Introduction: How to Host an Instructables Show and Tell

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to learn …

This is a guide for running an Instructables Show and Tell. It is based primarily on an event held at Instructables on Friday, March 9, 2007, but also on the previous incarnation of this event, the Squid Labs Light Salons.

The goal of a Show and Tell is to bring like-minded people together in person to share their projects, ideas, and knowledge.

Step 1: Set a Date, Set the Schedule, and Advertise

Choose a date that's best for the host. Our events have been drawing 50-100 people and running around 4 hours, from 7 PM - 11 PM. Weekday evenings conflict less with social events, while weekend evenings are more schoolchildren-friendly. We usually pick a Friday or Saturday evening.

Here's the schedule we've been using
7 - 8 PM : mingle and eat snacks; sign up to present a project
8 - 9:30 : Show and Tell
9:30 - 11 : mingle, finish the snacks

The Squid Labs Light Salon was initially advertised among our personal emails lists and the MIT Club of Northern California's mailing list. Over time we collected enough people to start our own Salon mailing list, and eventually people would hear about the event and ask to be added to that list. This time around we added the notice here on Instructables to the mix.

Step 2: Clean Up and Prepare a Big Room

Depending on how many people you expect, clean up and prepare a big room. We used a table for the presenter to stand on and an amplifier and microphone so mumblers and quiet-talkers could be heard. I put a ladder next to the table to prevent anyone falling while getting on or off.

If you expect more people than can comfortably look at a laptop screen, beg, borrow, or steal a video projector.

If you can, prepare a gong or some other obnoxious way to let presenters know they've started to bore the audience. Yelling "Gong! Gong!" also works.

Optional: Setup a table for people to give away free stuff.

Step 3: Prepare Some Snacks

We always ask people to bring a project to share, a snack to share, or, preferably, both. In any case, you'll want to have some starter food already out when people show up.

Step 4: Set Up Something Fun to Keep Kids Entertained

This step is optional, but if you expect a lot of children, know that they are probably not going to be fully entertained by the speakers and need something to do. We set out two giant inflatable balls that you can climb inside. They each can hold three 9-year-olds inside, and somewhat muffle the screams.

Full disclosure: The balls had already been out and inflated for a week for us to play in. They weren't set out intentionally, we're just incapable of putting our toys away before company comes over. Apparently no one at Squid Labs is above a mental age of 14.

Step 5: Sign Up to Present, and the Theory of the Evening

Find a giant whiteboard or large piece of paper, and encourage people to sign up to present their projects. Don't worry if you only have a few people signed up by the time the presenting starts. Once the momentum of the evening starts, and people see how things are working, they'll jump in.

I'm pretty sure we got the "self-organizing" format of the Show and Tell from O'Reilly's FooCamp. However, considering that only half of the people that show up will have RSVP'ed telling you what they're going to show, and half of the attendees won't sign up to present until the presentations are actually underway, this seems the only logical way to do it.

Also, have people put on name tags, and sign an attendance list with their emails so they'll know about the next one. We've swapped back and forth between signing in on a computer or paper. Paper is a lot easier, but some portion of the handwriting will be illegible.

Step 6: Run Through the Projects; Have Fun

Keep things moving and have fun.

The host should start the presentations by welcoming everyone, describing how the evening will run, and presenting his own project. The host should then run through the list giving everyone a couple of minutes, or until the audience gets bored, or the questions get too technical. Since I have everyone's name and project already on the board, I introduce them to keep things moving briskly. If the presenter I've just introduced has a laptop and doesn't have it connected and ready to go, I move on to the next presenter immediately, and come back to the laptop presentation when it's actually ready. The way you do it will vary by number of people and location.

Watch the audience carefully to ensure they're still engaged. If they aren't, use the gong liberally. If the presenter keeps talking about "quantum mini-golf" use the gong again. When they try to give quantum mini-golf's URL, carefully spelling it out and repeating each letter, keep using the gong until they get the message. Remember, you'll dealing with nerds, and sometime they need some "tough love."

Same deal goes for highly specific and technical questions. The audience members really interested in a project will have time to talk with the presenter one-on-one in the third half of the evening.

PS -

Step 7: Cut Loose

Cut loose and go nuts. Here, I help Dan show off his RGB Color Controllable High Power LED Room + Spot Lighting by modeling my Formal Friday attire.

Original pictures taken by ancawonka appear here and here.

Step 8: Finishing Up

Encourage everyone to stick around and talk. Since a bunch of people have presented, the ice has been broken and it's really easy to start a conversation with someone you don't already know. This part of the evening is a lot of fun and much livelier than the initial mingling, so make sure you allow adequate time for it.

People will want to stick around and help clean up. Let them! You have to get started on all the great project ideas from the evening!