How to Manifest a Meetup

swyx

0 reactions 2022-07-15

This week I was visiting NYC for work reasons, and found myself with a gap on my schedule for Thursday night. So I tweeted out an invite:

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and ultimately 25 people showed up! To a personal meetup, on 5 days’ notice.

More pictures courtesy of @dorianb

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Here are a smattering of comments I got about the meetup:

  • Had a blast tonight! Never thought coding and karaoke would go so well together 🤣 - Julia
  • CodeSongBox Karaoke was so awesome last night. Thanks for setting it up - Dorian
  • Thank you so much for having me, I met a ton of awesome people and re-connected with friends, a total blast :) - anon VC
  • hey man, thanks for organizing karaoke last night. ton of fun. would love to hang out next time you’re back in NYC! - anon VC
  • so great to see you last night - that was such a fun event! - anon VC
  • I had a great time tonight! Thanks so much for hosting such a fun event :) It was really nice meeting you and we gotta keep in touch! - anon dev
  • Thanks for hosting us! Was a great time - anon VC
  • It was my first Karaoke ever and tbh it was more fun than i expected. - anon dev
  • Loved it ☺️ thanks for the invite!! - anon founder
  • This is the shit I miss from the 2010-era optimistic internet - anon dev

I think overall it was a highlight of the week and a fun spontaneous event in the re-emerging NYC tech scene.

You can do this too. Everybody can.

I really do believe this. I’m not the most social person in the world - I’m a wallflower at clubs, and am an ambivert at best. But you don’t need to be Prom King/Queen to pull something like this off and it can be a big boost to your network/friend group/local tech scene.

Sure, I have 44k followers so I have more reach than most. But, I did this before in 2019 with less than half this following, and 2x the turnout (because it was an actual technical meetup featuring the framework creator). And also in 2018 with even less and much smaller groups.

But you really just need a couple dozen people to pack a small room, and that’s pretty much all the energy you’ll have for meeting new people in one night anyway.

I was asked about it by many many folks this week so I decided to write down a little playbook for you to follow.

Preparation

Satya Nadella recently noted that leadership about ”creating clarity where none exists”. It’s the same whether you are leading 180,000 Microsoft employees or gathering 18 friends. Decide the parameters of the meetup upfront:

  • Venue (may need A/V if you intend to do talks and/or streaming/recording. also note that some venues need preregistration for security)
  • Date & Time & Duration (6-6.30pm start on a Thursday is fine in NYC, ymmv. I’ve done random weekend meetups and its fine too)
  • Format (just drinks? will there be talks? is there food? is it open or closed invite? +1’s allowed? )
    • if there are talks, you will need to secure 1-3 speakers - 0 speakers is also fine, don’t worry about it.
  • Theme (this is super important - what is the shared identity of everyone attending? the mental calendar invite in everyone’s heads will shape every conversation they initiate with a stranger. take the exact same people and watch them have completely different conversation at an “Enterprise Tech meetup” vs a “Devtools meetup”. A catchy name will take you far.)

Don’t bother doing a survey - you need to just make a decision on what works for you, vs what works for the city/demographic you are doing this in (you will get a feel for this over time; I’ve lived in NYC over 7 years and attended ~100 meetups). If you can get a core gang of 1-5 closer friends to come with you, that’s great, because no matter what the turnout is you will probably have a good time.

Preregister

Recently I’ve been leaning towards asking for preregistration, even for a personal meetups where I have no “leadgen” intent whatsoever. It just helps keep track of headcount and gives me a way to contact everyone at once if things change last minute. The dominant player in this is Meetup.com, which has a large existing userbase which will get recommendations and notifications of your new meetup if you hit the right keywords. However the UI is a little dated and the pricing is expensive for what it is. I have used DownToMeet in the past, and more recently favoring Lu.ma for the clean design and helpful featureset (screening questions, event chat, subsequent event invites).

Meetup organizers often report a no-show rate of about 40-50%. With preregistration, and an invite-only framing (no public links, organizer personally vets/curates everyone who shows up - @nutlope at Nextjs does this well), this will drop to about 20%.

Aside: If you’d like even higher compliance, you can charge a nominal fee of, say, $5 for the meetup - this will improve attendance rate at the cost of signups. Some NYC meetups do this, but in general I avoid it because money isn’t really a problem for me.

Promote

Get your meetup details (Theme && Format && Venue && Datetimeduration) in front of as many people as possible - Twitter, Meetup, Reddit, Discord, Slack, heck even Craigslist if you feel like it. There are “what’s happening” websites in most major cities but I haven’t tried submitting to those.

Name Tags

This is a tiny detail but I have come to insist on everyone wearing name tag stickers at my meetups.

This is to avoid the worst part of meeting new people - not catching someone’s name, having them spell it, or forgetting it. Have it visible, and there will be no doubt.

Buy a sharpie so that names visible from further away.

I believe in this so strongly I just carry a set of stickers and sharpies everywhere I go now.

If you have the time, get them to add a little detail about themselves alongside the name, like their favorite food, or movie, or Hogwarts House, anything that people may have in common, to get the conversation going. There are lists of icebreakers that you can consult for inspiration. Yes it feels cheesy but don’t underestimate how much developers are happy to go along with it since they recognize you’re making an effort.

Covid Policy

The default in most cities now is no masks required indoors, and no vaccination checks. You should feel comfortable changing those defaults if you wish, based on your understanding of what your participants risk.

Some meetups also offer green/yellow/red stickers, indicating degree of social distancing desired (handshakes fine/elbows only/some distance at all times). It is a very nice gesture to offer this.

Running The Event

Try to arrive early as much as possible to set up and sort out any last minute issues. Nothing worse than a meetup where the host fails to show up.

Sometimes you will find yourself running thin; don’t be shy to recruit early birds to help. Often, participants are more than happy to staff registration tables or guide people through tricky elevator logistics - you just have to make a clear ask and let them know when they are done.

Larger meetups should have a code of conduct - if in doubt, use the JSConf Code of Conduct - remember that all IRL meetups involve some amount of personal, physical risk for vulnerable people, and I’ve had attendees of my meetups experience harassment for which I’ve had to take action.

At the start of your meetup, remind people that this is a professional event, and point out meetup co-organizers that people can go to for help in case of CoC or other problems.

You also want to include other major logistics in your event briefing: wifi details, where the bathrooms are, and where to throw trash if not obvious (yes I have had a meetup where this was not addressed and it was messy).

A format I like for technical meetups is one I stole from the TypeScript NYC meetup - 1 beginner talk, 1 intermediate talk, 1 advanced talk. This ensures that there is always something for everyone. You’ll probably find the beginner talk slot hardest to fill, because experienced people want show off and new people don’t have confidence to speak, so you’ll be the pinch hitter here.

At smaller, social meetups, you likely won’t have the time or space to do all this, but do what you can to make sure everyone has a good time.

Post Event

Post Event marketing is super helpful for getting interest for the next event! Encourage people to send you or tag you in photos and share them. I don’t really care about livestreaming talks, but posting talk video on YouTube after the fact can be a huge service to the community and great talks deserve to live on.

You can also email your attendees with a collation of the results, related links, slides, etc so that everyone has a good recap email of everything that went down (and leaves with a good impression of you!)

Congratulations, you have Manifest a Meetup!

Keep going :)

Further Reading

If you want to scale it up, you can ask me my thoughts on running Svelte Summit NYC for 100 people.

Organizing parties

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