How to organize a successful community meetup

Successful Community Meetup

Even the most successful in-person community, able to pack every room no matter how big it is, hosting mind-blowing speakers, moving people even outside of the city, has started from a very first event. Let’s see the core steps to organize a first successful community meetup.

There are three main elements to manage, in the following order:

  • Find a need, and a solution to it
  • Find a place where deliver the solution
  • Find attendees with same need, believing in your solution and willing to reach the place

Find a need, and a solution to it

Human behaviour is driven by solutions to perceived needs. If you want to bring people to your community meetup, you have to find a shared need they have and offer a viable solution. Not necessarily the best solution, but make clear “why they should come” is fundamental.
It could be a need of knowledge, and the solution is a session / workshop / training on a particular topic presented by a speaker. It could be a need of actions to reach a common goal, and the solution is a meeting where people can do something together. It could be the need of not feeling alone about a particular passion, and providing an occasion to meet and chat with like-minded people is what is required. The more the meetup agenda is focused on the need and the solution, the higher the number of potential attendees joining your event.
Of course, you can start from one of your needs, without looking too far.

Find a place where deliver the solution

A good place should offer, at least, an acceptable consumption experience of the solution delivered. It’s an event organizer duty to take care about the whole end-to-end logistic flow, from when attendees start traveling to your event, to when they leave to move to the next place.
Try to figure out all the different steps. For example: they need to reach, and then leave, the place: is it connected at the moment the meetup happens? Is near enough and accessible for your target audience? How people will find your event in the place? How they identify themselves as your guests? How they can ask for help? Is there enough space for all of them? If the solution is a talk, are attendees able to listen to the speaker and watch the content presented? If the event in a tech workshop, are there enough power plugs for their laptop? To what extent they need connectivity? And many more.
Again, no need to be perfect, but devil is in the details, and thinking about the whole “attendee journey” can really help to find and connect all the important dots, at least.

Find attendees with same need, believing in your solution and willing to reach the place

Arguably, the hardest and most time-consuming part, especially if it’s your first community meetup or you don’t already have user base to reach.
Create a message where the need, the offered solution, the place and the when are clear: people need to understand at very first look if they fit in the target and it’s valuable to attend. Making the message sticky and nice to see is a desirable bonus point: also the eye wants its part.
Once you have that message, ask for help of similar communities to spread it; people have multiple interests, and they talk each other. Do both “mass communication” and one-by-one reach: social networks are your friends, and never assume that, because your message is public and available online, people have seen it. Share with attendees, and speakers if any, a call-to-actions to bring other people in, offering some perks in exchange, even symbolic (a pin, a thank you note, a free ticket for a friend, etc): ideally, the moment after they register, they should become your advocate. Keep scouting for people till the last moment: decision to join is made generally within a couple of weeks before the event, even the day before. And, if the event is free to attend, aim to overbook for a good 30%-50% more of the place capacity: people won’t come and won’t tell you.

Once at the community meetup…

Before closing, try to announce when the next meetup will be. Or find a way to keep in touch with attendees that doesn’t depend on them: people are lazy once their need is fulfilled, so avoid asking them to register to your meetup/mailing list/social channels, but rather ask if they have something against you doing it for them, and in case tell you.

Finally, this last point is extremely important: don’t forget to celebrate, regardless the number of attendees. Even if you were able to make 5 people happy, it’s a great achievement, as you’ve done an extraordinary thing the vaste majority of people won’t do. Be proud of you and all the people who helped.

TL;DR for tech community leaders out there: find a speaker with some knowledge to share, find a place where this speaker can talk, find people to attend the event. Simple and straight ;)

Interest on other tips to organize a successful community meetup? More searching for the Event Tips tag.

(Image source: an unconference session during the Italian Community Managers Summit 2018 in Milan)

Conference Tips: badges that work

How often happens that, talking with a person during a conference, you take a look to her badge to remember or check the name. And, as consequence of Murphy’s law, the badge is flipped on the wrong side, the one without the name.

Two possible solution to solve this situation: print badge both sides with the same information, name of the attendees included. The drawback is the lost of half of the informative space (used generally for sponsors, conference map or agenda etc). Otherwise, simply connect the badge to the lace in two points instead of one, so the badge won’t flip anymore. It may cost a little bit more, but allow space to print information both sides of the badge and makes it rock-solid.

Thanks to Codemotion for this tip, part of the “Conference Tips” series.

How to effectively get feedback on a talk

20160319-talkWhen I do public speaking, my talk doesn’t finish after the last question from the audience, it finishes once I’ve analysed the feedback attendees have provided. Feedback, for me, are a cornerstone of a talk life cycle (together with prepare, rehearsal and present). Let’s see different techniques I use to gather them, achieving more than 60% response rate.

