency around strength based practice in support work and counselling.  There is a process mentioned in the performance criteria which while correct and used by a lot of practitioners, is probably not used, described differently, or used differently, by equally many practitioners.  So (leaving aside questions whether or not the criteria should actually even be in the unit) often staff undertaking this unit end up being trained in something that their organisation does not use and in some cases is actively opposed to the use of.  This also then tends to mean that where that unit is an elective and can be left out it is, which may dilute the overall strength of the qualification from the organisations perspective.  It may also mean that the organisation may then have to go out and source additional training or develop it themselves, around the content which is contained in the unit.   So what does customisation look like here, for an organisation that doesn’t use the particular segment of the unit of competency, given that we know that in order to meet the performance criteria it can’t be left out, and it needs to be assessed.  Having done this on numerous occasions the answer is in general remarkably simple, do both and assess both.  Assess the accredited unit according to the performance criteria and the other according to what the organisation wants.  It is then a case of explaining to the students that while you have provided them with two options, one is the preferred method where they work now, but there are other organisations which may prefer to use the other method.  Is it a little more work?  Yes, but it will also makes the organisation much happier than saying well we have to teach them this method because that is what the training package says and then let them come up with a solution around how to train their staff in their preferred method.

Customisation is also about little things,  like making sure that when you are talking about documents and policies the examples you use are, where possible, from the organisation itself.  It is about using the language of the organisation as well, particularly if you are talking about reporting lines, hierarchies and business processes and software.  It is about sitting down with the manager, the L&D person or whoever you are working with and saying, what are the skills and knowledge you need your staff to have at the end of this and what tasks do you expect them to be able to undertake and then structuring the course around that.  Take the time to cluster and structure delivery and assessment so that it makes sense in the context of the work environment.  There is very little point in training someone in a skill they are not going to use for 6 months.  It is better to provide them with the training in proximity to when they will use the skill, to enhance the retention of the skill and knowledge.

Customisation is actually an enormous strength within our VET system.  This becomes particularly evident when it is compared to many of the other proprietary training programs that are out there, most of which can’t be changed or customised to suit particular circumstance, because the material is copyrighted and licensed and often, because of this the people delivering the training have no say in the content or its delivery.  So in order to meet the criteria of the provider that owns the program they have to deliver it in, often, a very particular manner which unless you are training large numbers of people or spending large sums of money on the training are probably not going to be altered by the program owner.  This ability to customise should not be taken to mean that we can and should ignore the rules of the VET sector, things like Volume of Learning, and the rules relating to assessment and evidence, however the space circumscribed by those rules allows us much more latitude to be able to develop and deliver a program that meets the needs of our clients than most licensed training would ever be able to do.

The real problem is that most providers seem very reluctant to do it.

Anyway that’s my opinion.

 

Paul contacted via;

Rasmussen Learning Solutions

Spectrum Training

How do you lose $70 million and still have a job? Work for TAFE in Victoria it seems.

I posted the article on Linkedin yesterday about the foreshadowed losses in the Victoria TAFE system and I have to admit I have been thinking about it a little more overnight. I mean where else but in the public sector could you amass such substantial losses and then get an offer from the government to give you more money.

I struggle to see how that can come about. Did they spent money that they didn’t have in the budget for things like a new SMS, did they grossly underestimate the amount of students. Unfortunately all of these things point to really bad management practices. I have managed very large budgets and even losses of $1 million plus are heavily questioned. Surely they know their business well enough that they can plan forward or are they simply working on the assumption that it doesn’t really matter in the long run because the government will just bail them out and pay the shortfall. Not a way to run any kind of business be it public or private in my opinion.

Now that being said we need to have a public VET education system, but we need to have one that doesn’t constantly need to be bailed out by the government, throwing more money at a system that is clearly broken isn’t going to fix it.

TAFE has a place, but it is struggling to find that place. There are arguments that suggest that it provides support and training in places were non-public providers don’t because of economic reasons, but even that is changing there are plenty of providers particularly NFP’s who are willing to and already do the kinds of work and in the kinds of places that traditionally only TAFE did.

If a business (and even though it is a public entity TAFE it is still a business) can’t support itself with the population base it has around it or its infrastructure costs are too high or whatever the reason is, then something needs to be done. Unless there are strong social and economic reasons for keeping it then closing or merging needs to be seriously considered, as does staffing levels and executive salaries and packages.

Why have separate CEO’s and boards and executive teams at each TAFE why not centralise at least a bit, cut down on management overheads and put the money where it needs to go, the teaching of participants.

Anyway thats just my opinion

Conferences, Content, exhibition halls and selling your product or service

Why is it these days when I go to a conference I cant help but get the feeling someone is trying to sell me something.

Now I am not talking about the vendors in the exhibition hall, I know they are going to sell me something, and one of the reasons I go to some of these conferences is to see what new and amazing things are on offer, like at the recent AITD conference I met the wonderful ladies from Fulcrum People with all of their wonderful training aids and programs.  I go into the exhibition hall knowing that people are going to try to sell me things.

No I am talking about thinly veiled presentations that under the guise of presenting me with something useful or interesting or something that I didn’t know and might be able to use, are in fact actually trying to sell me their product or service.  I have one thing to say to you and to the conference organisers who let you get away with it.  STOP IT.  I am sick of it.  Dont suggest that I put my business card on top of the pile of sorting cards just in case it gets mixed up with everyone else’s and then just have them collected.  We know what you are doing, you are farming for business cards.  Now if you had just came out and asked me for it I probably would have given it to you, but you tried to be sneaky so even if I do get an email from you I will ignore it on principle.

Now I know it is hard for conference organisers to vet everything properly, but not doing it hurts your conferences and forums and damages your credibility.  I know it hard to find decent content and good presenters who will be drawcards to the event and who will be engaging and motivating, but seriously I have been to some conference this year where just by reading the outline of what people were presenting and where they worked (be it a large company or a sole proprietor) I could tell that I was going to be sold to.

If an employee of a company that sells Learning Management Systems is talking about the features you should have in an LMS, you can almost guarantee there is a sales pitch hidden in there somewhere.  If someone from a company who consults on developing organisational values is presenting a case study on the work they did developing an organisations values, there is probably a sales pitch there somewhere.  Now in the last case if it was that people from the organisation talking about their journey and how they were helped by the company, then that is probably a different kettle of fish.

So please conference organisors vet your presentations a bit more, challenge the presenters on their content and why they are presenting and ‘presenters’ if you want to sell me something get a stand in the exhibition hall and be honest about your intentions.

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