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Lessons from 5 years of running a tech meetup (davekiss.com)
243 points by matijash 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

I've been running my local ruby meetup for about 6 years now. It was pretty stressful to begin with, trying to get people to give presentations, or thinking of one myself.

Then maybe 4 years ago I had the idea of threatening to shut the meetup down unless we managed to get 11 people to sign up to do a presentation once a year. This basically meant we had an entire year's worth of talks sorted by January.

We've been doing this every year now for the last 4 years, and it's working really well. It's not _my_ ruby meetup, it's the community meetup, I'm just helping facilitate it :)

Shit, I've had the problem of finding presentations for years, I never thought about blackmail! I'll try that now, thanks!

Huh. Guess I know what I’m doing at my next meetup.

If you are going to try it... I'd discussed it with my two wonderful co-organisers before we put it to the group... and, we really would have shut it down. I think if you just half threaten, well, might not work so well :)

We used a doodle.com poll with a set of months and just let people say which one(s) they could do.

Best of luck!

As someone who's now been running a data viz meetup for almost 5 years now, I can confirm that this article is full of good advice. It boils down to:

1. Consistently put on actually good events!

2. Be consistent about marketing the events to make it easy for people to find them!

Do you have recommendations for which places to market your event? I run Handmade Meetups [0], which are gatherings for low-level programmers usually at coffee shops.

We put on good events reliably at the same date and time. However, aside from a mailing list and word of mouth we don't know how to advertise better to widen reach.

[0] https://handmadecities.com/meetups

The process here is to hype the event on multiple channels (Twitter, FB, IG, LI, etc) and measure which ones pop (eg: I track metrics across like 12 networks). Then lean in to the ones that have the engagement. Measure natural posts and compare to "boosted" as well.

This sounds suspiciously like real work. I can't bear to simply read social networks any longer, much less actively engage with them or track statistics.

HN comments are a social network, my friend.

I find it useful to distinguish between social networks (based around people/accounts; e.g. Facebook, Twitter) versus forums (based around topics/posts; e.g. Reddit, myriad phpbb instances, etc.). HN is more of a forum than a social network.

And sometimes barely tolerable, but usually fine.

It's a labor of love.

The Meetup website is the major source.

I also promote the events in local slack channels and on linkedin and twitter. Over the years we've built a newsletter and web presence and all that, but for discovery meetup is still king, though eventbrite and other places are okay.

I didn't know you guys had Sweden as the location. That's fantastic! Looking forward to attend one in-person. I will share this with my network.

Awesome! The host there is a friend and people consistently report having a lovely time. If you're into game dev, Freya Holmér [0] has been known to attend these sometimes.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/@Acegikmo

I’d attend your data viz meetup if by some chance I’m nearby. Where can I learn more?

Data Viz DC is local to DC (with the occasional online event)[0] There are a lot of global meetup groups that are often affiliated with the Data Visualization Society or on meetup in your area.

[0] -https://www.meetup.com/Data-Visualization-DC/

I mean, since we're boiling things down.. I guess you could say

1. Make a good thing

2. Market it

Which the OP does very well, and has done with this post on HN which will no doubt boost his meetup even more.

Been running a tech group in East Lansing for twenty plus years. Also started and helped run the Code Michigan hackathon with the state of Michigan for three years. All this resonates with me, a lot of it I learned the hard way. Surprised no one has written a book.

Meeting location is quite important, moved my group around the Lansing area and learned I got way more attendance meeting on the MSU campus, even though relatively few students have ever attended. I've seen other groups fail because they chose a poor location and never moved.

I'm one of the people helping to run Michigan TypeScript (we meet in person monthly in addition to doing the YouTube channel) and I also ran a React meetup in Detroit in 2016-2018. This article has lots of great stuff in it! I especially liked the parts about knowing your reasons for organizing a meetup.

There is one thing that I was expecting the article to cover, though, that it didn't: finding speakers. From talking to other organizers around the country, this seems like something that's a consistent point of stress. I think with MiTS we've found a good system, since only one month out of last year did we actually have to really "look" for a speaker, which is really great, but also not something that you can always expect to continue.

So on that note, if others have ideas to share on this topic, I'd really love to hear your thoughts.

