Want to know the secrets to running a great NetSquared Meetup? Keep reading to get the advice I’ve distilled from four years of volunteering in producing the SFTech4Good Meetup all in one place.
1. Set an Intention or Theme for Your Event
The first thing to consider when running a Meetup is: why do you want to run this event? What’s in it for you? What is your motivation?
Don’t run an event just to run an event. Why not? Because you’ll quit when you get bored or when you encounter difficulties.
Pick a topic you’re passionate about. Choose something that will help you get where you want to go in your current job, or that will help you find your next job. By deciding what you care about first, and setting your personal intention for the event, you can create a compelling theme. Enthusiasm is one of the secret ingredients to making amazing things happen. As Simon Sinek’s TED talk says, “Start with WHY.” The reason why you are interested then naturally links to why someone would be interested in attending. Your personal intention and event theme will also determine whom you should invite to speak at your event, the type of location you select, etc.
The second secret to creating an outstanding event is spending many hours in preparing it. It’s like running a theater production: Broadway shows take many hours to rehearse so that everything looks seamless on event night.
Having enough time to prepare is key, because you need to have time for people to respond to you and to market the event. You want to respect people’s time, and the more famous your desired speakers, the more likely they are to be very busy!
I find that the magic amount of time to produce a great event is about 3 months. Even very busy people can usually schedule themselves about 3 months out, and venues also like to have an advance heads-up. Don’t try to book a venue, a speaker, and market an event all in one week. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
What kind of format will you have?
A three person panel plus moderator, single speaker, interactive workshop with facilitators, or something else? This will help determine your next steps.
One paragraph description: Share something that will help you, the speakers and the venue get aligned on what you want to produce. What is the format of the event and your desired outcomes? What will people learn from the event?
Contact speakers: When are your speakers available?
Pro tip: Line up your speakers first, and have an alternate date from them available in case the venue you want doesn’t have your first choice date.
Reach out to a venue with at least two months advance notice, and share that the speakers you want are available on that date.
Pro tip: usually, getting several speakers to agree on a date that works for them is slightly more challenging than getting a venue on a certain date. So confirm your speakers first to minimize the back-and-forth emails with your venue.
Ideally, your venue should help pay for the food for the event, because it is a natural segue to promote their venue (the company, coworking space, etc.) by hosting the event.
Make a note of if the venue requires a list of guests for security 48 hours in advance, so you can know when to close registrations for your event registration page.
If you are hosting a happy hour at a bar, contact the bar in advance and see if you can get a special deal on drinks for a certain number of attendees. Some bars do guest bartending deals where tips go to charity.
3. Volunteer Support for Logistics
The third key ingredient to running a great event is having additional volunteers. While you may be the event producer running the show, you can’t be everywhere at once and additional day-of-event support will help you avoid feeling frazzled. Ask around your community for people to volunteer for these roles:
Buying event supplies e.g. picking up food, buying markers and name tags, etc.
Greeting people at the door and directing people to where the event is (especially helpful to have more than one person for this if you’re at a building with an elevator and multiple entrances, to help people get to the right room).
Registration help: The larger the event, the more volunteers you want here. This is the best networking opportunity for volunteers because they literally get to meet everyone as they come in.
Setup help: moving chairs or making “Event Name Here” signs, letting the caterer or pizza delivery person in the door.
A/V person: someone dedicated to helping presenters with their slides, adjusting lavalier microphones, and running a handheld mic around the room for Q&A.
Social media volunteer: someone dedicated to live-tweeting your event.
Videographer/Photographer: someone dedicated to capturing the event experience, so you can follow up with attendees AND promote your next event more effectively with real photos! (Just make sure panelists and attendees are OK with this - you may want to have a photo/video waiver or release form.)
Cleanup help: removing trash and separating items for compost/recycling.
4. Market Your Event
OK, great: So you have your speakers lined up, your venue, the pizza budget, a few volunteers, and you’re excited. Now you need to get people to actually show up at your event.
Your Meetup page is one way to do that, but don’t stop there. My #1 recommendation for marketing events is creating a “share page” or swipe copy (a “copy-paste-able blurb” that makes it SUPER easy for people to share your event. Here’s an example of swipe copy I created for a social impact innovation competition a few years ago. Have a blurb about the ask in a Google doc, or just email people a sample Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook post they can share, and a sample email to forward to a friend. Click to Tweet also makes it easy to share things on Twitter and I use it all the time.
5. Follow Up After Your Event
Creating a great Meetup takes a lot of work, so make sure to thank the people who helped you. Get the business cards of your speakers, venue hosts, and volunteers and mail them a handwritten thank you card. If you have a budget, it can be nice to get a small gift card to a local cafe and hand it along with a thank you card to your speakers on the day of the event. A personal thank you email with event recordings, insights, slides, or anything you want to share should be the minimum.
Remember to share the event photos, video, and/or slides (with permission) with your community. Your meetup announcements list is a great way to share learnings. If you have a video recording, you can add the link to your LinkedIn profile, and update the event info on your resume, too.
Excited to become an event organizer yourself? Join the NetSquared community as a volunteer event producer. You can create pretty much any kind of event you want, as long as it’s related to technology and social good. Trust me, it’s good for your resume! Warning: It may even be fun.
About the Author
Katharine Bierce works in content marketing at Salesforce.org, and is especially excited about AI for Good. From 2014-2018, she served as a volunteer event producer with the SFTech4Good Meetup. Under her leadership, the group more than doubled in size from nearly 2,000 to almost 5,000 members today on Meetup, and she also managed a team of volunteers to build a dedicated SFTech4Good website, among other accomplishments. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, writing about mindfulness and business, and teaching yoga. Follow her on Twitter: @kbierce