Decide for meaningful and quick to fill feedback

My goal while asking for feedback is to know what I can improve for the next time: what is done is done, unfortunately. People are lazy by nature, so it’s important to find the right balance between time requested to provide feedback and detail of the information obtained. The less time, the better. Just an empty field with a question like “What do think about the talk” won’t work, it’s too generic and people will need time to think about it and what they input could be useless for me. On the other side, only a simple scale to grade the talk is too simple. Here the questions I generally ask:

  1. “How useful was the talk for you?”, a mandatory scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “Time wasted” and 5 is “Very useful”
  2. “What you liked the most?”, a multiline free text form
  3. “One think to improve for the next time”, a multiline free text form

Make easy to provide feedback

Once I have the questions, next step is to ask them to the attendees in the quickest and painless possible way. Sites with a login is a no-go. Anonymous Google Form is perfect: credentials are not required, light to load, fits on mobile screens, focused on the task of input info, pre-fillable data via a customised URL. Try by yourself :)

20160319-slideThen the audience need the form link, so a add a slide like that at the end of my deck: the biggest QR-Code possible with form URL, plus the short address to the same form in case QR-Code doesn’t work (app not installed / low light / too small for people from the last rows etc). To be more creative, I can also use an Eddystore-URL beacon to transmit the URL, but software support to read it is, nowadays, far more complex than a QR-Code scanner. But it’s cool :)

Everything is in place, finally. But if you ask to give you feedback, only few attendees will do. Why? Because people are lazy, as said previously :)

Add some fun to the feedback experience

There are two main techniques I tested over time. First one is about explicitly ask participants to give you feedback, and declare the next 90 seconds will be dedicated to that, before start taking questions. Drawback is… the 90 seconds of silent after the request! People will be busy filling the questions, but 90 seconds of silent are tough to manage and can ruin the atmosphere of the talk.

20160319-wheel_of_namesAnother option comes from my colleague Martin Omander, that created thisWheel of Names” to distribute one gadget to the lucky winner of the raffle. I anticipate to the attendees that the ones that fill the feedback form will participated to a raffle for a small gadget. They only need to add a name or nickname at the end of the form to be eligible. Nicknames are important so people can stay anonymous in their feedback.
After the before mentioned 90 seconds, I open the form responses, copy the column with people’s nicknames in the space right to the wheel and spin it. Drawback is I need to have a gadget to offer, but sometimes can even be a symbolic object I donate to the winner, without a real value, just for fun. And it works, I can assure.

Two key tips to organise a women inclusive community tech event

IMG_20151128_185858On Nov 28th I attended an event where 50 women gathered together to learn the basics of JavaScript. Huge round of applause for MilanoJS, Girls in Tech and Women@Google that made the event possible. From the many conversations I had with the attendees, I extracted two key tips that should be *always* kept in mind to be more gender-inclusive when communicating about a community tech event. It’s not a guarantee that gender gap will be reduced but, at least, basic misunderstandings will be avoided.

1) Be explicit that you’re caring about women participation, even if it may seem obvious to you. Include in the event description that women are welcome, partner for the communication with a group that is associated with a female context, like Girls in Tech, Rails Girls, Women TechMaker or any other reality of the local ecosystem, use creativity that includes both genders. Fight the language stereotypes: in Italian we use the masculine for referring to the whole category, so use explicitly “sviluppatori / sviluppatrici”, instead than just “sviluppatori”. Remember, you have to communicate that you’re caring about the whole spectrum of your community, all the minorities included.

2) Be explicit about your target audience. Different women I talked with told me they came because they were searching for a beginner training on Javascript, and so the event was advertised, as a beginner training. I argued that it wasn’t the first organised in the Milan area, and they replied that it was the first beginner training on JS, all the others were training on JS, so the target audience wasn’t clear and they feared to be in a class with people already good with Javascript. And I asked if the same applies also for a “Polymer Hack Up” or a “Apps Script Hackathon“, and the reply was yes: hackathon format is perceived as an event for people with already some skills on the topic, not suitable if you know nothing about it. Curious enough, the two mentioned were organised to introduce the technologies to people with zero knowledge on them. So, explicitly mention when the event is for beginners, that you’re welcoming also attendees that haven’t heard anything about the argument.

I have to say that both tips don’t come out totally of the blue: there are different studies on gender inequality in schools and in business, and we all see the world behind the lens of unconscious bias, so the same situations applies also in a community. In addition, once discussed deeper with the attendees, asking the whys and the whats, everything resonates very well together. Happy to provide more details in the comments, if asked.

As final suggestion, if you decide to apply these two simple tips (and you should), please make an additional third step: ask for feedback to the new women at your next event, ask if they come thanks to one of the suggestions you’ve put in practice. I know it can be hard but, as for any hypothesis, it has to be verified.

Those learnings, I think, can be generalised to each event than want to include a minority. Maybe women, maybe any other. Explicitly be inclusive, do not take it for granted. And yes, I’m still generally agains gender-only events, but it had a sense in this particular context.