Real Time with...SMTAI 2020: How to Network Virtually at the Show

Nolan Johnson networks with SMTA’s Tamara Shephard, membership engagement manager, and Karlie Severinson, events and administrative manager. Shephard and Severinson share how SMTAI has built multiple platforms to bring attendees, exhibitors, and presenters together. SMTAI will host networking opportunities on the virtual show floor to connect to exhibitors, multiple servers on Discord to connect technical program participants, live social events hosted on Zoom, and general social media outreach using the hashtag #SMTAI2020.

The Live Virtual Exposition will run from September 28 (opening at 8:00 a.m. US Central) through September 30 at 11:59 p.m. (US Central). The On-Demand Conference & Expo will be available through October 23, 2020.

View more videos and show-related content at Real Time with… SMTAI 2020 virtual.

Prefer to read this interview? Here's the audio transcript:

Nolan Johnson: Nolan Johnson here for Real Time with… SMTAI, and I’m talking with two key people today from the SMTAI staff: Tamara Shephard and Karlie Severinson. Tamara is the membership and engagement manager, and Karlie is the events and administrative manager at SMTA. Welcome.

Karlie Severinson: Thank you.

Tamara Shephard: Thank you.

Johnson: We’re talking today about how to network on this the show. That’s one of the key things for going to a trade show, in the first place, is to get into the same room and have conversations with your customers, your colleagues, your suppliers, the industry, as a whole in a virtual environment, like the 2020 version of SMTA. How are we all going to get that networking experience?

Severinson: I’m going to specifically start with the expo right off the bat. Our event platform allows us to have a chat feature where you don’t have to go off the website. It’s embedded right in the system, and you can get through that through the expo portion or the expo hall. And if you click into a specific booth, you can see all the other users that are in that booth. You can chat with other people from there. You can chat with booth representatives. Booth representatives can also see everyone that’s in their booth at the same time, and they can chat with multiple people. From there, they can initiate one-on-one conversations via text and video chat. We also have another option called Discord, and that is a separate platform that you will have to kind of sign-in, create your own Discord account, and join our SMT community.

And that’s specifically more for the technical tracks. We also have a track in there that is for the expo. If attendees and exhibitors would like to use that as well, we have that option for them, but this way, people can take it offline or go to Discord—have all these questions, advice, and things that they’re running into—they can ask anyone specifically for that track, or they can reference presentation numbers, which we have done specifically for this. It’s easy for people to reference minus spelling out the whole title. They can say, “I have a question on 351. Did anyone else have a question about this?” It’s just a way for people to communicate with everyone at the same time. It’s more of an IM system, and it’s cool to bring us back to those days. Discord also allows us to do text and video chat as well, and that is specifically for those tracks. It’s a really cool platform, and I’m really excited.

Johnson: I can use chat inside the SMTAI environment itself to talk to somebody specifically? Here’s the person I can talk with them, have that conversation, but I want to do something wider—a little bit more networking, and a little bit more throwing something out to a wider team.

Severinson: Exactly. You hit the nail right on the head. I believe that’s a perfect way and a perfect example for people to use Discord. If it’s not so specific and you’d like to get a broad answer or consensus from a lot of people on, I would definitely go put that in your Discord track.

Johnson: Likewise, I think hanging around in the Discord conversations probably makes a lot of sense if what you’re looking for is that sort of serendipity that, “Here’s so-and-so from such and such company present on Discord, we can have that conversation,” like running into them in the hallway between the conferences and expo floor as an example.

Severinson: Exactly. I think it would be great for people to have that open in a separate tab while you’re in the SMTA virtual event. You also will get email notifications. I believe you’ll also get push notifications on your cell phone if you download it the app; otherwise, it will just go straight to your email, letting you know that so-and-so has posted this in the MFX track and so on and so forth.

Johnson: Live events have always been something that’s been a part of going to SMTAI, as well. Obviously, a lot of the technical track usually is done live. In this case, most of that is being done in a virtual environment, pre-recorded and put up for viewing, which is great; there’s a lot of flexibility around that, but there’s still that live event hole. Are you doing something to fill that currently?

