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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Behind every successful conference!!!

An exciting conference is mainly composed of two parts – technical sessions and exhibition. We enjoy the technical sessions because that’s where we learn from our peers, get our brainstorms, and have a quick update on the scientific frontiers. These are addicted as you can tell me about it. However, ask yourself about the definition of a successful conference. Most of us will say a conference will not be complete without stopping by the exhibition hall to see the zoo of new products and technologies presented by numerous companies. Well, the souvenirs we gather from each booth are attractive too!

If we take a step back, we realize that convention center is a very busy host. Every week it is embracing a new show and new people with crazy ideas. This makes me wonder, what kind of preparation is required to host a welcoming conference? For technical sessions, things are easier to picture since most people had the opportunity to observe or organize a symposium either in the school or in a research institute. We need to multiply everything by at least a hundred. These are OK, we can have more rooms, chairs, projectors, laser pointers, and most importantly, more coffee and labor. So we can make this happen. Now, if we think about the preparation of an exhibition hall, a blank image usually emerges. I did not even know how an exhibition hall looks like before all the companies fight for the space and start to build their own territories, not even mention about how to set it up. Thanks to my job duty and helps from the colleagues, now I have observed the way it happens…^_^

The convention center is moving at a very fast pace as we mentioned. The first thing we have to realize is the time you have to build a booth. Normally, each company has a full day working with the labor of the union to set up everything. In other words, people are working under great pressure. The very first scene I saw is that everyone on the floor was tense since all they faced is a concrete floor marked by chalk to specify the territories of each company. Phones were ringing all the time because on the other side of the exhibition hall, hundreds of trucks were waiting to ship the equipments into the hall. In the meanwhile, experienced workers maneuvered loaded carts, and crates were shuffling among people. These would go on for several hours, and step by step, each big and small cargo reached the right destination, while small hassle was happening all over the place (such as some trucks got lost, according to the workers, this is quite normal).

Small carts moving around the cargos and magically they all arrive at the right destinations.
After this was all set, locating the power jackets and building tiny power grids on the floor were next. We can fairly say, without the electricity, the exhibition hall would be like a haunting house rather than a technology showcase. But for the beauty of the exhibition, we want to hide these power grids. So we make them lying comfortably on the floor and covered by carpet later on. By doing so, we will never spot them unless you come to the hall before the grand opening. At the same time, small hydraulic trucks were busy putting the overhead canvas slogans and signs above company’s booth. From this moment on, we would not get lost, since the flag (well, the slogan) was waving on each and every corner of the hall.

The power grids (shown in orange) on the floor are taped down nicely and distributed very efficiently for the booth use. 
Time to do some makeup. The “base foundation” was the carpet. It covers all the power grids and jackets, all the chalk signs, and marks the lanes of the traffic. Putting the carpet represents an important step – “the equipments are ready to get some fresh air.” Knowledgeable technicians started to open the crates (always with complaining, since equipments had legs, they moved around after staying in the trucks for so long), tried to do preliminary assembling, and finalized the floor plans. They spent another several hours to put optical tables together, made the equipments up and running, and arranged and cleaned the surfaces of each components. These are tedious work, and work was again under great pressure.

This booth is about 50% done. Technicians have been working for hours, and there are still al of of crates need to be opened and arranged on the optical tables.
Just like LEGO we played when we were young, setting up the booth was like intense LEGO works, except they are much bigger and you cannot quit if you feel tired. It is not uncommon to see people work way beyond midnight because they want to present the best to the researchers and the students the following day. After technicians and the product line managers were satisfied with the setups, final cleanup was required. Final vacuuming on the floor, tearing open the plastic wrapping of the carpet, and covering the equipments and tables with blanket were essential works not to be omitted.  Everyone wanted to keep every link neat and flawless.

After a detailed inspection on the booth, we can call it a day. Hmmm, time for bed or time for a drink?! I would like to thank Mr. Hoang Hung and John Carter, the men who are in charge of the booth setup. Without his help and explanation on the details, I will not be able to peek through this new window to see how to dress the conference!

Another successful show!!! After seeing so much traffic, all the efforts and sweats are just sweet!
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the Optical Society of America (OSA) or any OSA affiliate.

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