I’ve been organzing meetups in the Atlanta area since January 2007. Over that time I’ve organized over 50 meetup events, they’ve typically achieved average ratings of 4.5 of 5 or better, they’ve typically had 50 or more people attend, I’ve helped at least five (5) other people launch their meetup groups, and the member list for my original meetup group has grown to having more members than all but one other business-focused meetup group in the Atlanta area. During that time I’ve learned a bit about what it takes to be a good meetup organizer.
Recently someone asked me yet again for advice on how to grow their meetup so I decided this time to blog about it. Let me give the caveat that this is what has worked for me and for my type of meetup but it might not be perfect for yours. My groups have been focused on web/startup/marketing/tech and so I don’t know what works best for a mom’s meetup, for a hiking group or a singles club. Still, people are people and I’m sure anyone organizing a meetup can find something of value here. Here they are, in no particular order (some I fail to do consistently though I know I should; sometimes life just gets in the way):
- New organizers always try "to get input from everyone." From experience I’ve found that to be a waste of time. Find two (2) other people and form a planning team. Map out 5-6 topics, possibly starting with a "101" meetup and build from there.
- Meet quarterly with your planning team to plan so you always have 3 events on the calendar, more if possible.
- Do listen to feedback, but don’t wait for feedback before moving forward. Most people just want to attend meetings, few actually are willing to contribute a significant effort on a consistent basis even if they say or think they will. If people promise to contribute expect they will not follow through until they have proven otherwise.
- As much as possible be the catalyst and facilitator, not the featured speaker at every meeting (people will get tired of you if you do.)
- Schedule 3 to 6 presenters for a monthly meetup (more than 6 works if it’s a workshop and they are there to provide expertise.) It gives multiple perspectives and it keeps you from having failed meetings from building anticipation for a meeting, having lots of people show up and then only to learn that your featured presenter’s "kid got sick" so they decided to cancel.
- Do your best to get people from outside the people who usually attend your meetings to present. There’s the old saw "Familiarity breeds Contempt" (i.e. "I don’t need to attend to hear them talk; I know them already and can talk to them whenever I want.") Bringing in outsiders also makes people aware of your group that might not normally seek it out or attend. If they have an influence base such as on Twitter they will promote your group because it promotes them.
- Only ever schedule a person to present to the group once per year. If you frequently schedule the same people to present your members will think "I’ve already seen them, I don’t need to see them again." That means be sure to get them to talk on the topic where they are the best sui have the most bang for the buck since a lot of people will jump at any chance to present and you really want to get them where they will shine.
- Post a meetup page for each meetup event that includes links about the people who will be presenting including their Twitter account and a short bio. I like to link to their LinkedIn page for consistency, and also link to their company. Be sure to include an evening agenda so people can see when it starts and when it ends. Here’s an example meetup page that has all these things.
- Set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. Always tweet and post about your events in advance and to thank your presenters/participants afterwards.
- Set up a Twitter hashtag for your meetup group (i.e. @StartupAtlanta and #OnStage.) Give people a handout at each meetup with the account, the hashtag and all the presenter’s/participants Twitter accounts and ask your members to tweet about the event.
- Send out emails in advance of your meetups that are hand formatted to look different from the one’s send out automatically by meetup as people tend not to read those. Here’s an example notification email.
- Send an email out about the most recently meeting and reminding them about the next meeting and thank the people who participated/presented.
- For my groups I have focus mostly on featuring local people for our regular meetings but when nationally known people are presented I make them special events. Some organizers always try to get one national calibre "rock star" for their events, and that works for them. Pick what works for your group.
- Keep vendor influence to a minimum; keep it about the people attending.
- Run a meetup only if you really want to help people and/or build a solid community and not if you’ve just got the idea "Hey I can sell my services to this group." The latter can be a serendipitous result but it’s painfully clear to practically everyone who might attend that if your motivations are to sell them (almost) nobody will want to attend.
- Pay it forward, focus on what’s good for the group and the community you envision building, not what’s you are hoping to get out of organizing
- Shake up the format. Have presentations, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, etc. The topic should make the format obvious. For workshops, recruit lots of helpers. Don’t over worry about format, try a bunch of them, communication will happen ad-hoc (suggest Twitter or make a Google group), and let the topics you pick determine the level of competency. The more detailed your topic announcement the more likely you’ll get the right people.
- Don’t be afraid to ask anybody to present. I’ve never once been turned down except for people simply not being available at the given time.
- Look for ways to hold joint meetups with other groups that have cross-over. (Beg meetup on their forums to more easily enable shared meetups.) If possible take the lead in these joint meetups and get people to RSVP at your meetup group’s page (if possible, and at least until meetup enables shared events.) If you do these frequently you’ll all get lots of benefit and you’ll grow your group.
- Charge for meetings, $5 to $10, starting with your 3rd meeting (assuming you are gaining momentum.) If you don’t charge more than half of your RSVPs will be no-shows. If you charge, only between 10-30% will be no-shows.
- Be aware that many of the people who attend your meeting early on will start attending only sporatically as their lives evolve. That’s normal and don’t take it personally.
- Don’t try to do too many different groups. Unless you are able to make a living from organizing meetups, which is a potential but a really hard way to make a living, it’s really hard to do more than one well, two at the max. I’ve made that mistake and I’ve recently pared back to two with a potential to phase out of one of them in the near future assuming I can find the right people to take over.
- Find a good place to have meetings, not a restaurant unless its set up for meetings in a special room. This is the hardest part. Look for a local coworking space like Ignition Alley. A college or university may also be very open to hosting community meetings as Georgia Tech has been for some of my meetups.
- As for location, you’ll need to decide what works here. In Atlanta you’ll find a bulk of in-town people and a bulk of "up 400" people, and then everyone else is scattered. Pick one and let someone else do the other (you can’t please everyone, so don’t try.)
- Finally, set a consistent date, time, and location. Always have it there so people can get used to it, and if at all possible, never cancel a planned meetup or many people will loose faith in your ability and stop RSVPing for your events.
Well that’s about it for today. I’m sure I missed a few of my own "best practices" and I’m sure there are a ton of other’s I have yet to uncovered but these should get you started.
If anybody has other suggestions please give your best practices in the comments. Be sure to mention your group(s) and how long you’ve been organizing, and include links to their pages on Meetup.com.