As outlined in this post from early November 2022, I put on a display at the most recent Maker Faire Orlando (MFO). I’ve shown at several such events, and attended a few as a spectator as well. As such, I’ve picked up a few tips over the years; however, there are a few things I could definitely do better.
If you’d like to attend an event like this, whether as an official seller, or simply to promote your ideas and get feedback, here are 8 things that you’ll want to keep in mind. While most of my experience has been at Maker Faires, much of what’s presented will apply to similar live events, perhaps even speaking at something like SuperCon
#1 Be Ready To Talk
To generalize, many of us in the hacking and electronics community aren’t particularly verbose. In some situations, however–i.e. talking electronics projects–some of these same people find that a switch has been flipped and lots of talking ensues.
If you display an interesting project or two, you may see some personality change in yourself. You’ll also meet people who are there to listen, those that want to talk, and everyone in-between. It’s sometimes hard to know how to handle this variety of personalities–often at the same time–but the good news is that by the end of the day you’ll have quite a bit of practice. After a few shows, handling flowing crowds should come naturally.
#2 Lots of Water
If you’re going to talk constantly for a day or two (or more), your voice will get physically tired. Make sure you bring lots of water with you, or that you have a good refill source. I didn’t bring enough for MFO 2022, but my friends at the next booth were kind enough to share some of theirs. Also sugary caffeinated drinks can be helpful, but likely less healthful.
#3 Have a Purpose
Why are you going to Maker Faire? To sell? To promote yourself? To get feedback? All of the above? I’ll admit, I struggle with this one, and this year I showed off a number of my PCBs, along with my robot, talked about the Create/Invent podcast, and plugged my YouTube channel. I had some good conversations, and got some great feedback and ideas, but I also feel my display may be a bit much for people to remember. Others, like Four Bit Industries and NightFire Electronics were there specifically to sell, and both seem to have done an excellent job.
Did I make a mistake with my booth? I’m really not sure, but it’s something worth considering. If you don’t have a specific goal you can’t really fail… You can’t really win either.
If you need water, you’ll need food. While there are generally options at live events, but you may not feel like paying $12 for a poorly cooked hot dog, and even if you like funnel cakes, they probably aren’t the most nutritious option. My personal strategy this year was to pack three peanut butter and banana sandwiches in a sealable container. No refrigeration needed!
Of course, this would not apply to all events–such as the SuperCon 2019, which I attended–as some include excellent food in the ticket price. Seriously, SuperCon was fantastic food-wise, but that is probably the exception to the rule.
#5 Comfortable Shoes
On the subject of personal comfort, while talking, you’ll likely be standing for many hours. Wear shoes that you can stand on for the duration. My MFO neighbors, Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, even mentioned having brought floor mats previously, but did not have them this year. Not a bad idea.
#6 Hands-On Display
For Maker Faires especially, expect that people will touch stuff on display. Four Bit Industries had a particularly nice setup for this, using a sand container and pennies to show off their metal detector kit. They also had a nice banner, along with a tablecloth. While it might not be the first thing you consider, a tablecloth can really improve the look of your booth.
“Show and tell” events usually have accommodations for loading and unloading your stuff. At the same time, if you can make your display hand-portable in one trip, you’d eliminated a lot of hassle. For MFO, I had a rolling case for my ClearCrawler, a backpack, and some other stuff that could ride on the cart. That being said, some friends saw my heavy load and helped out with the load-in. While not strictly necessary, that was quite nice.
The rolling case setup was extremely convenient when I took my ClearCrawler to SuperCon. Since then, it lives in the case itself, making it very easy to transport it to Maker Faires and other events. No need to reinvent the literal and figurative wheel every year!
For events that last more than a couple hours, you’ll likely want to leave your booth for a few minutes, or perhaps get lunch at a location where you don’t have to talk constantly. While you can leave your booth alone, you may not want to do that for various reasons. Your best bet is to have a partner or two with you to share the load, and if that’s not in the cards, try to be situated next to people you know.
While I was nominally alone, I was located in the Tampa Hackerspace area, which meant I knew a number of the surrounding booths/people. Of course, if you need to go at it entirely alone, you may be able to make friends there!
Putting your things or even ideas out there can be a challenge for many reasons, but you really never know what will happen. I personally got some good feedback that I can hopefully use in the future, and have made a number of interesting connections this year and at other events in the past.
On that note, if you have a Tindie selling and/or product related story, or if you have an event relating to our world, we’d love to hear about it. You can ping us (collectively) on Twitter @Tindie, or you can find me personally @JeremyScook.