Severinson: Yes, as you mentioned, our technical program or presentations are all on-demand. They are available for paid attendees to stream, starting September 28 at 8:00 a.m. CT, all the way through October 23 at 11:59 p.m. CT. This does allow people that never had a chance in the past to view all the presentations. People always had to pick and choose and miss out on some, and now they have the availability and the access to watch all the presentations if they want to. That is a lot, but they have the option now. And I’m glad that we can finally give that to our attendees that we couldn’t in the past with live events. We do have three live events that will be going on. I can talk about the women’s leadership program.

We decided to keep that going this year. We knew that it was going to be a little bit of a challenge, but the committee did a fantastic job planning it. We will start out on Wednesday, starting at 3:00 p.m. CT, and that will be with two technical presentations. One is from Lenora Clark at ESI automotive, and the other will be with Nancy Lange from Plexus Corporation. From there, we’ll break it down into our mentoring "fuel stops", speed chats with different breakout hosts, and then we’ll go into our connection reception. That’s hosted by Michelle Ogihara and Sherry Stepp, and they did a fantastic job planning this, so it should be a lot of fun.

Johnson: I heard rumor of something social on the live events calendar as well.

Shephard: Yes. SMTAI has always been a lot of fun, and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss that this year. We have planned a really fun mixology class. We have two professional mixologists that are coming in via Zoom to teach us how to make a bramble, which is a gin cocktail, a mezcal sour—which is tequila—and also a classic drink, the Manhattan. You should all join us. You can register there. Go to You can go to our SMTAI section, and then we have a special events section. You’ll see the mixology class listed as the after-hours event. Register there. You’ll get the link, and you’ll get all the tools you need if you want to follow along and make the cocktails; it’s going to be hosted via Zoom. It’s not like you have to be silent, and you’re just listening to people instruct you. There’s going to be time to talk and interact with all the other people that are participating. You’ll be able to see the people that are participating live, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Johnson: Tamara, we have inside SMTAI’s virtual trade show or network. We have Discord, and we have Zoom. What other social platforms do you have going?

Severinson: We are actually going to be using all of our social media platforms. If you want to connect with people in real-time and see who is attending the same tracks as you, while you’re watching them, or who’s going to the expo and exactly where you’re going, make sure to use Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook. Use the hashtag #SMTAI2020. And you can search that hashtag to see who else is using it at the exact same time as you are. And that’s how you can connect in real-time.

Johnson: There is a lot of coverage here, and a lot of ways to connect and have that networking experience—slightly different ones, different hammers for different nails, if you will. Nicely done. If viewers have further questions or want to get a little bit more detail, where should they go?

Shephard: They can go onto our website, of course, They can go to our SMTAI program, and everything is listed there. But, if you still have questions, please email me. I’m And you can also contact Karlie if you have any questions, too. She is karlie@

Johnson: Terrific. I did see on the website that you have a recorded tutorial, if you will, for how to register, connect, so it’s simpler.

Shephard: Yes. We knew going into this that a lot of people haven’t gone to a virtual event before, and we wanted to make it as easy as possible. We have a pre-recorded webinar that we did on September 16, and Karlie does a beautiful walkthrough of the front, then she shows you how to log in, how to get into the expo, how to get into the conference, and how to use Discord. If you have any questions, please go on to the SMTAI platform on our site. And there is a link that you can go and see that, straight on our YouTube channel. Or you can just go directly to YouTube. SMTA is the YouTube name, and you’ll see the webinars called SMTAI explained. It’s pretty good. A lot of people have been viewing it, and I think it’s been helpful for a lot of people.

Johnson: Great. Have we overlooked anything? You have social media touches everywhere.

Severinson: Yes, we’ve kind of been blowing up social media lately. We really want to get the word out. It’s a new event for us to do, and it’s just a new perspective, and we’re excited. We’re trying to get the word out as much as we can for everyone to be a part of it.

Johnson: And as one individual attendee to the show, working my job, I’m really excited to see how all the social media networking opportunities work and how this connects people. I’m sure that there are going to be some new opportunities, some new takeaways, from how they connect to this network. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about how to network at SMTAI. This has been really informative.

Shephard: Thank you so much.

Severinson: Thank you.

Shephard: Have a great day.


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