Running a meetup

Running a meetup

So far in this post series I covered what you should be aware of before you start organizing a meetup and the 5 basics defining your meetup. I saved one of the most important parts, how to actually run the meetup, for last.

A meetup is usually divided into a couple of phases: Before, Arrival, Main and Goodbye. To easily see what there’s to do, the format of this post is slightly different than the others. It’s not so much discussions but more of a check list for each of the phases, so you don’t forget anything.

Before

As you might have noticed during the first two posts, most of the work done for a meetup happens before the meetup. The preparation is the real work, if it is good, then the meetup is mostly fun. The foundation for a great meetup is great preparation. Most of the things to prepare (online presence, atmosphere, talks, regular schedule, …) were discussed in previous posts. This is about what to do in the days leading up to the event.

  • Check with the hosts if everything is still set and clear up any questions (how many people are expected to come, how long the meetup will run, do they have a projector etc.) and remind them of important things (putting up signs etc.)
  • Check with the speakers if they are ready and everything is good to go for the meetup day and remind them of the CoC
  • See that you announce the meetup via the mailing list and twitter (I usually like to tweet about every talk individually to give the speakers some exposure and let interested attendees know what topics will be covered)
  • On the day of the meetup tweet again, make sure that the directions to the meetup are clear and let them know if there’s food at the meetup

Arrival

For Arrival I like to be the first person at the venue, so I get there 30 to 45 minutes before the official meetup start. If the meetup involves presentations of any kind, be sure to bring your own laptop. The laptop of a speaker might break down, they don’t have their adapter with them… lots of things can happen, so it’s good to have a backup on your side.

Then it’s time to make sure everything is set:

  • Who is the responsible person from the venue in case we need anything?
  • Is there something special we gotta pay attention to (for instance, keep windows closed so neighbours aren’t disturbed)?
  • Are there enough signs to the meetup place so people can find it easily?
  • Are there enough chairs for the expected crowd?
  • Is the projector there and ready? Are adapters there?
  • Is there a microphone system, do we need it?
  • Where’s the bathroom?
  • Is there Wifi? What’s the password?
  • Where are the drinks (+ food?)?
  • Where are my speakers? Do they have any preference when to speak? (I usually let them choose on a “first come first served” basis)
  • Check that the laptop of the speakers works OK with the projector (Adapter etc.), before the meetup starts to prevent bad srprises

Main

For the Main part I’ll make sure I found enough speakers to fill the content before the break and then start relatively on time. Starting a bit late is fine, as people always arrive late. The Ruby User Group Berlin even has this “tradition” where we always start 15 minutes late (pssst).

First comes the welcome and an overview that should include:

  • thanks everyone for coming
  • quick introduction to the format (talks, lightning talks)
  • today’s topics and speakers
  • where are the bathrooms
  • where are food & drinks
  • wifi (also good to show on a projector or have signs around)
  • mention general rules such as the CoC
  • host & sponsors (if you have some), I usually give them maximum 5 minutes to introduce themselves while advising for a shorter time – people get bored easily

Then it goes on to announcing talks, as well as different parts of the meetup (break, lightning talks) and tell people that we are always looking for talks and encourage them to approach me to bounce talk ideas around.

If there are small pauses in between speakers (while connecting to the projector) I like to share some related news (new version of major library X released, security vulnerability in Y, conferences) and ask the audience if they also have any news to share. I just don’t like sustained periods of silence while the meetup is supposed to be running.

To get the attention of people and have them be silent a long extended “Shhhhhhh” while standing on the stage usually works best in my experience. Sometimes it’s just enough to stand there, wait and look like you are going to say something. Holding up one hand (maybe with a balloon) also has worked pretty well for me.

Trying to get some attention at a Rails Girls Berlin workshop
Trying to get some attention at a Rails Girls Berlin workshop

Goodbye

For the Goodbye the essential topics are mostly:

  • thanks for coming!
  • next meetup place + time
  • call for talks
  • if there’s an after party place, tell them where it is and where to form a group to get going there
  • ask kindly for help cleaning the space up (stacking chairs, collecting bottles etc.)
  • thank the speakers once again for their talks

And that’s basically it… but don’t forget – after the meetup is before the next meetup and it’s always a lot less stressful to have things already organized a long time in advance. I try to aim for having the venue and a couple of talks confirmed a month in advance, admittedly I often fail at that.

And that’s also an important takeaway here, nothing is ever perfect and it doesn’t have to be. Don’t worry if you don’t get all of this straight, if you forget something… it happens. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I still forget things but usually everything goes just fine. If I forget something, people remind me or ask. People also know that meetups are organized by volunteers, so they  are forgiving and willing to help when something goes wrong.

So, let me know if this helped you or if I forgot to cover something and you have any remaining questions. This marks the end of this little series, so I hope that this helps you get your meetup started or that you got the insight into organizing meetups that your were looking for.

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