Earlier you talked about the online aspects of how to host a social or business meetup, talking about how to pick a venue, coming up with a group theme, scheduling, and how to actually invite people or spread the word about your event. (see how to organize a meetup or meeting). All very helpful, but please do share, how do you have a meetup of people who probably have never met each other run smoothly?
Well, I have gone to a lot of meetings and I have to say that some of them can be painfully, ghastly bad and so boring that the running commentary in my head is “paint. I could be watching paint dry right now.” Not so good. And in modern times, when you’re in a meeting and everyone’s checking their email on their cell phones, you just know that it’s not going well!
Fortunately, there are a bunch of things you can do to improve how meetups go, especially when you have a group of people who don’t yet know each other and might be uncomfortable in front of a group of strangers anyway.
My first suggestion is to try and pick a quiet venue. I love live music but why people attempt to have discussions when there’s a band playing — or even a loud stereo — it’s going to definitely get in the way of conversations. For many groups you should also be thinking about privacy: when there are tables full of people who aren’t part of the group and might naturally eavesdrop, it can be a definite damper for many people too.
On the day of the event, I’d also suggest that you get there at least 15-20 minutes early and stake out your territory. If you’re going to have food you can order some appetizers or get things set up with the waitstaff. If not, a placard or sign that says “XX Meetup Here” is a big help for people finding the right table.
I’m a fan of nametags too, partially because I just am not that good at remembering names. Many people have the same challenge, especially the first time they meet a lot of people in a group. A fun thing with nametags is to just write first names and some other identifier that’s meaningful to the group. The meetups that I attend people often write their Twitter name too, for example.
Once most people have arrived, I always like to go around the circle and ask each person to briefly (and say “briefly”) introduce themselves and explain why they’re at the meeting. This helps you identify which people you want to follow up with later on, and also often has that wonderful “that’s you?” moment where you realize someone you’ve interacted with or followed in the past is now sitting in front of you.
To help this feel comfortable, consider saying one nice and supportive comment about each person who introduces themselves so there’s no awkward silence or sense of judgment by the rest of the group. For example “I’ve heard great things about that company” or “I went there a a few years ago and loved it”. Not lying, but just creating a warm, inviting ambiance and also subtly establishing the tone of interaction for the rest of the meetup.
Many meetups will have one person who has prepared a 5-10 minute (or longer) presentation or talk for the group on a specific topic. It might be a show and tell (in a photography group I’m in, almost every meeting someone has some new gear to show off and talk about, which sparks lots of great conversation). Having a theme to a specific meeting is a great tactic and can be an absolute boon to having the group gel as a community.
You also need to have a lot of unstructured time in your schedule: I regularly attend dinner meetups that can last 2-3 hours or longer as we get into really interesting conversations and lose track of time. Make sure your venue is okay with that beforehand!
Try these ideas and I bet you’ll be hosting great meetups and even better business meetings in no time!