Sunday, October 23, 2016

10 things that I learned from organising a meetup


For the last 9 months I have co-organised and presented Machine Learning Dublin, a meetup group started by ADAPT Centre that rapidly grew from 0 to 1350 members. Now that I have stepped back, I want to share ten lessons that I learned through this wonderful experience.
  1. Form a great team. The effort to organise a meetup is largely underestimated: it can easily take you 30 hours per event. Make sure you have a good team of at least 4 people and assign responsibilities: finding speakers, sponsors and venues, presenting, managing website and social media, registration desk, etc.
  2. Secure great venues. The event space plays a fundamental role in the success or failure of a meetup. Secure nice-looking event spaces in the city centre that are easy to find by the attendees. Some topic-related companies, startup incubators and co-working spaces might offer their facilities for free.
  3. Be picky about speakers. Select 2 or 3 good speakers per event that engage with the audience and you will see the community grow. Make sure the topics are relevant and strictly forbid sales pitches. After a few full-house events you will have great speakers queuing to participate in future events.
  4. Don't accept any sponsor. If your first events are successful, sponsors will start queuing to host your meetup at their premises. Kindly decline offers from sponsors that don't share your values, that demand too much, that don't have suitable venues or that don't help you with the logistics.
  5. Manage attendance. This is probably the trickiest part. When you announce a new event people will sign up but many of them won't turn up. Some tips to minimise the impact:
    - Keep track of no-shows and ban them if they become recurrent no-goers.
    - Send reminders 48h before the event, so that participants can RSVP NO and allow people in the waitlist to attend.
    - Announce +20% seats above the attendees limit in order to compensate no-shows.
    - It is very common to meet attendees that don't care about the talks, and they just want to recruit, socialise or have some free pizza. Kindly remind them that the event is strictly for people that are interested in the topic.

  6. Take advantage of social media. Speakers, sponsors and organisers love to be mentioned in social media. Make sure you have a catchy hashtag that can be used during the event, and monitor reactions and feedback. Tweets from your attendees are your best PR.
  7. Engage with other meetup groups. Meetup groups on similar topics shouldn't compete but collaborate with each other. Share tips, speakers and sponsors. Promote each other and organise joint meetups if possible. It will benefit the entire community.
  8. Grow your network. As a meetup organised you might become an influencer in the local community. Make the most out of it: engage with speakers, sponsors and attendees, and find ways to boost your professional career.
  9. Enjoy the talks. You will be pretty busy during the event. However, find time to enjoy the presentations and learn from the great speakers you brought.
  10. All the effort pays off. It doesn't matter how painful organising a meetup sometimes can be, it always pays off! Personal satisfaction, knowledge, connections, recognition,... and sometimes with the most valuable and unexpected rewards.