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Tips for Makers: The Basics of Boothing

How to work your booth at Maker Faire

YM Booth MFBA13

It’s not enough to just make something—it’s also important to be able to tell others about your project and why it is great. Collect photos, sketches, prototypes, failed pieces of your project: anything that tells the story of how and why your projects came to be. Maker Faire attendees love to know how and why Makers created their project, and so you should gather evidence of your process.

But they may not know what to ask you. So you have to prepare to make your experience and theirs the best it can be, so that your finished Maker Faire project can really stand out.

Tip #1: Stand up to stand out!

Don’t use your chair. When you sit down, people aren’t as likely to ask you a question. Some months ago, a friend of mine went to a mini Maker Faire, where a number of high school students sat behind their exhibits, almost hiding behind them, and checking their phones. The makers who more successfully got people excited about all their hard work were the who ones stood in front of their exhibits and greeted people as they passed their table. This often resulted in the person expressing interest in their project. It’s such a basic thing. And, of course, it’s just as true for adults as it is for high school-aged makers. It’s easy to kick back and wait for someone to come to you. Don’t let your urge to be passive mask how passionate you are about your project. OK, maybe “passionate” is stronger than you feel about what you made, but you’ve spent many hours making your project a reality. Spend a few minutes before Maker Faire thinking about how you will tell your maker story, and how you will get people to fall in love with your project. What’s your “pitch?”

16 ways to tell your story

We developed these ideas for Young Makers, but anyone can use them! Pick a few you like. But don’t do all of them—that might be too much!

  1. Reveal your brainstorm.
    The group “Awesome is What We Totally Are” shared their dog-eared spiral notebook—in it you could see a full page of great project ideas scribbled down.
  2. Start to finish.
    Make it clear what you started with and how you changed that into what you’re showing. Did you start with a robotics kit? What part is uniquely yours? You might have something that looks so elaborate that people think you made it with a kit, and if you didn’t, you can say, “This wasn’t a kit! I made it from raw materials like cardboard and acrylic!” You can even display some of the raw materials.
  3. Open your notebooks.
    Bring concept sketches, jotted notes, clippings and printouts that inspired you, whether this was in your Maker’s Notebook or elsewhere. This is an easy way to show off the hard work you put into your project. You can add sticky notes on key pages to explain breakthroughs, or just write your own reflections on those moments with a different colored pen/pencil. This lets people seeevery detail of your thinking process.
  4. Project binders are a snap.
    Simplify what you recorded in your notebooks to create scrapbooks of your project. Photocopy (or photograph and print out) favorite pages and breakthroughs, perhaps on thicker paper that can withstand more viewing. A simple 3-ring binder can hold all sorts of materials (component spec sheets, press clippings, sketches on napkins…) in one place. Unlike a bound notebook, it’s flexible.
  5. Wrap it in plastic.
    See-through pages of cheap-o portfolios can hold printouts, photos, and even some objects that have a little dimension to them.
  6. Bring your blog.
    Print it out on paper or saved locally on a device (in case the connection’s spotty.)
  7. Picture yourself.
    Share candids of the team working together or what your project looked like along the way. Put them in simple frames or a small photo album.
  8. Get animated.
    Put together a time-lapse video with shots of the project forming if you have them.
  9. Slap it in a slideshow.
    Collect your favorite digital pictures in a simple slideshow. Use very few words.
  10. Post it on a poster.
    You can make yours like the ones scientists and engineers create to share their work at professional and academic conferences, or more like a billboard you’d see on 101 or BART.
  11. Pay it forward with a how-to.
    Give back to the DIY community and the Maker movement by writing up your project and adding it to Make:Projects, Instructables, and/or another DIY community website. Well-staged explanatory photos in a “howto” will encourage visitors to make their own.
  12. Tease them with a trailer.
    Joseph, from the team that created Saphira, edited a fantastic “trailer” to show off the animatronic, fire-breathing dragon he helped build. Use a good mic to add a voiceover over your footage or to capture the conversations & sounds of building. A lively soundtrack always helps!
  13. Construct a digital story.
    Digital storytelling combines photos, video, animation, sound, music, text, and often a voiceover to create a short 2- to 3-minute narrative. The Center for Digital Storytelling recommends recording your voiceover with a high-quality microphone for best results.
  14. Print project books.
    At the end of the project, put together your best photos of the finished project and the process of making it, and print these out on a nice printer so that you can keep a permanent record of the project. Or print a custom photobook (from Blurb, Apple, Lulu, etc.) to keep in your portfolio to show how you spent months of work.
  15. Interview yourself.
    Get ready for the kinds of questions you may get. Record your answers on a poster, in a playful lift-the-flap display, or in audio. Here are a bunch of ideas for questions you can answer ahead of time to make sure you have a ready answer, and to see if they have a good story you want to weave into your conversations with visitors to your booth.

