Over the past years I had the privilege to run many MeetUps for different tech usergroups. In this article I want to share my experience on how I try to make my meetups welcoming and friendly for everyone. Many of the points are lessons learned others are tips and tricks I picked up during other MeetUps or during discussions.
If you have any feedback or think important things are missing feel free to let me know.
Tip 1 – Is it a good date and time?
Start planning with a MeetUp as far in advanced as possible, this give you the space to facilitate more groups of people and get create more awareness around your event. Many meetups and events are probably happening in your area. When I plan a MeetUp I always do a quick scan to see if not any other meetup is organizing something on the same date with a similar topic. I can’t hurt to quickly scan if it is a holiday for different religions and if a is a school holiday.
When you are settled on the date, decide on a timeslot. Most meetups take place afterwork in the evening. But organizing a lunch, breakfast or happy hour event can just be as impactful and might even give people who are not able to attend in the evenings the change to join a community.
Tip 2 – Leave space for starting speakers on your program
Having great experienced and professional speakers on your meetup is great and will for sure attract a bigger audience to your event. But MeetUps should also be the place where new talent get the chance to shine and develop speaking skills. If possible, always keep a speaking slot available for someone fresh and new. The speaking slot doesn’t have to be 1 hour,25 minutes for a demo is also perfectly acceptable. And of course, create a friendly and welcoming environment where learning is oke.
Tip 3 – Share your code of conduct actively
Every usergroup should have a code of conduct listed on their website or general meetup page. But most people wo register will miss out on this, so it is important to include the COC in all communication from the start. Include the link in all your announcements and on your event page.
Why have a code of conduct on your meetup? A code of conduct formalizes what is not acceptable at your event, what happens if attendees don’t comply, how to report an incident and reach-out for direct help.
This set of rules give your attendees the security that they will arrive in a safe place. Remember how scared you were for your first meetup? I for sure was. But besides for you attendees also as an organizer you clearly know what to do when something happens.
Some code of conducts only state: “Find someone from the staff”. I my opinion this is not enough, and you should be very clear on how you can report something. Put a few phone numbers from the staff for direct reporting, but also put a form where attendees and staff can report anonymously. Always include a contact for the local authorities.
Tip 4 – Choose a venue wisely
Mostly you find a company that will offer to host your meetup, likely they do that to show how cool their office looks like and they will go all the way to make your attendees happy.
When confirming a venue, always inform the hosting party about your code of conduct. They have to accept it and have to make sure the staff working during the meetup is aware of the content.
Check if the venue is reachable by car and public transport and post a good description on how to find the location on the meetup page.
Tip 5 – Arrange inclusive catering
Food is a topic to discuss with the venue well in advanced, not about the amount and how many people attend, but what the venue can offer. Can it offer Halal or Vegan? Get it settled and communicate in a clear way to your attendees what they can expect and how they can share their requirements.
Tip 6 – Agree on alcohol during / after the event
A few social drinks can be nice, but also can create an unwelcoming environment for some people. Debate with you host what they offer and debate with your meetup team what your standpoint on this subject is. Remember meetups are all about sharing knowledge with your professional peers.
Tip 7 - Recruiters during the event
It can’t hurt to talk about recruiting during the event, some of your attendees might find it unwelcoming, but other might be looking for a job and a meetup is a good place to share experiences. I recommend debating this subject in your team and post somewhere your vision on this subject.
Tip 8 – Think about accessibility
I already talked in tip one about thinking about the time slot for your meetup to make it accessible for more or different groups of people, but you can also level up. Debate with your venue if someone in a wheelchair the building, toilet and event rooms. If it is the case, put it on the meetup page. Don’t let people ask you but advertise it! As usergroup you can also take the next step and make an effort in including deaf and blind people. An easy and first step can be to use captions in PowerPoint and enable the Microsoft Translator app
Tip 9 – Be child friendly
Lots of people that attend your meetup are likely to be parents and sometimes it is hard specially for single parent to attend a meetup. For parents with children (7+) is a child-friendly meetup a truly valuable thing. A organizer you also don’t have to do a lot, just create a space where children can hang-out, buy something to eat / drink and arrange a X-Box. You will find that many hosting venues already have such a place! Also for this point, if you have it communicate it clearly on your meetup page that you are child-friendly and create the ability for the parent to contact you to ask questions. Also for this subject, create a welcoming supporting environment where it is oke that during a presentation a child asks for the bathroom.
Tip 10 – Nail the opening of your event.
At the venue guide your attendees to easily find the location within the building. Make the COC visible at the entrance of the event. A good way is to print A4, welcoming your visitor with a friendly reminder of the COC and put the link and/in a QR code. Most of the MeetUp start with a social diner, it is important that everyone is aware of the COC before this diner, it is more even more important if you already decide to serve alcohol.
Always open the meetup yourself. During the opening mention the code of conduct, you don’t have to get in detail, but make clear where people can read it and make clear who is part of the organization of the event.
If you after reading this have questions, remarks or more tips please feel free to drop me a line.
Have a great meetup and I really hope you adopt some of these tips in your meetup and make your meetups a safe and accessible place for the whole community.