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Lisa van Gelder
Lisa van Gelder

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Running a Meetup Group - FAQ

I’ve been co-running Write/Speak/Code NYC since 2015.

We ran a panel on November 14th on how to start a tech Meetup, and here are my answers, in case they help someone who wasn't able to attend.

How did the Group get started?
Write/Speak/Code was a conference before it was a Meetup Group. It’s all about levelling up women & non-binary folks through practical workshops on blogging, public speaking & open source software. I went to the conference and loved how practical it was - but the conference is only once a year and in a different city each time. I wanted to bring that practical advice to women & non-binary folks in NYC on a more regular basis. I messaged the conference organizers and they put me in touch with two other people who had also said they were interested in starting a chapter in NYC (Jessica Armstrong & Jessica Simon). We created the NYC chapter together.

How did you find your first venue?
We started out by reaching out to places we were affiliated with. Our first venue was Devbootcamp because one of my co-organizers was a Devbootcamp alum. One of the attendees of the first Meetup worked at Thoughtworks and put us in touch with them - they hosted our next few Meetups. Once the Group had been running for a while, companies started reaching out to us & offering to host.

How did you find co-organizers?
Three of us started the NYC chapter together. Write/Speak/Code recommends a new chapter find at least four organizers before starting because organizing is hard work, people get busy, go on vacation etc. Three of us isn’t enough - we have eight organizers right now. If some of our organizers get busy and need to drop out for a while, we'll make an announcement at our Meetup that we're looking for new organizers. A good starting point is regular members - typically our organizers are regulars who care about our community and want to keep it going.

When you first started organizing, how did you select events? How has that changed?
Our first event was based on our workshop & conference material. We started with events that were pretty close to our conference - blogging, lightning talks, and then ranged more widely. We try to rotate between Write, Speak, Code & Self Care/Career topics, but find it hard to stick to a regular schedule. There are a few regular type of Events that we run - blogging workshops, lightning talk workshops & open source workshops.

What things do you consider when choosing a venue?
We are hosted by sponsors who pay to have our Group, as well as pay for food & drink
We choose places that we are happy to recommend for our members to work, as giving a sponsor talk & mentioning job openings is part of the perks a sponsor gets.
So we look for places with a commitment to diversity, inclusion & women in leadership.
We also look for places where the venue security will work with us and doesn’t require the names people rsvp with to match their legal ID. It’s normal for venues to require people to present legal ID when checking in, but we have attendees who wish to be known by a different name, for example trans folks, and don’t want their legal name to be public.

How do you find sponsors for events? How did you find your first sponsors?
Sponsors are the same as venues for us, so it’s important for us to pick sponsors that we would recommend. Venues provide food & drink for our attendees. When we were organizing our first event we didn’t realise that we could just ask the venue to provide food & drink and thought that we had to find sponsors to pay for each. Getting the venue to provide them is much easier!

What tools did you use to get the word out about your events?
Meetup, slack, facebook, twitter, bootcamp networks. Just posting on Meetup isn’t enough. If you have speakers get them to post to their networks. There are also regular newsletters like Garys Guide and you can ask for your Meetup to be included in them.

What was something you wish you knew before you started your meetup?
Share the load, you don’t have to do everything yourself. I used to be heavily involved in putting on every single event, with a weekly hangout & it was exhausting. Now we have a really good system where we set the main organizer for each event, so each of us puts on an event about once every 6 months. And we have a monthly hangout where we set the main organizer & the main organizer asks for help if necessary. Delegation is great!

What was the most memorable event you organized, and why?
Our first one. It’s like having a party you’re not sure if it’s going to work or anybody is going to show up. Creating a meetup group you’re not sure if there is a demand or if your idea is going to work. We got more than 50 people! And then people came back to our next events.

What are the most challenging aspects of being an organizer?
Showups :( We get fantastic content and then sometimes hardly any people show up. I’m not sure if we’re not marketing ourselves right or what we are doing wrong. It’s possible that we split our audience too much because our content changes so much each time. We should do another survey to find out what our attendees are looking for.

How do you ensure diversity of your speakers & attendees?
Diversity is something you have to be intentional about. We start by trying to ensure we have a good mix of folks who are our organizers, and are intentional about the mix of folks who are on our panels or speaking to our audience. Representation matters, we get a diverse audience because we have diverse speakers.

Do you allow men to attend your events? How did you reach that decision?
We don’t, we are for women & non-binary folks only and that’s quite unusual. A lot of groups will allow allies as well. We believe that allies are important, but that’s not the problem we are trying to solve. We want to create a safe space for women & non-binary folks to give each other practical advice on writing, speaking & coding and find that having male allies in the space changes the conversation.

Top comments (1)

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Jaime Rios

Neat, thanks for sharing!