Now that the furor over the new millennium is subsiding, we should turn our attention to another round of winter and spring technology conferences. This column will offer suggestions for approaching your attendance at these conferences as a grant seeker hot on the trail of more information about the entire grantsmanship process.

The most obvious way to learn more about grant seeking and/or writing at a conference is to sign up for any sessions that deal specifically with these topics. You can always learn something new, even if you’ve written several grants or attended several trainings.

I have often been told by workshop participants that attending sessions about grant writing helps them gain a better understanding of why their proposals were not funded. Attending these sessions will also give you an opportunity to ask the presenter any specific questions you might have about the grantsmanship process.

Pay close attention to the questions and comments made by others in the audience. You might find that another attendee has written a successful proposal for the grant competition you are considering, and perhaps this individual will serve as a “mentor” to you as you assemble your proposal. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

If any representatives from your federal or state department of education are presenting at the conference, you should consider attending these sessions. This will provide you with an excellent opportunity to ask about specific grant programs and to learn the name of a contact person you can get in touch with after the conference for more information. Sometimes you can also get valuable information about how the current administration feels about technology, or an inside glimpse at new initiatives on the horizon that might result in additional funding opportunities in the future.

Be sure to take advantage of the various networking opportunities that conferences offer. Talking to other participants about projects they are carrying out might give you some ideas to stimulate your creativity as you design projects for your own district. Or, you might get some leads for potential collaborative partners for a project.

A quick glance over the attendees list might further provide the names of individuals from higher education, museums, libraries, etc., whom you can talk to about project ideas and additional sources of funding opportunities.

Don’t overlook the exhibit hall as yet another source of information about funding. If you’re interested in a specific vendor’s equipment, make sure you ask the company’s representatives about any special grant programs they might offer. Several vendors offer reduced prices on their products if you submit a proposal and it is successful.

Ask vendors about other districts that are using their products and if they know of any grants that helped these districts get the funds necessary to purchase their equipment. Also, check the exhibitor list to see if any state or federal departments have a booth. You might be able to pick up copies of requests for proposals (RFPs), and at least you’ll have an opportunity to talk with staff about grant programs.

In my presentations, I often tell attendees to look at every situation as an opportunity to find out more about grants, funding, collaboration, potential partners—the list goes on and on. Approaching conferences with this kind of an attitude will ensure that you never come home from a conference empty-handed. If you don’t attend conferences with this kind of a mind set, I can assure you that you’ll have missed several important opportunities to enhance your role as a grant seeker.