What problem does this solve?
Trade fairs and exhibitions are great places to reach out to an expert audience if you want to promote Wikipedia-related projects or recruit new participants. However, the best events with the most diverse audiences will be packed with visitors and other exhibitors. Your booth will be competing for attention with companies and their generous event budgets.
What is the solution?
Unlike company representatives, you're not there to sell anything. Turn this to your advantage and make your venue relaxed. Keep the tone conversational. There's a time and a place for open knowledge evangelism and this might not be it. If the event is aimed at people like ICT professionals, librarians or teachers, they will already be familiar with Wikipedia and some might even use it in their daily work. If they have criticism, it's probably valid and you have a great opportunity to learn from it and discuss how to address problems that your visitors bring up.
Coming prepared for audience questions and dividing tasks with your team will make things go smoothly and no-one will be exhausted. Most visitors at trade fairs and similar events will want to visit as many booths as they can during their visit, so you shouldn't count on too many of them wanting to try any time-consuming activity such as Wikipedia editing. Have something prepared beforehand that's easy to demonstrate and make it concise.
When you recruit members for your exhibitor team, try to get people who work in the same fields as the intended audience. No one member needs to be an expert in everything.
The following is a short, field-tested checklist of the things you should keep in mind so you can get visitors to come and get to know your projects.
- A retractable banner or poster, big enough to attract attention. Place this at the entrance.
- A projector or a large screen. You can use this to show pictures and videos and it's also something that attracts visitors.
- Laptop computers. One will be needed to run the projector, the others will come in handy for practical demonstrations.
- Tables and chairs. If possible, get comfy chairs and place them so that visitors can come in without feeling that they're interrupting something.
- Printed ephemera. This includes leaflets, cards, flyers and other goods that people can pick up and read later. Bring plenty; if you make a good impression, some visitors will want to take some for their colleagues as well.
- Posters. Visualizing your project with a well-designed conference poster is a good way to present it in a nutshell. Posters are also great for showcasing visual outcomes such as photos.
- T-shirts or name tags
- Boxes for storing your gear neatly
- Tools such as box cutters, scissors, tape and cable ties
- Make sure you have a working internet connection with all computers. Wifi networks are usually overwhelmed at bigger events, so try to get access to a non-public network.
- Arrive as early as possible. Get your booth set up before the last minute so you can contact organizers for help before they have their hands full.
- Discuss your topics beforehand. If a visitor asks you a question you can't answer, chances are someone in your team can.
- Make sure that everyone gets to take a breather when needed. Stagger your lunch breaks so that there are as many of you as possible at the booth at all times. Stay hydrated.
- Mingle. Visit other booths, go to presentations and workshops and invite people to visit.
When to use
Conferences, trade fairs and other events where you can tailor your message to the audience. Wikimedia Finland had an education-related booth at the ITK Conference.