As the Tech Evangelist at Stylight I tend to organize a lot of meetups. Last year we hosted more than 40 tech meetups, making us the #1 Meetup host in Munich.
Last year at the DockerCon, a few large tech meetups organizers gathered and shared their experience and tips. Here is a compilation of the best tips. Many thanks to Victor Coisne (Docker), Karen Bazja (Docker), Mark Coleman (Implicit-Explicit) for their contributions to this list.
If you are in Munich and organize meetups, you certainly should join us for this (pretty meta) meetup of meetups organizers taking place at our HQ.
1. Find out where speakers are
One of the biggest challenges reported by meetup organisers is finding (good) speakers.
Promote people to talk. You’ll find that a lot of potential speakers are actually in your audience. It’s up to you to stimulate them into talking, as most will probably never make that first step. Reassure them and go over their ideas, especially if they don’t feel confident enough.
- Encourage people to do lightning talks. It’s less intimidating than a full-blown presentation.
- Send CFP (Call for Papers).
- Keep track of the events taking place in your city. Events are happening all the time, in and around your location. Look them up, contact potential speakers. It’s not uncommon that overseas speakers will make a day trip to your base to give talks at your meetup.
2. Don’t ignore the ‘no-show’ rate
Count an approximate 40% no-show rate. This percentage differs depending on many variables:
- Other meetups or events based around the same topic happening at the same time. Weather. Even a football match or F1 race on TV are enough to make your show rate drop.
- Send an email the day before along with a reminder to change their RSVP if they don’t plan on attending. And don’t be too conservative about the number of RSVPs, most people don’t mind standing up.
3. Manage your sponsors
Meetups shouldn’t be about sales pitch, so try to find ‘vendor-neutral’ speakers. Of course, if you can’t or you just need sponsors, it’s always good to set expectations early on. Take these cases for example:
- Your sponsor doesn’t give a talk: In that case, allow them to stage a 2 minute company presentation before the talks begin.
- Your sponsor gives a talk in exchange for sponsoring: You really don’t want your sponsor’s talk to turn into a boring sales pitch. Be forward, make sure the talk will focus solely on the technical and not a presentation of their product, especially if their product is closed source. Try asking for slides before the meetup and vet the presentation.
Gives your sponsors visibility. Mention their name/brand on the meetup page, in your emails and social media activity.
If you are actively looking for sponsor, here is an example of form you can post on your event page
4. Competing tech meetups
Check for other meetups that have a high percentage of people registered within your group as well (see point 13 about tools), and make sure your meetup doesn’t happen on the same day.
If there’s a conference happening in your area, it might be a good time to stage a meetup and snatch one of the speakers to talk at your event, but be careful about the after-conference event that may cannibalize your audience.
5. Formatting the talk
A format you’ll find generally works well is to give two talks at around 20-25 minutes each. But, don’t feel you have to be too rigid on the length; some speakers can captivate an audience for up to a few hours.
- Make sure you always have a venue for the ‘after-party’ – like a bar or club nearby, especially if your venue closes early.
- Take risks: Encourage live demos as they keep the audience engaged. They’re always a bit more risky but… no pain, no gain!
- Your speaker is late? Just ask within your audience if anyone would like to give a lightning talk.
6. Try to have a ‘somehow’ regular meetup and build a speaker backlog
There’s a few pros and cons about scheduled monthly meetups. The main challenge here is actually having enough speakers for each meetup.
- A good way to mitigate that issue is to build a list of potential speakers and plan their talks at least two months in advance.
- Send a ‘Call For Paper’ and build a backlog of talks. Example here.
- Be opportunistic: If a good speaker is in town, then creating a spontaneous meetup, even a few days in advance, usually works out.
7. Be organized and use tools
There’s a few tools out there to help you structure your meetups better:
- Typeform to create awesome looking polls and Call For Paper forms. Here is a form we created on Typeform for our CFP
- Mobilize – if you manage a lot of different groups and need another level of interaction with your attendees rather than just meetup.com’s limited platform.
