Real Time With… SMTAI 2020: Mixing It Up in the Virtual Marketplace

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SMTAI 2020 wrapped up on September 30, 2020, completing its three-day run on a virtual platform. This format was uncharted territory for SMTA, exhibitors, presenters, and attendees alike. It is remarkable—and a credit to the organization in the face of a pandemic—that SMTA chose to jump to a virtual format when it could have been so very easy to simply cancel the event altogether. SMTA showed its commitment to the technical conference participants by ensuring their research would publish as intended, as well as to the sponsors and exhibitors who support the event through underwriting and participation.

SMTAI shared that 25% of the attendees this year were first-timers, noting that this number is higher than normal. Furthermore, by going virtual, SMTAI could become truly international, removing the requirement to travel from the desire to participate. Exhibitors stepped up to the challenge as well, with more than 60 companies staking out their space in the virtual exhibition hall, including some first-time exhibitors.

Last but not least, researchers, students, and industry leaders conducted research around the globe, even under periods of wide-ranging regional lockdowns, furthering the industry’s body of knowledge and moving the art and science of circuit board technology forward.

To create the sense of a physical conference and expo, SMTA needed more ways to communicate. To provide the virtual equivalent of a hallway conversation, SMTA set up a series of conversation areas on the social platform Discord. In addition to shared group conversation areas, Discord users can step out to have private conversations as well.

I attended the “Virtual Road Trip” themed Chapter Officers Meeting at noon CT on Tuesday. This meeting isn’t usually open to the press, but given the virtual nature of this year’s conference, SMTA made special accommodations.

Nearly 100 attendees joined the meeting on Zoom, with an agenda that included a kickoff by Rob Boguski, a start-of-term presentation by incoming SMTA President Martin Anselm, an open Q&A session, and breakout sessions for diverse workgroups, such as membership, demonstrations, events, and technical programs, among others. Administered from within the SMTA offices, this virtual meeting ran smoothly and efficiently. When the group reassembled to share the results from each breakout session, a number of attendees commented on how smoothly the breakout sessions were managed.

I also sat in on the after-hours mixology class and social mixer hosted SMTA and presented by instructors based in Charlotte, North Carolina, including Tamu Curtis and Yashira Mejia. Tamu and “Yoshi” showed the attendees how to make three cocktails: a mezcal sour, a classic Manhattan, and a gin bramble. Attendees generally made the drinks along with the instructors, showing off their results, commenting on the flavors, discussing recipe variations, and having a great time learning something new and getting caught up.

All this effort to create an online, 24-hour virtual equivalent of the traditional SMTAI seems to have paid off. Each of us had ample opportunity to come away with something valuable from the virtual version of SMTAI. It is important for us all to keep in mind that the traditional metrics from a typical in-person event simply aren’t going to match up with the virtual event. It seems that the new key metric involves interactions. How many meaningful interactions did you have while at SMTAI?

Visit Real Time with… SMTAI 2020 and SMT007 now to catch the latest interviews with the SMT industry’s movers and shakers.


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