One of the first things you’ll need to sort out is what kind of meetup you’re going to have. What do you do when you get all these WordPress fans together? This will influence everything else, from what type of venue you select to what kind of speakers you need.
There are a ton of different things you can do at a meetup. And there’s no single answer. You can do different things at the same meetup or change it up every month. Mix and match and do what works best for your group.
“Everybody does them differently, sometimes they have the meetup where you meet in a bar and talk about WordPress, sometimes it’s a classroom type format.” says Michael Torbert, founder of the Raleigh WordPress Meetup Group. “We decided to have the best of both worlds. Once a month we have a social WordPress meetup at our office lounge, in addition to our regular meeting that’s more of a classroom setting.”
- Classroom Style Presentations – Many meetups offer your basic classroom style presentations where somebody stands up in the front and shares something. This educational approach is a good way to offer some serious value (assuming you can find some good speakers).
- Social/Networking – Another approach is to focus on networking or simple hanging out. This is less organized and more casual. It’s up to the individual attendees to find their own value as they connect and meet people. Most meetup groups set aside some time for socializing and networking.
- Group Discussion/Forum – Another approach is to open your meetup to the group for a large discussion. You’ll probably need a facilitator to keep the discussion on track, but this can be a good way to hear from a lot of people and draw on the collective wisdom of the room. You’ll need to pick good topics and have some prepared questions to keep things going.
- Introductions & Personal Sharing – Since meetups are about meeting people, a good way to go is gearing your meetup as a chance to introduce people. For small groups it might work to go around the table and have everybody introduce themselves and share what they do with WordPress. This is more of a challenge for large groups, but it can be done.
- Hackathon/Help Desk – You can also draw on the wisdom of the group and offer to solve problems. Set up a help desk and encourage people to bring their laptops and their problems. Have some developers on hand ready to answer questions, help fix bugs, tweak CSS and more. This can work well with a social/networking component where some people can socialize while others are getting help.
- Build Something – This is really a glorified classroom style presentation, but it’s so fun it’s worth talking about separately. The New York City WordPress Community built their own social networking site using the BuddyPress plugin. But instead of having a couple WordPress experts do it during their spare time, they did as a group. They built it together on the big screen (and recorded it!), showing everybody how it’s done and walking through every step. How cool is that?
- Expert Q&A/Panel – Sometimes if a formal presentation is too time intensive, you can ask an expert to do a question and answer session. You could also pull together several experts and do a panel discussion. This can be a little more informal and a good way to get input from your audience and get their questions answered.
- Themes – A good way to organize your events is to come up with themes. Each meetup can cover a different topic and this can be a helpful way to bring some cohesiveness to what you’re doing. Cover plugins, themes, business, writing, design, etc. One downside is that it might be harder to appeal to a larger audience with such a specific focus.
Whatever you decide to do during your meetup, remember that value is important. If people are going to take time out of the schedules to come to your meetup (and come back!), there has to be something of value.
Picking a Time
Picking a time for your WordPress meetup is crucial. Here are some tips on how to choose a time for when to meet:
- Pick a consistent day of the month that’s easy to remember. The first Friday or third Wednesday. This makes it easy for you to plan and easy for attendees to remember.
- Plan around other meetups in your community. You don’t want to be competing with other groups, so find any social, tech, blogging, etc. meetups and make sure you’re not conflicting.
- Find a time that makes sense. If you’re meeting downtown it might make more sense to meet earlier so people can go straight to the meetup from work. If you can’t offer food, maybe start a little later so people have time to grab supper.
- Consider shaking things up every now and then and offering an event at an off time that might appeal to people who can’t normally make it. If you always meet in the evenings, consider a morning meeting. If you meet on weeknights, consider a weekend event. This might work best for special events once you’re more established, but it’s a good way to make more people feel included.
- Find some consensus on what works, but don’t sweat it. You’re always going to have some people who can’t make it. Don’t feel like you have to change everything to meet the needs of a vocal minority. Often you’ll find that the ones who complain the loudest are also the ones who won’t show up when they get their way.
Finding a place to meet for your WordPress meetup is always important. You want a place that’s accessible and friendly, a place that will work for the type of meetup you’re doing (a coffee shop will work great for a networking session, but not so much for a presentation). You also need a place that works for your group. You don’t want the fire marshal breathing down your neck, but you also don’t want a cavernous hall for five people.
