How to Run a Meetup

Step-by-step open source guide

iOSoho and Women in iOS Meetups

I’m an organizer of the largest iOS meetup in NYC, iOSoho, and I started the Women in iOS meetup, the only NYC meetup focused on highlighting the work female iOS developers do in the industry.

Dec 2016 Women in iOS meetup at Tumblr

The format is a monthly event with two technical talks by lead iOS developers and 150–200 people attending iOSoho, and 40–70 people attending Women in iOS meetup each month.

In this blog post, I will describe and open source everything I do to run a successful tech meetup. Feel free to reach out with any questions if I haven’t covered something.


FAQ

What does a meetup organizer do?

It depends largely on what kind of meetup (industry, format) you are running, but in my case, my responsibilities as an organizer are to:

  • find speakers
  • find venues (companies that would like to host an event at their office)
  • organize events
  • be the leader of the community

How much time does it take?

This is the most frequent question that I get asked. The answer depends on various factors (frequency of meetup events, same venue vs. rotating venues, etc.) and on the organizer’s management skills.

For me, organizing iOSoho is never a hair-on-fire like experience, unless a speaker cancels which is rare. It’s the beginning of March now, and I have all events, venues, and speakers scheduled and booked through August 2017.

I would say it takes me a couple of hours a month for back-and-forth email communication to secure speakers and venues, and the most active communication happens on the day of the event.


Meetup Organizer’s Tools

  • Meetup.com website and mobile app to schedule and announce events, and manage RSVPs
  • Google Sheets to manage events calendar, and the list of speakers and venues (sample)
  • Google Forms for surveys, special case RSVP forms, etc.
  • My Meetup Organizer iOS app to upload multiple photos at once to an event on meetup.com
Meetup organizer’s dashboard on meetup.com

Calendar/Scheduling

iOSoho and Women in iOS Meetups are monthly events. It means that I need to book ~ 24 speakers and 12 venues a year for each meetup. Sometimes, we have workshops (those take longer than a 20-min talk, so that’s one speaker per event), or lightning talks, so the number of speakers may vary.

I schedule all events three to four months ahead of time. In March, I’ll be planning June or July events. Usually, anything further than that is too far in the future for speakers and venues to confirm.

If somebody reaches out to me offering to host/speak, and everything is booked for several months in advance, I ask them if I can pencil them in for the next available month and check back two to three months before the event to confirm. It usually works well for everyone.

Then I just add those reminders into my calendar and check back as scheduled. Google sheets events calendar also helps to have an overview of all your upcoming events at a glance and to keep everything in check.

Calendar reminder

Tips

  1. Start with securing a venue and a date. Check with the office you’re asking to host the meetup if the date works for them. iOSoho is always the second Monday of the month, and Women in iOS is first or third Wednesday of the month. We, as well as the host company, usually like to have someone from their office to represent and to give a talk at the meetup. It’s free publicity for the company, an opportunity to showcase and discuss their tech stack, and make hiring announcements to 100–200 engineers in the room. That means you already have one of the two speakers.
  2. Then secure a second speaker. Since you already have a specific date, it’s a lot easier to have the person to confirm and to commit to the event.

Venues

I usually have little trouble booking the venues. I only need 12 a year for each meetup, and I already ran out of options. With venues, you can book them all a year ahead (“pencil in and check back” strategy). I think, by November 2016, I had all the venues booked for iOSoho for almost all months in 2017.

I left a few open slots in case something interesting came up. I also wanted to see what offices are people interested in to visit based on the feedback form I circled after the last meetup of 2016.

The feedback form responses

Tips

With venues, the important things to check are:

  • capacity

What is the max headcount at your space?

  • address

Can you confirm your office address and floor? Is there a preferred entrance for guests to use that evening?

  • security

What is your building security like? What do guests need to enter your building smoothly that evening? Would this require a check-in desk?


Food and Drinks

Hosts are responsible for:

  • Providing pizza/catering of their choice, and drinks (water, beer, soft drinks)
  • A/V (audio/video) setup: projector, screen, mics, cords/plugs to connect speakers’ laptops to the projector

After we confirm all the details (capacity, address, security, etc.), I check in about a week and a half before the event to see if they have any questions.

Then, on the day of, I send them the RSVP list for the security desk and for the headcount to order pizza and drinks.


RSVP List

Any meetup organizer will tell you that usually events have a 30% — 50% no-show rate. Rookie organizers set up the RSVP limit to their exact capacity. For example, if your event space can fit 75 people, and you set up the RSVP limit to 75, only 30–40 people will show up, and you’ll have a half empty room. No bueno!

When sending the RSVP list to hosts, it’s important to explain that only 2/3 of the people show up, so they should order accordingly. Always set up your RSVP limit higher than your event space capacity.