    What was the project vision?
    What were we hoping to do?
    What inspired us to pick this project?
    Why did we do it?
    Have other Makers done similar projects, or was this one-of-a-kind?
    What kinds of projects had we built before?
    What was hard to do? What was easier to do? Did that surprise you?
    Were there any interesting, surprising, or spectacular failures?
    Were there any interesting or surprising behind-the-scenes stories?
    What’s the first project you can remember making?
    Did you have a mentor that helped get you into making?
    How long have you been working on this project?
    How do you get started on a project?
    Where do you get your ideas?
    What does your workspace look like: at work? at home?
    What’s your most cherished tool?
    Where do you hope this takes you?
    Are you trying to address a real-world problem?
    Do you intend to make a business out of this or is it just for fun?
    Have you collaborated with others on this?
    What other maker projects inspire you?
    Do you hope to inspire other makers with your project?
    Have you ever taught someone else how to make something?
    What’s next? Are there other project ideas we have toyed with? What do you plan to do in the future?

  16. List your learnings. List the things you learned to do to make your project a reality. Such as “To make this, we learned to (1) solder; (2) sew by hand; (3) sew with a machine; (4) read a circuit diagram” etc. The longer the list, the more impressed people might be with how much you got out of the project.

 

 

Beyond the story

Think ahead to what you’ll be doing in your exhibit, and don’t let the answer be, “Um, nothing! My project speaks for itself!” People coming to Maker Faire could be just as shy as you are, and then you and they won’t have anything to do.

  • Develop a demo. People feel more comfortable interacting with someone when there’s something happening that they can talk about. It prompts a question: what is going on or what is he or she doing?
  • Have something that you can interact with on your project. Think about going to a museum. People love buttons and levers.
  • Bring something similar that you can work on, and then look up every once in a while and smile when you make eye contact, invite people to help you do it.
  • Teach people to do what you did, or one small part of what you did. Maker Faire attendees love mini learn-to-do-something workshops!
  • Thank people who take the time to stop at your spot with a piece of candy, sticker, pin, or card. Kids especially are little magpies who just love souvenirs, even the silliest little piece of string. A basket full of candies will make people stop.
  • Have a spot where people can contribute ideas, comments, or new directions/mods for your next phase. Put a prompting question on top. Use stickies rather than a single sheet so you can cull out any unwelcome or uninteresting additions.
  • Add a game element. For example, you can bring a spinner or a pair of dice so that there’s some chance involved in what “pitch” they get from you. Or put all the questions you want to answer in a jar, with a sign that says “Ask me a question I know how to answer and get a sticker!” Shake the jar in front of your “customer” and ask them to play your game. Perhaps they’ll generate their own question once they are done. To make this easier, we have a page of Conversation Starters you can print out and cut into cards.
  • Design your booth to be friendly and welcoming. Balloons? A backdrop? Lights? What can help you look a little different? How can your booth become a landmark in the maze of Makers?
The Young Makers booth at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013, designed by Miranda Morgan and built by Kevin Rumon, included a chalkboard for generating ideas for after Maker Faire.

The Young Makers booth at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013, designed by Miranda Morgan and built by Kevin Rumon and a team of dedicated Young Makers volunteers, included a chalkboard for generating ideas for what kids would build after Maker Faire.

Classic visitor-made Faker Faire exhibit from Maker Faire Bay Area 2007

At the very first Maker Faire, I had no lack of interest from attendees. We ran a clay animation station all weekend long. It was fun and tiring and we never lacked for sculptors and animators. The next year, I came back with a silly booth I called the First Institute of Bad Science, but which my friend Jamie wittily renamed “Faker Faire”. I had a harder time getting people to engage, but once they got the joke, and saw that I had a giant pile of “Honorable Mention” ribbons to share with anyone and everyone, they took part in my wacky little experiments (which involved fibbing with data and making cockamamie science-fair like displays.) Over the course of the weekend, I developed a couple dozen opening lines I tried on different audiences. For example, when I saw preschoolers come by, I started by gently waving a sparkly award ribbon and colorful markers at them. For the older, geekier types, I posed it as more of a challenge, asking them to judge what had been done before, and see if they could do better. Every interaction ended with a ridiculous ceremony of granting an award ribbon.

 

Just a few more tips…

  • Show the process! We love seeing the process.
  • Easy-to-read explanations will tell your story for you so you can answer the deeper questions, or leave your project for others to appreciate while you visit other Makers’ projects.
  • Making your display self-explanatory allows shy people to look at it and also allows you to get away from it and explore the rest of Maker Faire when your shift is done.
  • Show the attitude of gratitude! Thank people who helped you with your project with a signboard to that effect.
  • Don’t lose your voice by repeating the basics over and over again. Make signage with all the answers to questions you’re going to hear over and over again. But don’t rely on the signs. They are just a starting point so you can get to the deeper conversations.

 

Michelle "Binka" Hlubinka

Michelle, or Binka, is the Director of Custom Programs for Maker Media, overseeing publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.


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