The Dallas/Fort Worth WordPress Meetup has been meeting since 2008 and has over 1,400 members, making it one of the top five WordPress meetups.
Tony Cecala currently organizes the group. In addition to being a proud WordPress user, he has two masters degrees and a doctorate in psychology from Yale. He’s currently the vice president of technology for Newsroom Ink. For the last 20 years he’s published the Holistic Networker and produced the Wellness Expo in the Dallas area. He also launched the Emerging Tech Conference in Dallas in 2012. He’s a busy guy.
Q. Tell us about a typical DFW Meetup.
Tony: We usually have about a 75 to 100 people attend a meeting. About half come early for the pizza/networking/lunch and by the time I’m about to get on stage to talk, there is a buzz with everyone talking and schmoozing. I thank the local sponsors, a few members who provide funds for food in return for recognition. Then I introduce the speaker, who talks for about 75 minutes. After Q&A, about a dozen will end up at a local bar for more “networking.”
Q. What does it take to put on a WordPress Meetup?
Tony: It takes a great deal of dedication to run a meetup. You have to be there for the members on a day-to-day basis. Each day there are questions and often there are referrals of business, or simply making connections between members. You really need to have the personality for it. It takes someone who loves people to run a good meetup. Think of the members as guests to your party. You really have to know how to throw a good party.
There’s a great cost to one’s sanity. No! Just kidding. Really, the costs are minimal if you plan correctly. There’s food and venue and, depending on the city, these can be as simple as donated office space and some donuts or as lavish as a hotel meeting space and catered smorgasbord. I’ve been lucky to find a civic center with a reasonable cost and excellent A/V.
Q. How did the DFW Meetup get started?
Tony: I inherited the organization in 2009. Prior to that, a small group of us met in coffee shops and restaurants.
Q. What prompted the transition from a small group meeting in coffee shops to what you are now?
Tony: We needed a venue that permitted a presentation. We did try to do A/V in restaurants, but they aren’t set up for that.
Q. WordPress has said they want meetups to be free. Why do you charge for your meetups?
Tony: I charge to ensure that the members have a quality experience. There are many other haphazard, free meetups they can attend. When they attend DFWWP they’re getting a quality presentation and a quality experience. They get lunch, coffee, snacks, soda and a business-class venue. If they are a student or express that they have a financial hardship then I don’t take their money. For the most part, our group consists of professionals who go home and charge their clients based on the skills they learn at the meetup. We’ve evolved beyond just sharing our tweets and cute kitten photos.
Q. Have you seen a difference in the events since you started charging?
Tony: Members spontaneously started making donations two years ago because they saw how much time and effort and cash I was laying out to make the event stable, consistent and professional. We then moved to a standard fee the next year to make it a simple message to tell on the meetup site. As for acceptance, our numbers are up year-to-year in attendance.
Q. What tips do you have for someone looking to start a WordPress meetup?
Tony: If someone is looking to start a WordPress meetup, I would advise them to do some soul searching first. If they are looking to support the community, and would like to meet like-minded people, then they should jump right in. They should be organized and understand: how to work with a venue, how to promote the meeting, how to handle speakers and sponsors. These things are learned, I’ve made mistakes, but I try not to ever make the same mistake twice.
The most important feature for a successful WordPress meetup is the sense of continuity. When someone joins a meetup they want to know it’s been around for a bit, and that it will continue. There’s an investment of time and energy and reputation to being part of a group. So people want to know that they are joining something of substance. Speaking of substance, it almost goes without saying that the content of the meetup should be valuable. If members feel that someone is just on stage to pitch to them, the reputation of the meetup takes a hit.