I touch on this a bit in the post, but here’s about what I do for speakers:

1. Pay close attention to intros channel in the Cleveland area Slack channel and cherry pick the individuals who are doing cool work. We get a lot of boomerang thirty-something remote workers moving back to Cleveland to be closer to family. Giving a talk is a great way for them to reestablish themselves and meet folks in the area.

2. Straight up cold-contact interesting businesses and ask if they have any interest in participating. Surprisingly high success rate on this one, but it does work. Companies like to brag about what makes them special, I just happen to choose the ones that I really do find to be unique.

If those don’t work, I’d rather host a general social with no speaker than force a bad topic or always host repeat speaker appearances.

Thanks! Sorry if I missed it!

re: cold-contacting... any pointers on actually finding those businesses? I'm assuming Michigan and Ohio are roughly similar in this case, but man... so many people have left the state it's feeling kinda sparse some days not gonna lie. We used to have a JavaScript meetup in Ann Arbor that could consistently get 80-100 people (or more!), but many many many of those people have simply left. And so have the employers along with them. Not trying to be a downer, haha, but that really does seem to be the situation. We're trying our best to help things go in a more positive direction, but it feels like a chicken-and-egg sometimes. If it weren't for the YouTube channel's successes (which we're very grateful for), it would be a lot more painful.

Anecdotally, people do like getting together with others IRL, but it feels like it's a bit more selective and between YouTube and virtual events, I see people opting out of things that take a non-trivial drive for a short in-person event.

Almost every company is a tech company in some way! The Cleveland Metroparks gave one of my all time favorite talks.

The group I run is agnostic to specific tech or languages which makes it a bit easier to go broad in my hunt for the right stories.

I've been running my infrastructure meetup for almost 9 years, and it was fun to see so many similarity of lessons, as well as drop off nrs which match my experience exactly.

My advice is to keep your meetup at max 40. I've done 20 and 130 and once it goes above 40 it starts to become a chore instead of something fun.

My other advice is not to overdo it. Focus on good speakers and the rest will follow. Unlike the guy in the article, I have new sponsors every time and rotate the venue every time to try and diversify the attendees. Over time it seems like a nice, core group will form, which will slowly grow with new people discovering and liking the format and content.

I'm trying to have my meetup rotate venue, so it's encouraging to hear that it works for you. Thanks for sharing!

Do you rotate on a fixed schedule? Or based on venue availability?

> I’ll also generally mention that there’s a small group heading to a local brewery or restaurant after the meetup if folks want to stick around for that. I do this without knowing at all if there is a small group.

This is a classic but a goodie

The after meetup conversations can also be essential for building your talk pipeline as an organizer. Very roughly:

“Hey, nice to meet you… what kinds of things are you working on?”

“Oh, I’m using X framework / library doing Y on this project, etc.”

“That sounds like awesome material for a talk, have you ever considered giving one?”

One more thing: when you share the Wi-Fi password, INCLUDE A QR CODE. It boggles my mind that more people don't know about Wi-Fi QR codes. On most phones ~2018 and newer, you just scan them and they instantly connect you to the Wi-Fi network, no typing necessary. My fiancée and I love hosting, and guests love our guest Wi-Fi.

Ran a couple of groups in the Houston area. Houston, while huge, isn't much of a tech hub, though there's plenty of technology used across all stacks. (though .NET and the like tends to be bigger, as oil/gas and health care are some of the largest industries here) Houston is very spread out as well, with pretty terrible traffic. As a result, there aren't many consolidated areas to hold tech meetups that appeal to a wide audience, and it can get frustrated setting up meetups to have only 6-8 people show up.

> Without fail, for free events, there’s a predictable dropoff of around 30% of all RSVPs. If I have 50 people RSVP for an event, I’ll assume 30 or 35 will show up.

Be careful, though. An event I used to go to that was free decided to charge a donation of I think £5 to a charity because they were connected with the venue and having a fundraiser at the time. Instead of the usual approx 50% attendance, it went up to over 90% and there was a huge shortage of food, shortage of places to sit etc.

(It was a 2 day hackathon + conference event, including lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch again. A comparable paid conference would have cost probably hundreds per attendee - £5 was nothing, but enough for people to see the tickets differently)

Does anyone have advice for affordable meeting space in SF? I'm leading up the SF chapter of the Solidworks User Group and they give me $300 to spend for each meeting but I'm having trouble finding places I can afford, even the spaces offered by the city at community centers, etc costore than the allotment.

