I have been inspired by some of the evening meetings I’ve attended, both those that are ‘meetups’ and those that are more informal. I want to host one of my own but don’t know how to start. Can you give me some tips to get started, Dave?
It’s a good sign for the future of the human race that while we are busily moving much of our social lives online, with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like, most everyone still seems to appreciate touching flesh in meatspace (hey, I don’t invent these metaphors, I just use ‘em!) Maybe we won’t die out or end up like the human Duracell batteries in The Matrix after all!
The first step in arranging for a meeting or meetup (when you say that, by the way, I assume you mean a meeting where you’ve used the popular meetup.com site to coordinate attendance) is to determine why everyone is going to get together. It can be as simple as Single Moms Who Like the Super Bowl or more narrowly focused, like Boulder High Grads, Class of ’97.
A meeting “just because” is harder for people to attend because there’s no way of knowing what kind of people they’ll encounter.
Once you’ve targeted your audience, then you need to pick a venue. There are a lot of places in town where you can have a very pleasant meeting, but again you need to make some choices. Do you want it to be quiet so you can talk? Do you want food, drink, desserts or alcohol available? Do you need a TV (as you would for a Super Bowl party)? Do you need privacy so other people in the establishment can’t overhear your discussion?
Particularly if you’re going to pick a non-prime time for your meetup you might be able to get the back room at a local restaurant or coffee shop for free, as long as everyone who attends will buy something. There are also offices in town where you can rent a conference room by the hour or even borrow one, if you have connections. Even the busiest company can’t keep its conference room full 24-7.
Now you have a venue and a theme — you need to pick a date. This can be one of the most difficult steps in the process because if you already have a group together you get to play Dancing Calendars which becomes increasingly ridiculous as more and more people are involved.
If not, then you should at least look at a community calendar and try to avoid public holidays or any other dates where something major is happening. Recently, for example, I was invited to a meeting that was scheduled during President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. I watched the speech and skipped the meeting.
Realize that regardless of what date and time you pick, someone will have a previously scheduled event that overlaps and causes them to be unable to attend. It’s just a given in event planning and you just need to prepare yourself for the complaints.
If it’s not a key, critical person don’t worry about it. If it is, well, you might need to reschedule your event (which might mean you need to be in touch with your venue to ensure that the new date works for them too).
Finally, it’s time to invite people. If you have a mailing list then you’re set: just e-mail or print and physically mail an invitation. If not, you might well want to consider registering your event and group at a site like evite.com or meetup.com. They’re free and not only help keep things organized but help promote the event because potential attendees can see who has already RSVP’d yes.
I suggest that you also personally e-mail a few people you think would be great additions to the event too: it never hurts to have a few plants in the audience, and likely their public RSVP will help others decide to join you too.