I got an interesting email today from someone who wanted to start their own meetup looking for some advice. There's actually a lot of things you have to think about when you're trying to build a community.
- How often do you want to meet? How long do you stay?
- Do you want to have a soft starting or soft ending time (to give people time to chat)? Or should it be very focused?
- How many users will we expect? How many developers? Can we have one without the other?
- What style of presentations do we want? Round table? Lectures? Tutorials? Presentations? Panel?
There's a million questions that you have to figure out if you really want to build a community. Having helped out at the local Web920, running my own Appleton WordPress, and speaking at a couple meetups in California I have definitely learned a few lessons.
One of the most important things you need to do to grow your community is to be consistent. It doesn't matter terribly what your schedule is like – as long as it's consistent. If you are going to have a monthly meetup then do it every month. That includes the months you're on vacation – ask someone to run the meetup for you.
One of the worst things you can do is be pseudo consistent and have someone show up and there's no meeting.
Give People Time to Meet
I think it's very important to give people time to meet. Quite often there's more value in meeting everyone and learning what they're doing than the presentation that everyone is there for. Most meetup groups have a soft ending – one where you can leave after the presentation or you can stick around and chat with the people around you.
Break the Ice
If you really do want people to meet then I suggest helping them break the ice. Before my Appleton WordPress meetup I always have an ice breaker. Say your name, say where you work, and answer this question of the month. And people love the question of the month. It's sometimes IT related but more often than not it's something silly.
- Who's your favorite super hero?
- If you couldn't use WordPress to build sites what would you use?
- Who inspires you?
These types of questions are often disarming. They make it easier to make a connection after the meeting.
Knowing who to expect might be the hardest part of planning a meetup. You could plan the perfect meetup for someone who knows a little PHP but then you only get front end developers. Or visa versa.
In Green Bay we've never had enough people for a purely developers meeting. Luckily, the Web920 group has all types of meetings. Some which attract developers and some which attract users. And this might be the best approach starting out. Have meetings for both and clearly indicate which one is for which. You can always pivot once you figure out what your community wants.
I know plenty of larger cities that have developer focused meetups but you need a huge pool of people to draw from to do this. To build a community you need people. Lot's of people. So you can't really create a consistent meetup group of WooCommerce developers because there just aren't that many. Instead why not create a WordPress e-commerce group? Or even just an e-commerce group? Then you can have specific topics about WooCommerce and have plenty of topics that apply to other technologies and draw a larger crowd.
All Presentation Types Work
One of the nice things about my meetup group is that I let the presenter work however they want. I usually encourage the speaker to speak for 30 minutes and save some time for questions. This usually turns into the speaker talking for 45 minutes and the meeting unofficially going on another hour after that.
We have had a few round tables and those have worked out well for us. When there isn't a specific need a round table can spark discussion for more topics.
Small Decisions Big Impact
There's a lot of small decisions that you have to make as a meetup organizer and a lot of them have a big impact on how your meetup turns out. The real key is to keep evaluating your decisions and making adjustments when necessary.