Archive for September, 2017

On meetups

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

I’ve recently been to a few meetups that were almost a complete waste of my time. The talks themselves weren’t necessarily bad, but it showed they weren’t managed and more often than not, most of the crowd leaves after the talks so there’s no networking opportunities either.

That might sound a bit harsh, but I always felt that as the organiser of an event (I was involved with Spletne urice – a weekly meetup – for quite a while) my job is to provide people with as much value as possible to show that I respect their time and effort to come sit in a hall for an hour or so and listen to something I consider important/relevant[1].

Preparation and curation

As we didn’t have meetups during the summer (less people in town + our space was closed), this meant that every season would start off with me going through all the possible topics I could think of that I felt had developments relevant to the community, brainstorm topics with other senior people in the community and then thinking of companies and people who could be good at presenting these topics.

Convincing and scheduling

Unfortunately Slovenians don’t really want to speak in public too much, so a lot of time was spent convincing people to actually present. If I started the season with 20 topics and people I could start at the beginning of the season and when people said “maybe in a few months” I set a date for them and kept reminding them. This was an ongoing thing as new topics and relevant speakers would pop up during the season. Because you can’t fill all the slots this way I had a set of “evergreen” topics and people who can present on them to fill it all up – this also helps in months when you have less time, but it does mean you owe people.

Talk management

I almost never let people write their own talk descriptions and titles. While I did ask them for a description it was more of a way to see what they want to talk about and the text I wrote was what I wanted them to talk about. This meant that I would give back suggestions on how to make the talk more relevant to the crowd and also to set the expectations – as the meetups were on the broad topic of web technologies, a good narrow description would pull in listeners that would otherwise not have come. For people who have not presented before or felt they might not do a good job I offered even more help –
checking their slides, possibly guiding them on how to tweak them for better effect.

Sad state of affairs

What I see nowadays feels more or less unmanaged and even though that sometimes means some awesome odd-ball talks, it often has the following result:

  • the speaker is chosen from a friends/volunteer list, not a best-of list
  • title and description are ambiguous or even straight up misleading
  • the presentation is more of a trial run with not enough though given to the argument
  • the presentation is off-topic
  • the speaker does not know the crowd and the history and nobody helps him/her understand it before the event

All of the above means that more often than not these things just waste people’s time and look like the organiser and the speaker have no respect for the time of the people attending. I know this is not true most of the time, but having a bunch of people show up because they are hiring and go to meetups to find new employees (of which there are usually none) only masks the fact that the event should be run better and provide more value to the community[2].

The question then is – if you can’t do a meetup properly, do you find another person or a team to do it better? And if there is no one else, do you want to up your game or just quit? Is something better than nothing?

  1. All this is based on my memory of how it went down – I might have been an ignorant asshole and only have romantic memories of the whole affair. back
  2. Unless of course it’s just a ploy to find employees, then I’m not the intended audience so please disregard everything I just said. back