Imagine you’re a project manager, invited to speak at a local meetup group.
You’ve spent six hours creating and fine-tuning your talk and presentation slides.
The day before your talk, you check the online event registration site to see over 45 people have registered to hear you speak.
It’s your first time speaking to a local group and you’re thrilled to see so many people interested in your presentation.
You arrive at the venue, greeted by smiling event organizers who quickly help you get set up.
Excited to get started, you wait for the attendees to arrive.
And you wait.
Only seven people show up.
And three of the people attending are the event organizers.
Disappointed in the number of people attending, you give your talk.
Attendees ask a number of questions and thank you for excellent tips and advice for managing projects.
You’re frustrated after spending so much time preparing for your talk, expecting a full room of attendees.
The event organizers apologize profusely, embarrassed by the poor turnout.
Think this is a made-up story?
It happened several years ago for a Refresh Detroit meetup I helped organize.
That event, as well as dozens of others, taught me lessons I carry with me today about organizing meetup events.
Read on to learn how you can use my experiences to improve your meetup event organizing.
10 Lessons Learned from Organizing Meetups
Since I began organizing meetup events in 2007, I’ve learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t, and what meetup event planners can do to host a successful event.
I don’t pretend to know it all.
But in the hope that what I’ve discovered from organizing 300+ local meetup events can help others, I share with you some of my lessons learned.
1. Identify Your Goals and Audience
What’s your reason for your meetup? Who is your expected audience?
Is it to bring the community together about a specific topic (user experience, WordPress, accessibility) or is the meetup for lead generation for your business?
I once joined a meetup group, thinking it was for the WordPress community.
Only to discover several months later that the leader of the group used it for lead generation for their business, to attract small businesses in need of website design.
Know what the goals are the group. And what type of members you want to attract.
2. It’s All About Teamwork
Find co-organizers to help you plan, manage, and promote your events. It’s wonderful to have someone else to discuss event ideas!
And when you’re not unable to attend a meetup, your co-organizers can step in to manage the event.
You can’t organize a meetup group on your own; you’ll burn out trying to manage all the details with venue, speakers, attendees.
Invite members to volunteer to help with:
- Note taking
- Taking photos
- Greeting people who attend
- Publishing the recap on your website, blog, or other online site
Which leads to the next lesson.
3. Use Event-Organizing Tools
When I was an officer for the Michigan Usability Professionals’ Organization, now the Michigan User Experience Professionals Association, I helped change the event organizing from mostly manual to all online.
I set up social media accounts to promote the group and regularly contacted other meetup group leaders to let them know about our upcoming events.
However, at the time (the late 2000’s) there wasn’t one event-organizing tool that included event registration, mailing list, forum or discussion group, etc.
So I spent hours of my time for every event:
- Designing and publishing HTML newsletters
- Updating the website with event details
- Setting up event registration on a third-party site
Phew! It was exhausting.
Thankfully, within a couple years, Meetup.com expanded their online event organizing options and made it easier for meetup event organizers to manage events in one place.
Event organizing was easier!
Sadly, things change.
Meetup changed their app design in 2017 (user experience case study) and their desktop design over a year ago.
And with the desktop design change, many user-friendly, design, and accessibility options were removed.
I’m no longer a fan of Meetup, instead for new meetup groups I use Eventbrite for event managing.
Eventbrite is not perfect. It doesn’t have mailing list capabilities for a group, but it does incorporate online registration and payment.
And I’m glad it’s more usability-focused and I have control over the design of the event information.
Whatever you choose to do, look for an online meetup organizing tool to help you be more productive.
4. Accessible Venue
Since accessibility is something I focus on in my work, I want to make sure every venue is accessible.
That means confirming there are ramps as well as steps to enter the venue. And that any event held on an upper-floor has an elevator.
Instructions for finding the room are provided in detail to make sure attendees know where to go when they enter the building.
If you live in area where members use mass transit, including information about local transit routes. Also, include information about parking and rates.
5. Change It Up
Meetups can take the form of a formal presentation, panel discussion, Q & A workshop, tutorial, round table discussion, or networking event.
One of my most successful events was a lively social media panel discussion where local social media expert Chad Wiebesick was our moderator.
Change it up, ask your attendees for ideas for upcoming meetups. You might be surprised with some fantastic ideas you hadn’t considered.
6. Get the Word Out
Much has changed in the past few years about publicizing events.
Newsletters, mailing lists, and social media worked in the past to spread news about events.
But many people have unsubscribed from newsletters and mailing lists as well as closed down their social media accounts. Your event promotion work is a lot harder.
Good news though! Word of mouth is still effective.
And I’m not saying avoid newsletters, mailing lists, and social media.
One option is to ask your meetup members how they want to learn about an upcoming event.
Another option is to schedule and announce events two to three months ahead of time, so your meetup members can plan their schedule.
7. Partner with Other Local Meetup Groups
Join forces with another local meetup group to host a meetup.
Years ago, our Metro Detroit WordPress group partnered with our Refresh Detroit group for an intro to WordPress meetup. We had over 100 people attend, it was a fantastic event!
Our Refresh Detroit group partnered with Michigan Usability Professionals’ Association for World Usability Day in 2017, hosting Elle Waters from Simply Accessible (now Level Access).
There’s crossover when it comes to soft skills (project management) as well as technical skills (accessibility meetup groups attract designers, developers, user experience professionals).
In addition, you’ll make connections with local event organizers and stay on top of what’s happening locally with their meetup group.
8. Don’t Assume
Be clear in your communications: event information, newsletter, and mailing list message.
Explain the format of your event. If it’s a speaker, include their background information.
Describe three things attendees will walk away with or learn from your event.
Knowing the takeaways from a meetup event will encourage attendees to register!
9. Community Management
If a meetup member contacts a leader with a question or makes a comment on the meetup website, event page, or social media channel, reply back quickly.
Consider guidelines or rules for people joining the meetup group. Ask what their interest is, find out about their experience and knowledge.
And discuss guidelines with your co-organizers about group members.
For example, Meetup.com makes it easy for people to join local meetup group. I’ve seen members in the groups I manage who have joined 50 meetup groups, and haven’t attended any of our meetups for over a year.
Like a mailing list, you want your event information and promotions to get to people who want it. And people who will take part in your group.
One suggestion: every first month of the year, do meetup cleanup.
Send a message to your members, announcing the annual membership cleanup. Any member who hasn’t attended or participated in the past year or two years will be removed from the group.
Members can rejoin the group anytime.
As for the issue I mentioned at the beginning of this post, people registering and not showing up for an event?
Consider charging a minimal fee:
- People see more value in paid events than free events
- Members will look at their calendar when they register for a paid event
- Based on my experience, your no-show rate decreases to 15 percent for paid events
10. Step Away
You’ve been a meetup leader for two or three years. Is it time to step down? Allow other members to become leaders of the group?
Perhaps your volunteer time has changed, or you have other interests.
Let your co-organizers know and support them in their efforts to grow your meetup community.
Phew! That’s a lot of information and recommendations about meetup event organizing. My last recommendation: have fun with it!
For me, it’s been fascinating for more than 12 years to listen to meetup members share their stories about their work, interests, and lives. My goal at every meetup: learn one new thing. And I always do!
Have any meetup organizing tips? Share them in the comments!