• Matias Klemola

“I want to host a meetup”

A short guide for a first-time organizer

The Helsinki region is full of enthusiasts. That’s the first impression I get when I open the meetup.com dashboard. A local yoga center is offering free yoga meditation sessions every Tuesday, there’s an evening run on Wednesday and board games at a local bar on Thursday. I could attend pretty much any of the 20 or so events this week after work.


Tech related meetups are heavily represented, which is great news for me as a programmer. Hackathons and programming language specific meetups seem to attract reasonably large groups of advocates. It’s not uncommon for 30 or more people to show up for any established group’s meetup. These meetups don’t happen on their own — events of that size require some planning.


Old school meetup (The National Academy Jury of 1907 by F. Luis Mora, public domain via The Met)


There’s always room for more meetups. It’s not too challenging to host one of your own. In the best case you get people hooked, and in the worst case a handful of people learn something new (that includes you)! This guide describes the steps required to host a successful meetup, based on personal experience. The steps are:

  1. Choose content

  2. Choose a venue

  3. Promote the event

  4. Order food and drinks

  5. Make sure that guests find their way

  6. Get most of the follow-up

…followed by an example of a successful tech meetup. Read on!


Setup

1. Content

Your meetup should be interesting. New and exciting technology is definitely a good way to get people’s attention, and established tech offers a chance to share “war stories”; real work experiences. Maybe you already are part of a community, or maybe you see an empty space where there should be a community. Either way, community comes first. Every community has to have it’s first meetup, but communities with a history of meetups are an easier platform to build on. I recommend trying your hand at that first.

You can contact group leaders and ask to help with setting up a new meetup. It’s a good idea to attend one of the meetups first and get to know the group members first hand. You’ll also see how the audience responds to different talks and how post-talk mingling works in said group.

Unless you’re going to host a hackathon or other group oriented meetup, people expect to see some presentations. Ask around; it’s pretty easy to find people who are willing to present their own work or talk about something topical. It’s also customary for the host to give a short introduction for the meetup in which one should welcome first time attendees and outline the evening’s schedule. If the meetup has any sponsors, it’s polite to mention them.


Yours truly giving an intro talk about Elm


Most talks range from ten to thirty minutes, and there’s often a short Q&A session after. It’s important to take in account how much time the presentations take in total so that there’s time left afterwards for networking. In my experience a good balance is 50/50 — that’s two hours of presentations and two hours of networking in a normal 6pm — 10pm meetup.


2. Choice of venue


You need a large enough venue. Office space is often vacant in the after-work hours, so many companies allow their employees to hold meetups at their premesis. Some conditions usually apply: buildings will be locked down at a certain point in the evening and cleaning crews might need to access the venue. Meetup groups are expected to keep the office clean, and confidential material (such as contract papers or project detail slying on a desk) shouldn’t be visible to visitors.


Hosting the meetup in the public area of an office limits these risks. The cleaning crew can be notified of the event. When it comes to past meetups, I haven’t personally had any issues with damaged property or suspicious behavior. In most cases the real challenge is to guide visitors all the way to the venue. Some office buildings have confusing lobbies and the public area might not be immediately accessible from the entrance.


You’ll need decent hardware for presentations.

  • some form of display, either physical displays or a projector setup

  • microphone and speakers, if possible

  • enough cables and adapters to accommodate laptops

  • wi-fi connectivity

Presenters should have a spot near the screen, since they’ll want to face the audience while being able to point at slides. There should be some platform for the presenters to place their laptop and other material on — just make sure that cables reach far enough. Test all hardware connections and audio levels well before the event begins.


It’s a good idea to reserve a few meters of space between the screen and the audience, so that presenters can move around.


3. Promotion


In order to get enough people to attend and to prevent them from forgetting about the date, choose a date that gives you enough time to prepare, but is not too far in the future. A month or two is usually enough. People will have enough time to align their work and personal schedules. Obviously the venue has to be secured before the announcement.


Start posting regularly to social media once you have finalized the date, venue and content of the event. The community probably has a Twitter profile, so make use of it. You can trickle some information weekly leading up to the day of the event. Remember to keep the event page (on Meetup.com or Facebook) up to date.


4. Food and drink


It’s pretty hard to lure people into attending meetups without offering food and drinks. Most people are fine with pizza, some soft drinks and beer. Just remember to take special diets and allergies into account.


Feeding and hydrating people is not cheap, so expect to spend some 10–20 euros per person. It’s pretty important that drinks don’t run out in the middle of the event. If you are expecting thirty people to attend, buy 60–90 cans of beverages. You can ask sponsor(s) to pay for food and drinks, and maybe some local restaurant will make a deal if their name is mentioned. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to sweet talk a local brewery or some other beverage manufacturer into providing your event with drinks for free.


