Organizing a Meetup - Lessons Learned

Between the summer of 2013 and the fall of 2014, I was one of the organizers of a Baltimore mapping meetup called Geomore. It started with Maggie Cawley and Payal Patnaik deciding to start a community, so they organized a happy hour in Fells Point.

Quickly it became Payal, Maggie, Elliott Plack, & me organizing a formal meetup. Over the next many months, we met a lot of wonderful people, we (as a community) taught each other a lot, and we had way too much fun along the way.

Family Photo!

It's sad to know Geomore is coming to an end. It became a pretty big part of my life, and I think I can say the other organizers felt the same. At the same time, it is enormously exciting to think about what the mapping community in Baltimore will do next as someone either takes over Geomore or converts it to a Maptime.

Here are some of the lessons we learned, organizing Geomore:

TL;DR

  • You need to have your meetup where the people are, near public transport if possible.
  • Bring connectors for Mac and Windows laptops for the projectors.
  • You will make mistakes, be transparent with your community.
  • You will need at least one super strong organizer to keep things going.
  • Get to know your audience, and give them a diverse set of topics/presentations. Try not to blab on about how awesome Javascript or Python are to people that aren't interested.

Cost
Hosting a monthly meetup can be expensive. It is $20/month to maintain the meetup.com group, and if you want to get pizzas and sodas and beers, expect to pay like $150. We usually drew between 13 and 18 people. Early on, we had an incredible corporate sponsor that covered our pizza and food (and space) at URS.

Location
This seemed to fall in to place most months, but was surprisingly difficult at some points. The first few times we met were as a happy hour in a bar, which was good for shooting the shit but bad for getting into actually making things, or how things worked, or how to do cool mapping stuff.

Then we were in the Natty Boh building, which was great. URS let us use their office for free! We had a small conference room where we were able to hotspot our phones for the presentations. It was right next to a kitchen which was conducive to keeping the beers and sodas cold.

Later, the Baltimore Node let us host our meetups there, for free. It was a win/win for both parties. Being at the node kept new people visiting their space and got a few new members in their ranks. We noticed, in addition to the free space, the demographics of our meetup changed. We had the same Geo-professionals that came before plus people that were either interesting in mapping, or use mapping as a small part of their job or for a cause they support. It was pretty awesome getting all the different perspectives.

We also discovered having a place in the center of town vs outskirts in Canton helped because a lot of our people did not have cars.

Email Lists
Own and protect it. In 2014, TUGis sponsored a drinkup/social. We didn't really think anything about it and directed people to sign up through an eventbrite link that TUGis had sent us. TUGis then used the eventbrite signup list for marketing purposes. We got some backlash from some guy. You can see that here. The thing we took away from this is, in the future, be very clear that people were signing up for a sponsored event through the sponsor and not through Geomore.

Organizing Group
Payal was the glue that held our meetup together. Without her, nothing would have worked out right. She was super organized and kept the wheels on track. Someone will need to wrangle the cats together (and it is surprisingly difficult and non-stop) to organize people talking, keeping in contact with the event space, sending out messages to the community, etc. It was much larger than anyone thought and without Payal, nothing would have happened.

Presentations
It became very difficult to get (high quality) speakers. We had one or two speakers where it became a sales pitch or people looking for free work for their project. Between the organizers, we probably gave talks more than half the months because we would often have a hard time finding people.

The crowd that came for presentations was also definitely analyst types or business types (not developers). I talked a lot about very technical/programming things which would only resonate with between 0 and maybe 3 people in the audience. The BEST presentations (in terms of engaged attendees and number of attendees) were given by people that used mapping for their cause or for an interesting social topic.

Payal Presenting Misc
Have plenty of laptop-to-monitor connectors on hand so people can connect to the projector. And on that note, you need a projector.

The photos used in this set are copyright Elliott Plack - See more here

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