I love me a well-run meetup: when you show up to a room-full (or huge event space-full) of friendly people chatting away and making connections, sit down for 30-60 minutes of interesting, inspiring, and (hopefully!) educational content, and head home after more chatting, ready to apply what you’ve learned.
I’ve seen people find jobs at meetups, make lasting friendships at meetups, and make connections that can help them find their next exciting thing (I think that’s sort of how I ended up on a podcast. Yes, still excited about that).
But after co-organizing Analyze Boulder (AB) for ~3 years (until recently), and co-organizing WiMLDS Boulder for close to 1, I’ve learned that high-quality and sustainable meetups don’t appear out of thin air. So here are my tips for how to run a successful meetup event. This assumes your meetup features a speaker.
Send out reminders
The action starts before the day of. At AB we sent reminders to our speakers 1-2 weeks out to remind them about creating their slides, to send along speaker guidelines (more on this later), and to ask for slides a few days before the big night so that we could review them and provide feedback.
This level of advance planning isn’t necessary for smaller events, but for large 100+ people events, attendees expect quality and preparation, and creating a “deadline before the deadline” really helps with this.
On the night of, arrive early and make sure the slides, any video content, and anything that requires wifi is working as expected!
Things to watch out for:
I’ve seen so many cases when the speaker has been introduced, walks up to start presenting, and that is when they discover that they can’t connect to the projector or that their videos won’t play! This is awful for the speaker - they may already be nervous about speaking, and this fiasco does not help them relax. So make it easy on the speaker, and prepare this stuff for them.
Now is not nap time
The speaker has been introduced, everyone claps, and now it’s time to sit back and relax….J/K!
You as the organizer need to make sure they have full screened their slides correctly, they are speaking loudly enough (go to the back of the room to check this), and their talk is moving along nicely. Once the talk is over, initiate clapping and then Q&A!
It’s not nice, but cut speakers off
No one likes a 20 minute talk to go 30 minutes, and it’s your resonsibility to prevent this from happening! This means giving out time signals, and cutting off the speaker if they are going over. Encourage the audience to approach the speaker afterwards to hear any details they didn’t get to.
Repeat the question!
One of the most frustrating things for an audience member is to not have questions repeated during Q&A. This happens all the time, and is so simple to fix! As the organizer, either ask the speaker to repeat the question, or you repeat it yourself.
Give speakers guidelines and intervene
If you want your meetup to be diverse and to feel inclusive, you may need to take extra action to make it so. Here are examples of things to think through:
If your speakers tend to refer to themselves as “scala guys” or “data guys”, talk to them about making their language more inclusive.
Is there an aggresive question asker or commenter who is taking a lot of time and creating a negative tone? An organizer needs to step in and move things along or brighten up the tone.
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