Jesse Brockmann is a senior software engineer with over 20 years of experience. Jesse works for a large corporation designing real-time simulation software, started programming on an Apple IIe at the age of six and has won several AVC event over the years. Jesse is also a SparkFun Ambassador so make sure your read down today's post to find out where he'll be next!
I’ve been doing various STEAM/STEM events for years to promote my JRover/DIYRovers project. I recently had a booth at the Kansas City Maker Faire to promote SparkFun and my latest project BotzFight (more on that at a later date). I thought I would share my experiences and maybe convince you to host your own booth.
Hosting a booth is a lot of fun but it can be tiring. You will get a lot of the same questions over and over, but once in a while you will get a truly brilliant question that really makes you think. The more events you do, the more you’ll realize a lot of people will look at your display and not ask any questions. Try to engage them by talking to them. Ask them questions, like what their favorite booth is, or whether they are working on a project – anything to get them talking and try to see where it goes. Kids are the hardest and you have to realize you just won’t get through to some of them. Your best bet is to have something interactive they can move, touch or play with. I used a plasma globe to do this for the last year and so many kids just want to touch it, which gives you a chance to interact with them.
If you decide to host a booth, look for local STEM groups or maker spaces. Where I’m at in Iowa, the local region has a group specifically to promote STEM. I signed up to get notices of all upcoming events. I also go to //makerfaire.com/map/ and look for possible events that are close enough to attend.
Things to think about before you apply: Will you need to bring your own table or chairs? If provided, what size are the tables? Will power and wifi be provided? There are also safety considerations if you have fire or anything that could be dangerous as part of your display. Once you find an interesting event, apply for it sooner rather than later, in case the number of spots is limited.
You often can get a booth for free if you are just promoting STEM and not trying to sell product or promoting a business. Selling your product is a whole other ballgame which I won’t cover, but if you do decide to sell keep in mind sales taxes and other permits you might need.
Before you go to an event, figure out how long you think it will take to set up, and double it. The more events you do, the more you can refine this. I’ve found a cart or wagon is a great way to reduce the number of trips for loading in or out. For Maker Faires I try to get set up early, then visit the other booths before the event starts. You will have very little time during an event to step away from your booth. I often get a lot of enjoyment out of talking to the other makers at these events.
Small things like a tablecloth, banners and some display stands can go a long way to making your booth look more professional. I suggest having some type of business card or email address easily visible for those that are really interested in what you are doing. Having free swag is always a bonus as well!
Keep a drink nearby, and bring some snacks to eat during the down time. You might also want to bring a small paper bag or something for your trash. It’s generally fine if you need to step away from your booth for a bit for a restroom break or something, but if you have anything valuable make sure someone else is watching your booth or put it out of sight. If you can, having two people run a booth will really optimize this situation and you will be able to enjoy doing things at a bit of a slower pace. It really improves the set-up and teardown time as well.
Please, do not pack up until the time the event is over – it’s rude to pack up early. Otherwise try to leave the place as clean or cleaner than when you got there. Do your part to help, and double check you have everything before you leave. Try to find the organizer, and thank them for letting you participate if you didn’t run into them already.
I really enjoyed hosting a booth at the Kansas City Maker Faire and plan on doing many more STEM events this year. I hope to have a booth at the Milwaukee Maker Faire in September. If you are in the area then please stop in and say hi and try driving the tanks!