How to host a meetup — a hands on experience

Photo by Carlos Arthur M.R on Unsplash

Have you ever wanted to set up your own meetup and did not know how? Have you ever wondered what problems you might run into and what you get in return? Well, you have come to the right place. In this article, I am going to describe our journey to host a meetup in EcoVadis. We are going to look into the details of what we had to prepare for, what we gained from it and whether it was worth the hassle in the first place.

Nowadays, the culture of sharing is reaching its peak. Huge companies going open source are no surprise anymore. Thanks to Wikipedia, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, edX and similar services, access to knowledge has never been easier. People crave information and knowledge more than ever but it does not come without challenges. The more sources of knowledge you have, the harder it is to pick the right one. And picking a source that yields the highest value is key. After all, in these busy times our free time is ever more precious.

For any individual looking to not only learn but also to adapt a given technique quickly, practical experience has an edge over theory. It promotes sharing based on real-life examples, stories of ups and downs, decisions and reasoning behind them. What most of the current techniques lack, is an interaction with a lecturer and other trainees.

So it was about time we took a step back and went back to the roots, combined the best of both worlds. We wanted a way to present real-life problems and answers but do it in person, offline, with the possibility to question the ideas and actively participate. To be honest, we did not reinvent the wheel, the solution has already been on the market for some time. We simply organized our own meetup and what follows are the lessons learned from this event.

Why?

Culture of quality and constant strive of technical excellence has become our DNA. We could not have achieved this without an endless desire to know and understand more. And it does not matter whether we are talking about a business process, a complicated workflow or maybe an implementation detail or a technique. This drive is essential, as it helps to spark ideas. It motivates you to take more, but also to give back more. “How?”, you might ask. Simply in the form of seeking constructive criticism. Looking for ways to challenge the solution, to see the perspective of others.

“You can do that with other developers in your company” you might say — and that is true. But, there is a degree of bias when we are talking with someone that knows the domain on a similar level as we do.

To expand our knowledge, we started to participate in the DDD-WAW meetups. The group connects developers that would like to get more understanding about Domain-Driven Design. Anyone can become a lecturer and share his findings with the others but must also expect comments and different points of view. After participating in a few events and successfully combining knowledge from the meetup with our real-life work, our DNA kicked in. How can we know if we have put the gained knowledge to good use? How can we know if we could have done it better? How to inspire constructive discussion about our solution? We decided to host our event within the DDD-WAW structure.

How?

Hosting such a meetup is not necessarily something hard, but there are a few matters to consider and the better you plan — the fewer things will surprise you at the least convenient time.

There are a few things that have to be taken care of:

  • Announcement
  • Selecting date
  • Choosing the venue
  • Defining the formula
  • Choosing the presenter
  • Preparing the agenda
  • Optionally, a budget for snacks

The adverts

How to get people with similar interests to join the event? Where to look for them and where to announce it? You can follow a few different approaches here, depending on the subject you are going to present. If you already have a robust social network presence and know people will be interested, you can use LinkedIn or Facebook to announce it. However, social networks are broad, so look for discussion groups sharing the same interest to get people that are more keen to join. Since we have already participated in meetups, we knew where we could find our audience. DDD-WAW operates within the Meetup.com portal. It is a platform for people with common interests, forming discussion groups and hosting events. This way, we had the infrastructure and advertisement channel available out of the box.

The date

So easy, yet quite complicated — the day of the week will define how much time will you have to present your topic. Friday seems tempting, but a lot of people prefer to commit to spending this time with their family and friends so it might prove to be the least favorable. Beginning of the week also seemed rather unpleasant. After a short discussion within the team, we decided to go for Wednesday. To us at least, midweek seemed reasonable, keeping in mind that the event takes time after work.

The venue

First of all, it has to be capable of accommodating all the participants and it should provide all the needed facilities, like a place to leave visitors belongings, toilets and enough sitting space. We opted to host it in our office. By moving desks around we managed to create quite a big area that could serve our needs. It sparked some challenges though — we had to get the approval of the office management and security (both IT and physical). Since we adapted our working space, we had to inform everyone that we were moving their stuff around. We had to consider where to store their personal belongings (good we have plenty of meeting rooms) and also how to quickly recreate the office space back to working condition the day after. We closed some of the office parts to limit the possible wanderers. The same with the Ethernet ports and guest WiFi — we took caution to not forget about anything. The backup solution that we considered was using an external co-working space; some of those are keen to provide you with space in exchange for advertising possibilities.

