With in-person events still virtually a no-go, the 3D printing industry has been going virtual — and it’s perhaps working out better than we might have predicted.
Usually, we’re keen to recommend that anyone interested in 3D printing (or really any industry) attend events. Symposia, trade shows, conferences, panels, hobbyist gatherings, networking events: the types are many, and the locations global. There are, in a normal year, many, many 3D printing events to choose from around the world. Reasons for choosing which to attend vary, and we’ve laid out a few considerations here on how to decide, but ultimately they come down to one very important facet: connecting.
2020, as we know, is hardly a normal year in any sense. Major events have been cancelled the world over in the face of pandemic; we’ve only heard of one large 3D printing event to safely proceed since this spring. Experts offer essentially the same advice for large events that they do for the public in general: stay home.
So stay home we all have been doing. One might think that would throw a wrench in the plans for events — and that’s absolutely happened — but since the outbreaks of most previous pandemic situations, technology has advanced to the point of global virtual connection. Now, while the pandemic continues to impact life in many areas of the world, affecting health, business, travel, and day-to-day life, we can all still connect.
And, at least in the 3D printing industry, connect we are.
3D Printing Virtual Networking
Nothing quite replaces the value of in-person interpersonal conversation, but as the months go on and COVID-19 doesn’t go away, we’ve all been adapting to the 2020 “new normal” with new opportunities to network.
We’ve dubbed this the year of the 3D printing webinar, and so it is — but it’s not only webinars. While many of these types of events offer some interaction through a Q&A, that’s not quite the same as a full conversation. So many more events have been working to add in a networking aspect.
This week, I attended some of the ASME AM Industry Summit, which offered not only high-caliber presentations in aerospace and medical additive manufacturing, but some opportunity to network. It had its limitations on that front, as it was all chatroom-based, and obviously less organic than a general happy hour might be in terms of encouraging spontaneous conversation. But that there was a major aspect dedicated to networking was telling of the significance of that aspect of an event.
Yesterday, I attended the Women in 3D Printing North America chapters happy hour event. This was the first all-North America event to be not 100% dedicated to networking, as four excellent speakers shared their expertise in social media, networking, interviewing, and creating job opportunities. The Remo platform that hosted this event offers the benefit of small-table conversation, with only six people (plus perhaps an event administrator) able to join a table at a given time. With cameras and microphones required, the event necessarily engages all participants.
That event also provided me some food for thought. So what can we learn from virtual events?
The Lessons Of Virtual Networking
A lot of people, especially at the beginning of pandemic-driven shutdowns, were suddenly staying home significantly more than before. Whether this was through working from home, being furloughed, or being laid off, many “nonessential” workers found themselves rather homebound. The encouraging bits of the internet encouraged certain activities to stay sane and watch after personal mental health during this time, and with that I became one of the only people in my personal social circle to not be baking bread.
Just as that happened in personal lives, though, we can all be using this time to work on ourselves professionally.
Networking comes greatly into play here: keep doing it!
There are so many events still happening, now in the digital realm, that it can be somehow even more difficult to figure out which to attend when now theoretically they’re all open to you. This wasn’t quite the case when a flight and a hotel needed to be booked; I enjoyed quite pleasant conversation with a few individuals from Nepal who joined my Cleveland-based self at the Winnipeg chapter’s Women in 3D Printing event last month. But we can’t all attend every Wi3DP chapter event (I mean, you’re welcome to try, though) — so how do we choose?
A lot of my advice remains the same from what I suggested for in-person events. That is, examine the topics to be presented, the scale or scope of any announcements to be made, the people speaking as keynotes and/or panelists, how it fits into your schedule. Of course, keep in mind your goals: networking, buying, selling, curious?
But even outside of events, do as the bread-bakers do and work on yourself!
There’s never been a better time to shine up your LinkedIn profile, perfect your witty/informative tweets, and reach out to your established social connections — and of course to widen your circles there.
Consider the content you’re putting out, and your goals for it: do you want to show up as a standout candidate? Highlight your latest research efforts. Are you looking for information on a certain type of technology? Join a LinkedIn group dedicated to non-polymer 3D printing.
And of course, be proactive.
While one exhibitor I chatted with at a recent virtual event noted that it was a bit difficult for them, as “booth” traffic could effectively be equated with foot traffic on a very slow day at a trade show, another said that their experience was much different because they made it a point to reach out and engage with attendees and speakers at every opportunity. Use those chatrooms, use those messaging platforms, dust off your Rolodex of business cards and send an email.
Unfortunately, the pandemic simply will not be ending in the immediate-immediate future. While we all hope to see the other side of it soon, let’s buckle in for some more virtual events. (See some more considerations for planning and attending virtual events here.)