Great question! I'd try SF City College and SF State if you haven't already; they may have low- or no-cost meeting spaces you can use. You could also ask SUG what spaces they can recommend that come under the $300 budget, assuming their budget was based on being able to host a meetup in SF!

Lots of tech companies are happy to host engineering meetups for free. It's free marketing for them, free professional development for their engineers, and in my experience they let you help yourself to any snacks they have on hand.

Thank you!

That's the thing, their budget is not based on SF prices. They have these meetups all over the world and SF is one of the most expensive cities. Therin lies the rub.

I had been running an Astronomy society weekly meeting for 3 years, probably the job with the most work on the committee.

Being so close to London there were a number of amazing speakers from various universities who were generous with their time. There were some professional speakers.

A proportion of the talks were done by members, it was good, it helps to have a passion and an interest in a subject, it also helps that my interests were aligned with the society.

However after three years I started to run out of ideas, and got a bit too burnt out, and I've not been back in the past few years.

I like that this guy moves his meetups around. In my area, most of the meetups happen downtown, often around rush hour, making it very difficult for anyone outside of that area to attend.

He's in Cleveland. Cleveland doesn't have traffic.[1] It has half the population it had in 1970.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/Cleveland/comments/10dgg29/what_is_...

Author here. Cleveland rules.

But yeah, I move around for the sake of exploring and seeing new places, not for convenience. I could, however, see meetups in other cities benefitting from that strategy.

I believe the phrase is "Cleveland Rocks!"


I love the idea of a meetup moving around. Some meetups near me are on the other side of the metro which is a traffic nightmare to get to at rush hour, especially with a young kid whose schedule I also have to account for. If every other meeting was on my side of the county, I could at least attend some of them.

I live (well) outside a bigger city with worse traffic and I've become very selective about going into the city for evening events. Traffic/parking have become really bad and commuter rail just isn't a practical option for a nighttime event. And, on the other hand, people who live in the city are often reluctant to hop in a car (if they have one) and go out to the suburbs.

+1. Visited Cleveland recently. Really great city y'all have. Noble Beast is fantastic.

Loved the article! Really well written, thoughtful, and actionable advice.

For anyone organizing meetups: listen to asciimov on this one! It's so stressful to park in a city (especially if it's not something you do every day and you don't know the right places/garages/open back-streets/etc.)

Even just the map of nearby parking is a huge help, it’s so rare that meetup organizers even bother to write a description of where parking is.

I am running a meetup for 17 years now and there are some great ideas for me in this article.

I once wrote an article lees on the technical side of things and more about the social aspect of building a community: https://kaffeeringe.de/2018/08/07/wie-man-eine-community-auf...

> Without fail, for free events, there’s a predictable dropoff of around 30% of all RSVPs. If I have 50 people RSVP for an event, I’ll assume 30 or 35 will show up.

I've seen a similar pattern with board game groups. At 50+, maybe the community is large enough to be self-sustaining, but for smaller groups, a random dip below average can snowball.

Obviously there's a broad spectrum of reasons for no-shows but I wonder if there's a way to solicit information on causes.

  > On the topic of venues: you don’t need to rent anywhere.
  > There are plenty of companies with way too much
  > space just looking for a way to put them to use and
  > bring people in.
This may be true in Cleveland. The semi-official Bay Area Rust meetup has had two events in the past three years, because it can't find venues willing to host events.

Nice read! I organized some tech meetups in the past (2018) and this is good advice. Makes me want to organize them again.

I ran a tech meetup from 2011 to 2018 with cofounder Franco Soldera. Very good points here!

Good read, very encouraging.

Event advice.

This is just good overall advice for running any kind of event.

Nothing about this is specific to tech.

EDIT: why the downvotes?

I downvoted because you already had downvotes (add to the pile!)

but I believe it's for the last line, which reads as cold and dismissive. It's easy to throw shade without adding anything of your own to the conversation, and people are alert to anything that edges in that direction.

That’s how I read it too and had the same reaction. Upon second look I can see how it might not have been meant that way.

If it was changed to something like this instead I don’t think you would’ve had an issue because it becomes clear it’s not meant as a complaint.

“Nothing about this is specific to tech. These tips would also be great for a [photograpy] meetup or a [other topic] one too.”

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