Meetups are amazing! They are a great way to stay up to date on the latest technologies, dive deep into interesting subjects, ask questions, and network.
Software Craftsmen attend meetups. They take pride in writing code that is well thought out, future thinking, and built to last.
So you decide to look for a meetup, but there isn't something local that covers your passion. You might be ready to create a meetup.
I started the UtahJS monthly meetup in 2010. It's been a great success and I want to share some of the things I've learned over the years.
What makes a good meetup?
Stay consistent with time and place. Find an event host and stick with them. It could be a tech company, a college campus, or a co-working space. If you keep meetups at the same time and location every month, people can make a habit of attending. This is by far the most important piece of advice.
Consider food. A lot of times venue hosts are willing to provide dinner. If not, seek sponsors for dinner. It can be something cheap like Pizza or Subs. And if you can't arrange dinner, make sure it is clear to that attendees should eat beforehand.
Keep it free. There are lots of companies that like to give back to the community, boost their image and network with developers. Try to keep the event totally free.
Make it interesting. What keeps people coming back is interesting topics. Some people will attend only a few times a year, and that is ok. Try to cover a wide variety of topics and make each month something interesting.
Focus on community. Take a few minutes at the start of the event to say welcome. Emphasize that it is the community's meetup, not yours. Encourage attendees to take leadership roles, participate, and invite others to join. Spark participation with questions such as: "Who is hiring?" "Who is looking for a job?" and "Who is new to this topic?"
Avoid bashing. Having an "X Tech vs. Y Tech" presentation is fine but a "Y Tech Sucks" or an "If You Don't Use Y Tech You're Doing it Wrong" presentation is not appropriate. Build people up regardless of their tech background.
Be inclusive. Reach out to underrepresented groups. Make your meetup a safe place for everyone.
Where do I start?
Use a meetup website. I've enjoyed using Meetup.com but there new options such as freeCodeCamp's self-hosted Chapter software and All Events. Find a platform to announce topics, get RSVPs, seek speakers, and have discussions. Give your group a name and a method to contact the organizers.
Mix up presentation styles. Most groups lean toward lecture style. Try to mix in other things such as hands-on presentations, tutorials, or seeded discussions.
Fill time with lightning talks. If you run short, ask for impromptu presentations. You can announce it this way: “Does anyone have a mini-presentation, something cool that you’ve worked on, something interesting you saw, or a question you want answered? You can come up to the front and plug in your computer. Or just talk from your seat.” Some of the best meetings are those with lightning rounds and ensuing discussions.
Have a backup plan. If you end up with no presenter, have some simple backup ideas. Pick out a video you can watch and discuss. Walk through good tutorials or blog posts that interest you.
Attend other meetups. You may get great ideas and great contacts from another meetup. Be active in the programming community.
Create an FAQ. Beginners like FAQs. Link to one on your Meetup.com group page. Provide answers to common questions and links to help understand the context of your meetup's subject matter. Use GitHub, Google Docs or something else that allows your community members to contribute changes and additions.
Partner up. Look for co-organizers to help you organize and run the meetups. A good long-term strategy involves multiple people.
Make a logo. For inspiration, check out the JS Logo Registry.
Create a Code of Conduct. I've found that the Contributor Covenant is a great place to start. It is an important step for everyone to feel safe and understand your commitment to inclusive contribution.
How do I advertise?
Tell your friends and coworkers. Word of mouth is more powerful than most people realize.
Tell Twitter. Tweet and ask others to retweet. Contact influencers and non-profits in your area that would be willing to tweet your Meetup link.
Tell LinkedIn. Create a LinkedIn group and add it to your profile. Update your status with a link to your meetup. Reach out to acquaintances to tell them.
Tell your local mailing list. There are still some flourishing mailing lists with members who would like to know about your meetup.
Use these methods monthly. As appropriate, continue to announce and advertise. Some folks may be enticed by a certain topic.
Our goal was not to get "big." But slowly our informal show-and-tell sessions grew into a meetup. Now various organizers run monthly UtahJS meetup events in Salt Lake City, Lehi, Ogden, and Logan.
One important takeaway from looking at our origins–start small. Even after all the planning and advertising, your first several meetups might draw only a few people. And that's OK.
Small events are fine. If you think back to the original goals of your meetup, you'll likely see that a small meetup fulfills those goals pretty well.
For me those goals were:
- Stay up to date on the latest technologies
- Dive deep into interesting subjects
- Ask questions
For me, all those goals can be met in small groups.
A word on COVID-19
At the time of writing, many meetups and conferences are delayed or canceled. But I say take advantage of the opportunity for fully remote meetups. Virtual meetups can be successful and even have some advantages. For one, folks who usually have constraints on time, location, or commute may be able to attend a virtual meetup. And two, everyone can see and hear the presenter more clearly.
I've had success with Google Meet (formerly Hangouts) and Zoom. Use what you are comfortable with.
The 2020 UtahJS Conference
We've been holding conferences since 2012. The UtahJS Conference this year is on Friday, September 18, 2020. The call for proposals is currently open and runs through April 30, 2020. Tickets will go on sale this Summer. Timing is dependent on the outlook of COVID-19 social distancing policies.
If you are reading this article from the future, you can go to conf.utahjs.com to check out our latest conference.
Don't be afraid to start a meetup. The experience is very rewarding. You and your community will learn new things, gain leadership experience, and make new connections.