I usually enjoy MeetUps, but unfortunately they aren’t always awesome. Enduring miserable meetups can be a testing experience at the best of times, and they’re especially awful at the end of a long day. In this post I explain my thoughts on what to look for, and what to avoid, when it comes to user group meetings and MeetUps.
There’s nothing worse than enduring presenters who are not confident, knowledgeable, nor well organised. The worst presenters attempt to present material they’ve recently learned, nervously, to a more knowledgeable audience.
This occurred recently and inspired this post. In that case the presenter was so poor it resulted in the audience attempting to direct the speaker with questions, and by interjecting with inaudible elucidations of poorly presented concepts. That presenter had lost his latest revision of his slides, that and his inability to work the projector should’ve been red flags to quickly exit and avoid subjecting myself to an entirely awful presentation…
Arriving to a room of relative strangers, grouped in small huddles, who ignore new people they don’t know is a terrible way to encourage new-comers to continue attending. Good organisers take responsibility for encouraging the members of the group to get to know new people, and themselves make an effort to work the room and introduce new people to existing members.
Be wary of MeetUps that cost money, in my experience cost is inversely proportional to the quality of the meetup. Most well organised meetups have secured corporate sponsorship and do not charge attendance. While I can appreciate there are some benefits in having some small charge to attend, in my experience only the worst organized meetups charge a fee for attendance.
Check the venue
Venues need to be appropriate to host the user group meeting or MeetUp. Corporate boardrooms, presentation spaces, university lecture theatres and halls are usually good places for meetups. The size of the venue should be appropriate for the audience. An office lunchroom is often not large enough for people to comfortably fit, on the other hand a large lecture theatre is imposing and does not provide adequate opportunity to socialize for a small audience.
Audio and video requirements should be considered and microphones provided for the speakers in larger venues. If question and answers are to be done, then the microphone needs to travel to the person asking the question, or the question repeated by the speaker prior to answering. Not being able to hear the speaker clearly is more common than you might think, and an important consideration when organising a successful MeetUp.
The ability to view the presentation material is also critical. A low hung monitor at the front of a meeting room is not good if there’s a sizable audience because from about the third row it’s completely impossible to see the slide deck or the live coding.
Location and parking are also considerations for the choice of venue. Many people will drive to the venue, so there should be adequate parking near the venue. For those that don’t drive, availability of public transport is an important consideration.
The Lessons Learned
In the end there’s almost always something that can be taken from a miserable meetup, even if only that you won’t attend that one again… and use it as fodder for a blog post. While I appreciate it can be difficult to maintain a high-quality of user-group meetings for organisers, and is especially difficult to find good speakers that can competently present to a highly critical audience, it is a worthwhile endeavour and for that I’m truly thankful, to you.