The formula

You can do an ordinary lecture, or you can go for something more engaging, it all depends on the subject and on what you want to achieve. Since we relied on high engagement, the workshop seemed like the right way to go; each chapter started with an explanation of the concepts and ended with exercise. Since we had multiple people wanting to participate, we decided to split participants into groups, each of them having one of our engineers as an internal trainer for the prepared exercises. Keep in mind that such formula tends to require some flip charts, office tools, and so on. Make sure you have everything needed in stock to make it a success.

The presenter

Now that we knew in what format we wanted to present in, it was time to decide who was the lucky one. The presenter would need some spare time to prepare for the role. Writing speaker notes will help to keep the presentation going, especially for beginners in the world of events. The whole team helped with rehearsals to improve the lecture quality. Willingness to improve is the most important aspect — no one was born a professional speaker, so do not be too hard on yourself, thinking you are not good enough. Training is the key.

The agenda

Knowing the formula, we started to work on the schedule — we had to roughly plan how much time each point would take, measure if we had enough time to do the exercise and also to recap after each section. We refined it until the very last moment but in the end, thanks to this, we were confident that there was enough time and content. In case our main subject would end quicker than we thought or in case the pizzas would arrive late, we had prepared a bonus part just to keep people engaged.

The pizza and memorabilia

Since the event was supposed to take 3 hours, we felt it was considerate to prepare some catering for the participants to help them not lose focus. We decided pizzas, table snacks and drinks were going to do the trick, but it required a budget and an upfront preparation. In our case, we asked for help from our office management team, and it made the prep process seamless for us. We also asked for some branded goods to give away to create a long-lasting impression. Since we care about the environment, we went with something related — paper pens with our logo on them.

After considering all of the above, we patiently waited until the event date.

The Meetup preparations

All of the available spots were taken within minutes from posting the announcement about the event, so we knew the topic was interesting enough to be presented. We finished up our typical day of work and started to prepare the office at an earlier announced time. Since we planned carefully and anticipated as much as we could up front, we knew exactly where to put all the chairs and desks that were not needed — this part went smoothly. Something to remember — you will never start on time, so take this into account when planning. As space filled up with people, a small portion of stage-fright kicked in. But as we started it was smooth sailing from there on — I did the short welcome intro and handed over the microphone to our main presenter. Everything went according to the plan and the agenda held up nicely. The chosen formula did a perfect job, we introduced the participants to our business domain, explained the feature we worked on and offered an exercise to see what an unbiased mind would do with a newly acquired knowledge. Then we recapped our approach and discussed the pros and cons with everyone. The discussion was not over with the presentation; it continued over the pizza break and beyond. After waving goodbye to the last participant, we started to rebuild the working space.

Was it worth it?

Definitely! Looking at the satisfaction survey, we did quite a good job, and from our perspective, we fulfilled our hunger to challenge craftsmanship. We gave back to the community — but also gained from it at the same time. We are considering hosting another meetup in a not so distant future. From my point of view — it was an exciting activity that created more bonds within the team and also integrated us even more by achieving non-work-related goals.

As you can see, this is not exactly rocket science. However, proper planning can ensure that the organization of the event will be a breeze. Also, I highly encourage you to participate in the meetup community or even go as far as starting one. You definitely will not regret it.

Everything we do is toward one mission : Envisioning a global marketplace where sustainability influences every business decision — improving economies, people’s lives and the world we all depend on.

Recommended from Medium

Employee Journey Mapping: Is it the key to great employee experience?

Why Jobs Never Live Up To My Expectations

Preparing For The Future Of Work: Dr Melissa Venable Of BestColleges On The Top Five Trends To Watc

Life Lessons from interviews..

How to Successfully Benefit from People’s Knowledge

When your dream job starts turning into a nightmare

Remote Work Focus Tips — My work / laundry balance 💻 🧺

Can We Please End the Term “Office Culture”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Grzegorz Szwedzik

Grzegorz Szwedzik

Engineering Team Manager @ Ecovadis www.linkedin.com/in/grzegorz-szwedzik

More from Medium

Selected Readings on Digital Self-Determination for Migrants

A “Consulthon” to overcome challenges

Meet the team — Jorge