This piece initially published on 13 April 2023 on LinkedIn
It’s spring – event season in the additive manufacturing world! Flowers are blooming and so are booths on exhibit floors.
The frankly ridiculous library of lanyards anyone on a video call with me will see on my office wall are testament to the myriad 3D printing events I’ve attended over the years. By mid-2023, I’ve experienced essentially every aspect of these events: media with full access, featured speaker, anonymous exhibit attendee, exhibitor staff, contractor with scattered clients… If there’s a badge designation to be had, it’s likely in my collection.
That’s a long-winded way of saying: I’ve seen a lot first-hand. Most of it is great. Some of it leaves, we’ll say, room for improvement.
So, in the vein of other free advice for additive manufacturing I’ve been offering, from companies to professionals, as well as overall thoughts on what good work can look like in 3D printing: Here’s some free advice for AM events, for attendees, exhibitors, and organizers.
So you’re going to an event – awesome! How do you maximize it? How do you balance professional growth with networking with the human aspects it’s all-too-easy to ignore? I got you.
Good shoes are a must. I’ve been a big fan of flats for a few obvious reasons (heels hurt; also I’m 6’1” and tired of anyone asking why I would dream of wearing any whisper of a heel). I recently gave in, though, and bought a pair of the renowned adidas shoes where you walk on 3D printed midsoles. Kudos, Carbon, I love my Wakanda Forever pair and they were well worth the investment. Custom-made insoles – 3D printed, of course – are an utter game-changer for wearing boots or dress shoes. I still rock the ones I got years ago from Wiivv (now called FitMyFoot) and they’ve held up admirably.
Hydrate with water and do so often. My event experiences tend to be 90% powered by coffee, and I know from the queues that I’m not nearly alone in that. Remember water. Even at happy hour. Any time you order a glass of wine, ask for a water too. Trust me. Your morning self will thank you.
Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need. This one is so pressing I literally stopped writing this to order more business cards – after the last in-person event, I only have a dozen left! That won’t do. The better part of a decade into my time in this industry, I remain happily surprised by how very many people I still don’t know. I want to be well prepared to meet everyone – and stay in contact. We all live on LinkedIn, but business cards remain an utter staple.
Talk to someone new every day! Events are a family (fAMily) reunion, I more than get it. It’s so nice to see people, shake hands, even hug with close colleagues and enjoy the off-Zoom time. Catching up is great but remember what these events are really for: growth, in every sense. Grow your network, grow your knowledge base, and make it a point to intentionally seek new introductions. Go up to the speaker(s) of a session you appreciated, approach booths of startups or even (gasp!) competitors, get out there.
What about those who are booth-locked? If you have booth duty, it’s a glowing chance to draw in new partners, collaborators, and potential customers – and to renew interest from those who already (think they) know you.
If you pour it, they will come. You want foot traffic? Be somewhere people want to stop. Have visible coffee/water/refreshments in your booth. The people want to caffeinate, they will come to you. If you have a seat for them, they’ll be keen to sit over their cappuccino – long enough to get to know you and hear about what you have going on.
A good floor is priceless, so keep that in mind when designing your booth. Early in my industry travel days, I didn’t understand exactly why one company was so thrilled about their floor. It was a puzzle-piece-like easy-to-assemble lightly cushioned floor setup. By day three of that event, I got it. Oh, I understood. The booth experience is truly all-encompassing; don’t forget the experience from the literal ground up. A soft floor could also save your parts from an embarrassing or expensive topple.
Meet visitors where they are when they come to you. That is: Be ready for the hard questions. Be ready for the introductory questions. Be ready to be challenged. Be ready for an innocent, “So what do you do?” when you’ve been patting yourself on the back for enhanced brand recognition. Are you introducing something new? Know the specs like the back of your hand. Have staff on hand ready to speak to every level of visitor, from student to C-suite to hyper-technical engineer.
Welcome competitors in your booth, because they’re coming whether you want them to or not. Expect them. Welcome them. Talk with them. If it’s something you’re exhibiting, it’s public; your competitors are part of that public. Your customers and partners are your priority, but don’t ignore individuals wearing different branding.
Visit your competitors too! Only fair, after all. And when else do you have the opportunity to check out for yourself what they’re really doing? Touch those parts, read the display cards, do understand the market environment. Don’t flip your name tag when you’re there, it’s not a spy mission; introduce yourself and shake hands.
And for those esteemed entities doing the brave work of getting these events together? You know what you’re doing, and I’m part of the choir singing your praises of appreciation. Let’s grow together to be responsible, inclusive events.
Accessible, inclusive event spaces welcome all attendees. Be mindful of the diversity of attendees, exhibitors, and speakers you have. If there are stairs, ensure elevator access is readily available. Exhibit floor aisles should be wide enough to accommodate all kinds of traffic, from individuals on foot to wheelchairs to groups of students keen to stay together. Signage should be readily available – for help desks, exhibitor directories, bathrooms, coffee/food, meeting rooms, conference rooms, etc. – and accessible.
Diverse speakers make for better programs. When you are building your powerhouse speaker lists, build diversity in as a staple – as a must.
Readily and freely available water, please and thank you. Hydrated event attendees are living event attendees, and that’s what you want.
Reporting system in place for unprofessional behavior, including consequences. It is an unfortunate reality of our world that not everyone treats their fellow humans as well as they should. Too many of us, myself included, have experienced unprofessional and unwanted behavior at professional events. A solid and enforced code of conduct, including a route to reporting anonymously and consequences, is a must. Events where everyone feels safe are far more productive for everyone.