Getting ready for the March 2017 Women in iOS meetup at BuzzFeed

Speakers

Reaching Out To Speakers

At the initial conversation, a speaker needs to know: the date, the format, and the topic. Most of our speakers are the meetup attendees, so they are quite familiar with the format.

This is the email template I use when reaching out to speakers:

The topic is up to you. If it’s helpful, here’s the list of topics that members of the community expressed interest in.
The best talks tend to:
- be specific to a challenge you faced in ramping/scaling/growing
- share code snippets (this crowd *loves* code snippets)
- show how you beat the challenge using such-and-such pattern, framework, library, method, or hack
- and, of course, iOS/Mobile specific
Format is 2 x 18~20 minute talks each night followed by 10–15 minute Q&A for each. The crowd is, as mentioned, iOS/mobile dev only, so the questions tend to be pretty superb, and enlightening. I learn something new every time, which is why I enjoy organizing these so much!

Useful links: Topics Guide for Speakers

Mike Lazer-Walker on Using JavaScript in iOS at the Jan 2017 iOSoho meetup at Meetup

Talk Title And Description

After I confirm with a speaker, and about a month before the event, I ask them to send me their talk title and description, and a short bio paragraph. See an example here.

Speaker Details

A couple of days before the event, I send out a reminder email to speakers with the subject line “iOSoho/Women in iOS Speaker Details” that contains the address and event details.

I never had a speaker not show up, but a couple of times they came right on the dot, and it made me quite nervous. So I started sending these reminders to arrive between 6:30 PM — 7:00 PM for a quick A/V check and setup.

Here’s a template I use:

Hey -name-,
Looking forward to your talk Wednesday night!
I wanted to include a few notes about the event:
The address is:
111 E 18th St, New York, NY
Doors open at 6:30 PM. Please bring your ID. The entrance is on 18th street between Park and Irving under “BuzzFeed” signage. The floor is the 13th floor.
You should aim to arrive @ 6:30 pm so we can do a quick A/V check.
Pizza + Beer and Seltzer will be provided.
That should be it but let me know if you have additional questions.
See you then!
Ayuna

Full disclaimer: this email was sent to me by Marc Brown, the organizer of the Brooklyn Swift Developers Meetup, where I was giving my talk on iOS Localization in November 2016. I copied the structure and started using it for my own needs. 😁


Volunteers

Rarely but sometimes, you may need help with checking in guests, setting up the space, etc. Reach out to your community and ask if anyone is interested to help. It’s always a good idea to keep a list of these people, so you can reach out to them when/if needed.

A/V setup at the Facebook office for March 2017 iOSoho meetup

Meetup Checklist

A Week Before The Event

  • Check with the venue and hosts if they have any questions
  • If RSVPs are low, promote the event and make announcements on Twitter/LinkedIn/Slack chat groups/send an email to the mailing list
My go-to template tweet for promoting upcoming events

The Day Before The Event

  • Send an email asking attendees to update their RSVP if they’re no longer coming so somebody else can use their spot
  • Tweet about the event (see the template above)
  • Email speakers with event details (see the template above)

The Day Of The Event

  • Send the RSVP list to the venue
  • Update intro slides with WiFi network/pass for the event, upcoming events, and announcements (I use Google Slides or Deckset app)
  • Print/bring name tags
  • Tweet during the event, post pictures

After The Event

  • Send thank you emails to hosts, speakers, and volunteers
  • Share links to slides from the talks with the meetup attendees

Pro Tip

There’s this wonderful feature in Gmail inbox that I use all the time for all my meetup organizer needs — canned responses. Save all your email templates as canned responses and insert them into your email with one click.

Time saver! Canned responses in Gmail inbox

Thank you for joining the tour of my meetup organizer workflow. You have all the info you need to start/run your own meetup. Let me know if you have any other questions!

One last question that I haven’t answered in this blog post yet but I hear frequently is:

How Did You Get Involved With the iOSoho Meetup?

iOSoho meetup is the most prominent iOS meetup in NYC. 150–200 engineers attend the events each month, and the talks are presented by the senior iOS developers who work at the leading tech companies in NYC.

Marc Cenedella, the founder of the meetup and the CEO of Ladders, has been the founder, leader, and the organizer of the meetup for the past three years.

In contrast, I’m new to the industry, I’m young, and I’m a minority woman in a white-male-dominant field and the tech meetup scene.

I think a lot of people were surprised when Marc announced that I’ll be taking over the meetup as a lead organizer.

How did you end up leading the iOSoho Meetup?

I get asked this question very often. The answer is simple: I asked. 😂

This is the exact message I sent to Marc in April 2016:

How did you get involved with the iOSoho meetup? — I asked.

