8 Secrets to Hosting a Successful Tech Meetup
Editor’s Note: This content originally appeared as a guest post on Cloudera’s VISION blog back in January. Wish you’d come to the meetup Evan describes below? We’ll be hosting Hadoop workshops as part of the NYC Open Data meetup group in our office on Monday, April 7th and Thursday, April 10th. Click the links for more information.
Working with cutting-edge technologies requires that you keep up to date with an ever-changing software landscape. At Conductor, we use Cloudera’s distributed computing platform, with its powerful suite of management and diagnostic tools, to help us get the most out of our Hadoop cluster. Fortunately for us, Cloudera is continuously improving their product with new features and enhancements to its functionality. So how do we know we’re staying current with this fast-moving technology — or with any fast-moving technology, for that matter? Conductor and companies like us have discovered that meetups are a great way to keep connected. We recently hosted a Cloudera user group meetup at our office, and our team was rewarded with a step-by-step guide to Cloudera’s latest innovations, presented and explained by the creators themselves.
Whether you’re using, evaluating, or maintaining an evolving technology, tech meetups are a great way to learn from or dispense your knowledge to a community that shares your interests. So how do you host a tech meetup? In order to be successful, you’ll need to be prepared. We’d like to help by offering a checklist of our secrets to hosting successful tech meetups!
1. Greet your guests at the door
First impressions matter! Your meetup attendees have taken time out of their busy after-work schedules to get themselves to your event; the last thing they need is to have to wander the building in search of your office. First, let your building’s security desk know to expect visitors. Then make things even easier for your guests by greeting them at the door and directing them to the meetup space. A warm welcome makes the transition from workday to evening event a lot smoother. Here’s me and Caitlin in the lobby, extending a helping hand to arriving guests.
2. Add context to the event with co-branding
Got wall-mounted displays? Put them to good use. Co-branding makes it clear who’s responsible for bringing everyone together and provides a visual reminder for people to be on good meetup behavior. They’re also an opportunity for the companies involved to build valuable name recognition. Make sure to set up and publicize a Twitter hashtag — as we’ve done for the Cloudera user group meetup. This allows attendees to post interesting developments as they happen and widens your audience beyond the scope of the people in the room.
3. Provide plenty of snacks
No one should go hungry, least of all when they’re in your care as a meetup host. The golden hour for most meetups is right after work and ends well past dinnertime. Hungry people are easily distracted, so maintaining interest goes hand in hand with keeping appetites satisfied. Here we’ve provided a nice charcuterie spread and a healthy selection of vegetables. Trays of small, non-messy snacks are perfect for sharing with strangers while socializing.
4. Stock up on refreshments
Let the drinks flow! It’s no secret that alcohol makes an excellent social lubricant. A room full of strangers can quickly become a room full of friends under the right circumstances — i.e., a pint of good beer. We stocked up on red and white wine ahead of the meetup, and kept a full kegerator on stand-by in case case we ran out. Interesting conversations often provide the spark for good ideas, and a relaxed atmosphere is the key to hosting popular, well-attended meetups.
5. Set aside some time to mingle
It’s nice to get to know each other. Give people time to socialize before jumping into the presentations. As users of the same technology, we often face the same challenges. Perhaps a fellow attendee has the answers to your questions, or has found a novel solution to a problem that’s stumped you. Sharing your experiences with the guests and speakers can crystallize your thoughts and give you topics to focus on as you go into the presentations.
6. Provide ample space
People need room to work. Whether it’s taking notes on an iPad or pacing back and forth in front of a slide deck, physical space is critical to an effective meetup talk. Find the most open part of your office — or move some desks out of the way — and set up as many seats as will fit comfortably. As you can see, there were no empty chairs at our Cloudera meetup, but the attendees had plenty of personal space.
7. Be prepared with questions
Satisfy your curiosity. If the presentations are the main course, the Q&A that follows is the best part — dessert. When a presenter opens the floor to questions, they’re giving you valuable access to their insight and authority. This is the moment to request features, get the inside scoop, and collaborate on solutions to your technology problems. Don’t be shy! The same questions are likely to be on your neighbor’s mind. And it’s in your speaker’s interest to bridge a gap in understanding or make a note of an issue as something to work on. Questions and feedback are appreciated by presenters and fellow attendees alike. Here are Patrick Angeles and Josh Wills, fielding questions about the Cloudera Manager API and Oryx, respectively.
8. Take advantage of the opportunity to network
The afterparty is for making friends. The presenters are off the clock, the attendees are relaxed, and as the host, you should feel good about a job well done. Keep your business cards ready to exchange as you collect contact information for the people you’ve been talking to — chances are, you’ll want to remember who they are when you see them at the next meetup. Or you may want to reach out to them for help or advice at some point. Who knows — maybe they’ll be looking for a job in the near future and they’ll remember the wonderful time they had at your office. (And if they attended your meetup, there’s a strong chance that person’s skill set is a good fit for your hiring profile.) It’s nice to know that they’ll have your contact information if that time comes.
As the Cloudera user group made their way to a nearby bar, they were joined by Conductor engineers for a meeting of the minds and an extra helping of good times. Getting to know your technology vendor by playing host to their community can transform your relationship from open source adoption to a truly collaborative partnership.
See you at our next meetup!