- Homebrewed tools to look for competing meetup in your city : https://github.com/implicit-explicit/meetup_hacking
8. Pay it forward and help out other local meetup organizers
Try to join forces with other meetups to do cross promotions, send speakers around and ultimately help them. Offer your venue if an organizer is desperately searching for one.
Help build your community by paying it forward. One day you’ll be the one who needs help!
9. Build up the level of the talk progressively and seek feedback
- Keep beginner’s talks towards the start and expert talks nearer the end. People are then free to come and go depending on their own level of expertise.
- Talk to the attendees and figure what kind of content they want; polls online and offline. What kind of talks do they preferred?
- Think about other formats, such as panel talks, which are generally good at keeping an audience fully engaged.
10. Be data-driven
Measure success and define a few KPIs that are relevant to your meetup and try to improve on them. Here are a few suggestions:
- The number of questions after a talk?
- How long do people stay after the talks?
- Follow up on meetup.com and read feedback. Ask a few people what they liked about the talks
- Run a short survey from time to time to see if there’s any major pain points you’ve not covered (you can use Typeform or Mobilize)
11. Bring the fun!
“[…] many Meetups are static. Too static. Speakers speak, people clap like they’re at a golf tournament and then everyone goes home.”. One way to depart from that is to have raffles, ask people to hug newbies, have games.”
- Giving away SWAG motivates people to come to your meetup. But, don’t give all your swag at just one moment, have a raffle at the end of the talk and give away the precious (stuff?) to people who can answer related questions.
- Welcome the newbies! Remember how it felt the first time you joined a meetup and didn’t know anyone? Yep, THAT feeling. Encourage old-timers to establish new connections and make sure to include ice-breakers.
12. Build a solid video setup
Of course, you should always ask the speakers their permission prior to the talk for any streaming and/or recording.
At Stylight, we’ve designed and built a robust setup that allows us to broadcast each talk live, and the publish them right away on YouTube. The description of this setup will be the object of a blog post to be published soon, but, after a few months of experimenting with some chaotic solutions, we learnt:
- Sound is critical. If people can’t hear what the speaker has to say, there’s no point in recording it.
- Slides should be easy to read. We experimented with filming the projector screen but since light changes and cameras sometimes refocus, that wasn’t the ideal solution.
- Streaming the content for people who can’t attend to extend the reach of your meetup. One easy solution? Youtube Live.
13. Food and…drinks!
Pizza. Pizza. Pizza… At one point, I personally got tired of pizza, so we tried a little Chinese food instead. As we organize a ton of meetups, we need to get slightly more creative but also cost-effective.
If you run a lot of events or have large recurring event you’ll probably be able to get a good bargain price. Don’t hesitate to negociate and put several catering company into competition.
14. Everybody knows you’re hiring!
We’ve all been through the ‘shameless plug’ and it just annoys everyone, every single time. In technology we’re all hiring, so there’s no need to rub it in everyone’s faces and comment on how cool your company is.
- Interesting talks together with a nice atmosphere normally works wonders and people will eventually start coming to you to learn more about your company. If they are really interested, they’ll ask if you have open positions.
- As an engineer, the best way to deter me from joining your company is to be too demanding and pretty much annoying about it. If I find your company cool and I’m looking for a position, don’t worry I’ll find out if you’re hiring.
15. Creating an agenda for the meetup
A last tip that seems a given, but, a solid description of what people can expect is very important. We generally publish a full agenda (including breaks), and try to stick with it. It makes it easier for people who might only be able to arrive later and for those who can’t spare their whole evening to know if it’s worth even showing up.
- Mention if you look for venue/sponsors/talks
- Which talk is going to be given at what time.
- Title of the talks
- Abstract for the talks
- Bio of the speakers
- Mention the sponsors
16. Have cool office stuff to show
If you’re hosting the meetup, it’s always nice to have cool things on show for your attendees. I remember visiting the Hybris Labs for a meetup and seeing everyone so interested by the projects displayed on the walls. Not only does this increase your coolness factor as a potential company to work for, but it’s also a great conversation starter and ice-breaker for your attendees.