Community : Discussing the Meetup Format

I spent a bit of time with Liron Amitzi today brainstorming ideas about user group meetups and putting him in touch with a potential sponsor.

Since his move to Vancouver, Liron’s been involved with the user group there and he was asking for ideas about how to help promote it. I don’t claim to know much about this stuff, but I do see what others like PythianOracle Midlands and RedStackTech (#ClubOracle) have done with the meetup format, and I’m always willing to help if I can. Some of the things we discussed, related to the meetup format, were as follows.

  • Be opportunistic. Many people in the community mention their travel plans in advance. There are often people passing through or close to your city. See if they are willing to drop in to do a meetup while they are there. Even if you don’t know their travel plans, ping them a message asking if they are going to be close to your user group during the year. As long as you don’t hound them it shouldn’t be a big deal.
  • Timetable? What Timetable? Don’t get pressured into thinking you should have a strict timetable of events. Trying to get speakers on a strict schedule is really difficult. If you are being opportunistic, you will probably have to be flexible on your schedule. The world won’t end if you don’t have a meetup for a few months.
  • Develop local talent. Things like lightning talks (10, 15, 20 minutes) are an easy way to get people involved and let them try presenting without it being too scary. You might help develop the next rising star!
  • Established local talent. If there are any local speakers that are already established, see if they will jump in from time to time to do a session. It’s OK to have repeat speakers, so long as it isn’t always the same faces.
  • Promotion. Make sure you and your members tweet and blog about your events. If you ask someone to come to your event they are probably going to Google you. It helps if you have a reasonable online presence to let them get an idea of who and what you are. This is also going to make getting sponsorship easier too.
  • Costs. This should be pretty obvious, but keep costs at an absolute minimum. If possible you want to make local meetups free and include some cheap food and drinks. Nobody expects a meetup to be fancy. If you can find a friendly company that will give you a free room for the sessions, that’s awesome. Sponsorship is not the easiest thing to come by, but if your costs are small, it’s going to make life a lot easier.
  • Sponsorship. Keep an eye out for who is sponsoring other similar events. There are some community friendly companies out there, but sponsorship is all about marketing and ultimately companies are going to want to see a return on investment. They are going to want people to know they are sponsoring your events (see Promotion). If you are keeping costs to a minimum you will not need a lot in the way of sponsorship, so a little can go a long way.
  • Ask for advice. Keep an eye out for other people who are running similar events, preferably outside your area so you are not competing with them, and ask for advice. They probably know a lot more about this than me. 🙂
  • Don’t expand too quickly. Conferences can be really expensive and very hard to organise. I speak to a lot of people involved in user groups and they are always stressed about something, especially conference organisation. Don’t make life unnecessarily hard for yourself. Keep things simple, cheap and fun if possible. I guess the meetup format is about as simple as it gets.

Like I said, I’m no great expert on this, so if you have any other ideas, put them in the comments. 🙂