Since most meetup organizers aren’t independently wealthy, you probably want a free venue. We’ll talk about costs later, but the venue cost can be one of the big ones and will often determine whether or not you’ll need to charge for the event.
Finding a Venue
Finding that all-important venue is tough. Here are some places to start your hunt for where to meet:
- Connections – Work your group’s connections to find a venue. It’s entirely possible someone works at a school or business with a space that might work. With an employee or student involved in the group, some places might be willing to waive any fees to make it work. Ask around and see what connections your group has.
- Coworking Spaces – Shared office space in a coworking location is often a good place to meet. WordPress groups are often chockfull of freelancers, the bread and butter of any coworking space. The exposure is often worth a free conference room.
- Restaurants/Coffee Shops – For small groups simply pulling together a couple tables at a local restaurant or coffee shop might do the trick. Of course you’ll need to have an appropriate meeting style, but for low-key events this can work well. Plus, it’s easy to have people pay for their own refreshments. Just remember to be courteous to the establishment and tip well. Don’t take over an entire corner of the coffee shop for two hours and buy nothing but a small coffee. Also, be sure to pick a place that’s not too loud so you still have effective conversation.
- Schools/Businesses – Local schools, businesses and other organizations may be willing to offer up free space for the exposure it provides. Just like coworking spaces, a local tech business may love having a swarm of WordPress fans in their space every month. A local tech school might also want the honor of hosting a local meetup and forging some connections that can help their students. It never hurts to ask.
- Community Spaces – Some local community organizations might have space that’s available to the public for free. Try libraries, community centers or churches.
There’s a lot to consider when hunting for a venue for your WordPress meetup. Below are some tips to consider as you’re finding a venue and some ways to make the most of your space:
- Wi-Fi – Internet access is a must. You’ll definitely need it for your presenters and it’d be nice if the entire audience can get online as well. Unfortunately, many Wi-Fi venues have a hard time keeping up with a tech-heavy crowd. Ask ahead. You might not have a choice, but it’d be a perfect tie-breaker if you’re choosing between two venues.
- Power Strips – Wi-Fi is great, but it’s useless if your battery is dying. Make some power strips available so nobody has to fight over outlets.
- Projectors – If you’re doing classroom style meetups you’ll need a projector system and screen.
- Mics – Depending on the size of your group and the location, you might need some amplification. More than likely you’ll need this sooner than you think. A soft-spoken presenter and background noise is a recipe for frustration.
- Good Directions – Nobody likes to be lost. Offer maps to get there and signage once you’re there. If you’re at a restaurant, try to be visible from the front door and use table tents so people know where they’re going.
- Legal Obligations – Be aware of any legal obligations you may have. If a floor gets scratched they may come after you as the organizer.
- What About Food? – If you’re doing any kind of refreshments will they work in the space? Or are you going to get burned when pizza sauce drips on the carpet?
- Centrally Located – It’s a good idea to find a place that’s centrally located. This can be hard to manage since it depends on who’s coming, but it’s nice to try.
- Parking – Make sure there’s plenty of parking or it’s clear where people can park. You don’t want people getting tickets thanks to your meetup. That’s a downer.
- Safe – Make sure you’re meeting in a neighborhood that’s generally safe. Some people have different standards, so make sure everybody’s going to feel safe. If it’s an area that maybe gives a sketchy vibe but you know it’s safe, just reassure everybody by making sure it’s well lit after dark or have people head out in groups.
- Fun – A fun space can make the event. If there’s a cool tech company in town with a hip office, those kinds of spaces are fun and energizing. Sure beats a drab conference room.
- Spice It Up – If you are stuck with that drab conference room, find some ways to spice it up. Full on decorating might not be worth it, but there are always some simple ways you can add something fun. Maybe you put toys on the tables to fiddle with or ditch the fluorescents for some lamps.
- Paying for Space – Be sure you’re getting your money’s work if you have to pay for space. Look for perks and be sure they’re catering to you. You’ll also want to come up with an RSVP system and maybe even charge so you have a good idea how many people are coming. You hate to pay for a big space only to have it half filled. You can try to cover these costs with sponsorship or charging an entrance fee. We’ll talk more about costs later.