Since these two events were so close to each other, I spent some time comparing my experience.
Overview of event
Maker Faire: Norm Sutaria and I have run the NYC FIRST robotics booth at Maker Faire for the past three years. Our booth is 20 x 30 feet and we coordinate robotics teams from elementary school through high school to show their robots.
Toastmasters contest: Toastmasters holds speech contests where contestants from multiple clubs square off. Since our area only has four clubs, I ran the contest with another area governor to make it a bigger event.
Our booth won an editors choice award at Maker Faire. That is really cool and exciting. Toastmasters gives ribbons out for every speech and certificates of appreciation for helping at a contest. I don’t find these motivating because you get them frequently regardless of whether you did a good job. The Maker Faire ribbon actually feels special. I don’t know how many were given out, but we didn’t win it the last two years making it special for us!
For Maker Faire, Norm and I get to practice delegating. Both to each other – play to the other person’s strengths – and to the teams. We are both good at delegating to students and not trying to do everything ourselves. For planning, it was more of claiming the work we wanted to do or were best at rather than delegating. There was some level of needing to trust the other person at the event though. It’s important to eat and take breaks knowing the other is in charge! And for me, remembering to ask for help lifting things when I need to and not worrying about not “pulling my weight” in that specific area. I do lots of other things!
For Toastmasters, we split planning by event. I did the lions share of the planning/organizing/running this time and the other area governor will this time. As a result, less delegating went on. There was some of course since a contest has a number of contest officials. And I did seek volunteers for certain parts.
The first two years, our Maker Faire rain plan was “it better not rain.” This year, rain was likely so we came up with an actual rain plan. We announced it both mornings and used it Sunday. (The plan was to cover up the electronics with tarp and painters plastic, have some students under the tent and encourage most to go into the Hall of Science.)
For Toastmasters, I thought about things likely to go wrong and had an extra judge on hand along with a plan for how to get more if needed. For the most part, it was “figure out how to run with it” if things went wrong. Which worked out just fine. I think this is because a Toastmasters speech contest is a lot more predictable.
Interestingly, this shows a difference between volunteer work and paid work. In the business world, I don’t typically plan to wing it if something goes wrong!
On the tech side, I used Google forms to organize both events. For attendance lists in both cases and collecting data, listing teams, etc for Maker Faire.
Where I grew the most
Both FIRST robotics and Toastmasters help with soft skills and leadership skills. Toastmasters does it more obviously – it is in their mission. FIRST robotics “tricks” students into learning about teamwork and leadership through the “distraction” of a robot. Does it for the mentors too! I definitely stretch myself and learn the most at the Maker Faire event. Partially because I talk to a lot of people I don’t know and give the “FIRST pitch.” Partially because running the booth is a lot more work. And partially because a public event is a lot less predictable than a Toastmasters contest.
Both work though. Because if you tell a techie he/she will spend a weekend practice soft skills, you aren’t likely to get a good reaction. Throw in robots or the need to get something done and it changes the picture completely.