As the organizer of the Washington, DC Drupal meetup for three years, I've had the benefit of finding out what works and what doesn’t when setting up a meetup. Although I recently had to step away from my organizing duties due to other commitments, I'd like to provide a retrospective on what I've learned from organizing meetups. My goal is to help those who want to set up a meetup in their area for the first time, and to help provide ideas for those who are already running a meetup.
Decide What You Want To Be
A meetup can be many things: it can be a place to network, to listen to presentations, and to code. However, trying to do all of these things in a 1-2 hour meetup can be overwhelming and disjointed. When setting up your meetup, determine what you want members to get out of the few hours they have together. In the case of the DC Drupal meetup, we start with 30 minutes of networking followed by presentations, and then provide additional networking opportunities at the end of the meetup. Because our meetup brings together a Drupal community from a variety of different background and roles -- such as developers, designers, project managers, user experience experts, and recruiters -- coding at the main meetup event wouldn’t meet our goals of being all-inclusive to the variety of members in our local community.
Here's our method of helping community members get more out of the meetup group: have everyone introduce themselves at the end of the meetup group and give some basic information about themselves, offer Drupal learn and issue sprints through the Drupal Ladder project, hold events to take part in Global Sprint Days, and encourage members to attend community events such as DrupalCon and DrupalGovCon.
Don’t Change What Works. Or… You Can’t Make Everyone Happy
The DC Drupal meetup met at a bar in the city until October 2015, and the only reason for the change was because the bar ceased operations. However, there were a few months over the years where we changed locations in the city and met at an office. The turnout was about half of our normal turnout because of the location change. We realized that not only did changing the location for a month not work with what the majority of the group wanted, but we also realized that the community members who said they did not come to our meetup because of the bar atmosphere did not attend the meetup in the new location. The lesson learned was that you can’t make everyone happy and going with your gut instinct is the right way to go.
We maintain consistency by staying in the same location, on the same day of the week, at the same time, every month. The picture that accompanies this blog post, above, shows what a typical DC Area Drupal Meetup looks like. We also cater to the entire DC metro community by holding separate meetups in DC, in Northern Virginia, and in Maryland. Each meetup event has its own structure based on the demographic and the specific event (local meetup, code-specific meetup, etc).
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
From the outside, sometimes it appears that an organizer only needs to find a meetup space once, solicit for presentations each month, and then all of the work is done. However, after becoming an organizer, I quickly found that was not the case. Some organizer responsibilities include: confirming the space availability every month, announcing the meetup event on the Washington DC section of groups.drupal.org and on meetup.com, soliciting for presentations and communicating with presenters, answering emails from meetup members, posting on social media, and talking to potential sponsors.
Trying to cover all of these areas can be very time consuming for one person, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can reach out by asking meetup members in person, and by asking through the website that you use to announce your meetup events.
Although this post presents some lessons learned about organizing a meetup, it is not a comprehensive list. For more information, please visit the post on drupal.org on Organizing a Meetup, or leave a comment with your questions.
And if you’re ever in the DC metro area, please come to one of our meetups!