Make sure that food delivery arrives on time. It’s pretty stressful to have people arriving to the venue while food is still on it’s way! It’s customary to feed people before presentations start, since they are probably coming straight from work and are hungry. Drinks require less precise timing — they just need to be cold by the time they are consumed.


Don’t forget about plates, glasses, utensils and napkins. While pizza and burritos can be eaten by hand, people may have preferences and will appreciate the gesture.


5. Personnel and guidance


You should put some signs or posters up at the main door of the venue. Think about how people might arrive — they need to know where to park their cars and bikes, and how to find the entrance. I recommend having someone at the main door guiding people personally (venue reception might help with this). Posters pointing at the direction of the venue help too if there are elevators or complex hallways on the way. You should be near the stage and it should be obvious that you are the host in case someone needs information. You can project information about food, wi-fi credentials, location of toilets etc. on the screen(s).


Instructions on how to arrive and what to expect should be posted on Meetup.com event page or other relevant social media. You should probably make your phone number available too.


It’s handy to have some extra folk around before the event starts. You are probably busy greeting the presenters, so someone should take care of putting food on display and taking some photos of the event.


6. Follow-up


Some people will stay for the entire duration of the event, while some will head home after the presentations. If you want to advertise your employer or company, you should have some swag at hand: T-shirts, mugs, pens, and so forth. People can then take mementos with them.


You should keep projecting sponsor logos between and after presentations, since they will then be visible in many of the photos taken at the event. This is important, particularly if you don’t have other promotional material on display. Rollups and table decorations bearing sponsor logos and other adverts fit naturally. Meetups are also good recruitement channels, and you’ll have time to introduce yourself personally to people during the networking phase. You should definitely have some business cards on you.


People often go for post-meetup drinks as a group in a self-organizing fashion, but you can advance this by suggesting it before the time limit is reached. Depending on the level of cleaning services at the venue, you might be busy gathering empty cans and cleaning up empty pizza boxes or not. So if you want to go to the post-meetup gathering, you should make sure that you know where people are headed to and join them once everything’s wrapped up properly.


Example: Elmsinki, May 2017


I first heard of the Elmsinki community back in March 2016. As the name implies, Elmsinki is a Elm programming language enthusiast community based in Helsinki, Finland. The first Elmsinki meetup happened that same month.


I was impressed by the meetup and proceeded to attend one of the two following meetups. It was after my second Elmsinki meetup that I asked the group leader Ossi Hanhinen if I could take responsibility of arranging the next one. Having seen what the meetups were like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I knew that 30–40 people attended every time. I knew people that could talk about their experiences with Elm.


The first step was to approach our company about providing support for the meetup. We agreed to reserve a large space from the co-working hub where our office is located. That allowed me to approach people I knew from past meetups with a tentative date in mind. I managed to secure two presentations (and my intro, of course).


Our company also financed food and drinks for the event. We decided to pre-order pizza slices from Pizzarium, a local premium pizza franchise. I estimated how many slices we needed and made sure to include gluten-free and vegan pizzas too. The delivery was handled by a third party. Beverage purchases were more ad hoc — me and my colleague went down to nearest supermarket to buy roughly a hundred cans of beer and soda on the day of the event!


Several colleagues helped me with arrangements on the day of the event. We put up signs and had people welcome guests at the door and arranged the venue chairs to accommodate the 30 or so guests. I tested the hardware with other presenters and we agreed on the order of presentations.


People started trickling in at 6pm. The food delivery was supposed to be there around the same time but it turned out to be late. The delivery person showed up after a nervous 20 minutes of waiting, and in the end, the delay didn’t mess things up too much. We moved the starting time of the first presentation accordingly, while satisfied guests enjoyed their pizza slices.


Daniel Landau (@Daniel_Landau) presenting at Elmsinki


Hardware gods were on our side and presentations went on without a hitch. We had a nice response from the audience in the form of questions and discussion during the networking phase. Most of the guests stayed until the very end and continued to get to know each other in a nearby bar. Our Valuemotive swag also moved nicely; half of our t-shirt stock found a new home.

I learned a great deal from the experience, and I hope that this guide will help you along your way to a successful meetup.


At Valuemotive, we offer teams of designers, data scientists, and developers to solve challenges together with our customers. We support our staff’s professional development even outside office hours, and we are constantly looking for talented developers, so don’t be afraid to get in touch.

Thanks to Yacine Ouarab for Elmsinki photos.