Hi, My name is Dave, and I’ve had the good fortune to be able to participate in several Maker Faires, and they have definitely been the highlight of each year.
Dave introducing Mitch Altman at Orlando Mini Maker Faire 2012
Over time, I’ve learned a few things that I really wish I had known earlier on – here’s some quick tips:
Table coverings make a surprisingly big impact on the appearance of your exhibit. The faire does not provide them, but you can get them at a local party supply store, or from Amazon (you’ll need to verify table size to make sure you order the right one). Not only do they help make the cool thing that you made visually stand out, but they also help conceal some of the gear you used to transport that cool thing, some emergency snacks, etc. The tables at Maker Faire Orlando are standard 8′ tables which measure 8′ x 2.5′.
Backdrops / Signs
In most venues, attaching things to the walls is not possible, so bringing a backdrop is a great way to help your exhibit stand out. Since this is a Maker Faire, make one if you can. Folks have made freestanding backdrops using PVC, folding screens, modified popup displays, and a variety of shelving materials. If you plan to go this route, definitely attend orientation so you can measure, and find out if there are any obstructions/features you will want to work around. Also find out what the height limit for backdrops is before you get too carried away. We’ve used photo backdrop stands to hold light materials, but they can’t support much weight and you need to factor in the size of the base (won’t go all the way back against a wall for example…) At the Fairgrounds, if you are against a metal wall, you _may_ be able to use magnets to hold up lightweight items, but this is not guaranteed.
People will be a lot more excited about the thing you make if they see that you are excited about it. During the event, I’ve found that sitting behind your exhibit table is not very compelling, even if you have fascinating things attached to your head. (that’s me…) For some reason if you sit behind a table, people tend to walk by…
Standing behind your table is slightly better, ( …you might even get bonus points for leaning over it, and glaring down intently at the thing you made, but then again, you might not.)
Dave setting up an experiment at the FamiLAB DIY BIO exhibit at Maker Faire Orlando 2014
but, it turns out that actually getting out in front of your exhibit and genuinely engaging with people is a LOT more fun for everyone involved.
In general, having stuff that moves and/or lights up is a great way to catch peoples eye, especially if the lit up moving thing is vaguely related to what you make. Having things that make noise can also be interesting, but can quickly wear on the nerves of your neighbor exhibitors. Please be considerate.
Save your voice – make a sign
You will get some interesting questions, and a chance to meet other people who are almost as passionately interested in that think you make as you are. You will also get a LOT of “frequently asked questions.” If you can, try to figure out the top 5 questions that people are likely to ask, and then make a cool sign that covers as much of that info as possible. That way, you can spend more of the weekend having in-depth conversations about stuff you care about, and not need to repeat those same 5 answers as often.
If at all possible, bring helpers. Not only does it make load-in and load-out significantly easier, but it also means you have someone who can stay at your exhibit and answer questions while you take a quick break and see some of the other exhibits at the faire. (You are expected to have at least one person running your exhibit from the time the doors open in the morning until the guests leave at the end of the day.) You are usually allowed to have three helpers per exhibit, and you need to sign them up in advance in order for the organizers to provide you with the proper badges/wristbands/admissions info/etc.
Note: You can add helpers on your Maker Dashboard. If you need more helpers than the default, simply email us at email@example.com with the explanation of what you need.
Items to bring
It doesn’t hurt to bring some extra snacks, and plenty of water, and a few more powerstrips than you think you need. (Also, tape, sharpies, exhibit repair stuff, more tape, bags, a couple more power strips, carts, and waaaaay more business cards/flyers than it seems like you should bring.) If you end up with any supplies to spare, be sure to be a good neighbor, and offer some to the folks in the exhibit next to you. They will appreciate it. A lot.
We’ve met with food vendor at the Central Florida Fair several times, and have asked for multiple food locations and requested vegetarian options. At Maker Faire Orlando 2016, there were multiple places to get food and very short lines. If you have very specific dietary needs, we strongly suggest you plan ahead and bring food.
Lego exhibit knows how to exhibit
This excellent lego creation sums a lot of things up nicely: covered table, maker-built-backdrop, exhibitor minifigs actively engaged with spectator minifigs…it was definitely one of my favorite exhibits that year.
All in all, this event is a ton of fun. I look forward to meeting you, and if I do borrow your sharpie, I really will try to get it back to you!
Dave taking his own advice to have fun at World Maker Faire New York 2011