The first event that I was helping out with was a large event hosted at Facebook in May 2016, and I coordinated all the communication with the Facebook team. The event went well, and I then became the main point of contact for all events.

I did a good job and gradually took more and more responsibilities, going from a person behind the scenes to taking a more public role i.e. making announcements and introducing speakers.

In summer 2016 I started the Women in iOS Meetup under iOSoho umbrella with two main goals:

  • diversify and bring more women and other underrepresented groups into the larger iOSoho community,
  • attract more women speakers to iOSoho.
Find a woman in tech 🤔 — at the Aug 2016 iOSoho meetup at Ladders

Starting Your Own Meetup

Meetups are like companies. They start and they die out, they depend on their leadership, and they attract different customers.

If you’re starting your own meetup, as in developing any product, you have to answer two main questions:

  • what does it do?
  • who is it for?

Concept

Define your concept, stay focused, and adjust as you go.

What is iOSoho’s concept? iOSoho is a senior developer focused monthly event with two 20-minute technical talks followed by pizza, drinks, and networking.

When you run a meetup, everyone has an idea for how you should do it. Appreciate the feedback, always thank people for it, never take it personal, but stay true to your course and to your vision of what your meetup is and should be.

iOSoho has been running for three years before I took over. With iOSoho, I inherited its structure, culture, format, but I also brought new energy to it, got several women speakers (for the first time ever!) to present at iOSoho, engaged the community through feedback surveys, and experimented with the format of lightning talks per the community’s request.

Women in iOS Meetup

I started the Women in iOS Meetup as none existed in NYC. I had to define its concept and answer the questions:

  • who is this meetup for?
  • what’s the meetup’s format?
  • is it women-only, or can men attend?
  • etc., etc., etc.

These were some of my thoughts:

Topics

Too often women in tech are asked to speak about their experience working in tech as a woman, instead of their technical contributions. This limits women’s chances to show their expertise, and I wanted to avoid this. Women in iOS Meetup, like iOSoho, is focused on technical talks presented by female iOS developers.

Environment

I wanted to create a friendly, non-intimidating, comfortable environment for those who wouldn’t attend a regular iOSoho meetup for the same reason I once was scared to do: the lack of women in the room.

Speaking Opportunities and Role Models

I think one of the problems that contribute to the fact that women in tech are a minority is the lack of role models and lack of visibility of female coders.

Women in iOS Meetup features talks by both junior and senior level developers.

For junior developers, I want to create an opportunity to practice public speaking in a safe and comfortable environment before they venture out to larger venues. We won’t have more women present at technical conferences, if there is no way to get your feet wet under less pressure.

When senior developers present, I want the women in the audience to see them as role models and as leaders who they could become in the future.

Hannah Mittelstaedt, mobile engineer at Etsy, on Etsy’s Ship tool at Dec 2016 iOSoho meetup

Diversity

The goal of the meetup is to bring more women and other underrepresented groups into the larger iOS community. However, our events are open to the general public.

Before our first ever Women in iOS Meetup event on September 20, 2016, at Betaworks, a lot of people were asking me if it’s open to men. My answer was “I don’t know.”

My decision was to see how the first event went, ask the community, and go from there. I’m a customer-oriented developer, and I prefer to define my product based on user data, not on my own ideas of what the user wants.

I asked the question at the first meetup, sent out the survey, and the majority of responders said that it should be open to all, but the presenters should be female developers only. The answer below summarizes well the responses I got:

I think that it is important for everyone — men included — in the tech community to hear female speakers and to engage in discussions about how much females are contributing to the field.

Thus, the events are open to everyone, but highlight the work female iOS developers do in the industry.

Empathy

A lot of men who never attended the Women in iOS Meetup but are interested in topics covered, reach out to me asking if the events are open to men. A lot of them confess to me later that it took them some courage to show up at a meetup titled “Women in iOS”.

I see it as a great empathetic exercise, because that’s the feeling most women have attending just any tech meetup. Since the majority of attendees are usually male, female developers often worry that they may not feel comfortable in a room where there are no other women.

Firebase database workshop with Julianne Goyena at Nov 2016 Women in iOS Meetup

Being a Leader

When starting/running a meetup, your main focus should be on building the community, and as a leader of this community, you have an obligation to speak up about issues like equality and diversity. Most often, it’s scary and uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.

I’m relocating for work and leaving NYC soon, and I’m handing the iOSoho and Women in iOS Meetups leadership to new organizers: Marc Brown, and Chloe Aquino and Annie Tung respectively.

I’m extremely grateful for this experience of being a lead organizer of iOSoho and founder of the Women in iOS Meetup, and for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, and to make so many great connections! I will surely miss this amazing, seemingly intimidating, friendly, positive, supportive, awesome community of NYC iOS developers! ❤️

Me at the iOSoho meetup at Facebook in March 2017