With more than 2,300 members the WordPress NYC Community is one of the largest in the country. Of course having a lot of members doesn’t mean they all show up. We talk with organizer Steve Bruner about getting people to show up, how the group works and more. Steve runs the WordPress development company SlipFire and co-created the WordPress rapid development framework Piklist.
What’s a typical NYC meetup like?
Steve: Our meetups usually range from 80-100 or more. For some meetups we could have had 170, but we’ve never had a venue that held that many people.
We ask each member to pay $5 when they RSVP. During the first few years, this was more to keep them honest than to fund the group. When we didn’t ask for money, 90% of the attendees never showed up. Now 95% do. Over the last year, the fee has helped pay for some of our expenses.
I usually start the meetup with a brief intro of the group and let them know about our community site. The site is built on BuddyPress and provides support to the members. We also built it live at the meetup and recorded it. After the intro we usually have one to two mini-presentations that last about 15 minutes each. Maybe it’s a new plugin developed locally or a lawyer guiding us through copyright law.
We may take a break (and have pizza if we didn’t have to pay for the venue), and then the main presentation starts.
The majority of our meetups are two and a half hours (6:30-9). However, when we have a hot topic and pizza, it can easily go to 10 p.m. Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to get everyone out—they really love networking.
How did the NYC group get started?
Steve: Back in Nov 2007 I RSVPed to attend the meetup on a Saturday afternoon at a Starbucks. I think 12 people RSVPed, but only five of us showed up… the organizer did not. I emailed the organizer to ask about the status of the meetup, and even offered to take it over. I don’t believe I received a response.
Then one July morning, I woke up early, checked my inbox and saw an email from Meetup.com notifying the group that the organizer stepped down and if someone didn’t take over the meetup would go away. I pressed “Keep this group going” and I’ve been running it ever since.
What’s involved in putting on a WordPress meetup?
Steve: Speakers, speakers, speakers and venue, venue, venue. I find it hardest to find qualified speakers and a venue (hopefully free) that can hold 80-plus people (would love 100-plus).
It sounds like finding speakers is hard—what’s worked best to land speakers?
Steve: A few things:
- Time: I’m able to ask past speakers to speak again.
- Meetup members: As the meetup has grown, more members are at a level to present.
- WordCamp: We had about 100 speaker applications for the last WordCamp NYC. I’ve spoken to all the local ones and asked them to speak at the meetup.
- Staying in touch with the community:Two examples of this:
With all this, I still find it hard to schedule speakers sometimes, especially when one cancels at the last minute.
Also sounds like venues can be a problem. Do you have any tips or best practices for finding a free or cheap event space?
Steve: Two tips:
- Co-working spaces have been the best. Especially ones that are just starting out. They usually do it for free to try to get members.
- Companies that use WordPress. CBS Local hosted the meetup three times for free! Even bought us pizza the first time.
What’s the advantage of having video of all your presentations?
Steve: We record everything because:
- Members who can’t make a meetup, or have attended and want to review, can view the video.
- Our videos have benefited the global WordPress community and that’s awesome! We have a pretty popular Youtube channel. Our community site offers the same videos but tagged a little better than YouTube.
What tips do you have for someone looking to start a WordPress meet up?
Steve: A few things:
- Charge a minimal amount for attendees.
- Be prepared to be the main speaker most of the time. I’m pretty sure I did most of the presentations for the first few years.
- Keep it on the same day of the month to help other tech events organize around you.
- Find a cheap (or free) venue!