(This was also posted on LessWrong a few months ago, and has comments there.)
I love single-page websites. A fire still burns in my heart for What Is Effective Altruism?, even if it’s a bit old-fashioned.
Today, The Meetup Cookbook lit another one of those fires. It’s almost everything you need to run a meetup, in a box. (The authors run rationality rather than EA meetups, but those are pretty similar on the level of “planning and logistics”.)
Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
I make a schedule of the planned topics about six months in advance in a spreadsheet [...] This makes it extremely easy to post the meetups every week. Reducing friction for ourselves means that the meetup happens more reliably.
As a former organizer for two different EA groups, just looking at that spreadsheet (photo on website) makes me feel calmer than I ever did when I was planning events week by week.
Should I ask for RSVPs, so I know how many people are coming? No. Probably don’t bother, it never works [...] most people seem to like to be able to decide day-of whether they’re going to come [...] RSVPs are usually poorly correlated with attendance.
Another strategy is to say “I’m going to be at the location from X-Y PM, guaranteed,” and hang out the entire time to see if anyone shows up. This way you catch people even if they show up very, very late—which does happen, in our experience. This is more useful if you have very low attendance, or you’re starting a new meetup and are not sure what to expect.
The “guaranteed location” strategy is also the best one I’ve found. Schedules are hard; people miss trains, lose their keys, get out of work late, get caught up in a conversation on the way over… and in all those cases, they sometimes turn around and go home rather than show up late. “Stop by whenever” won’t work for all meetups (sometimes you need to prep in advance based on attendance, etc.), but it’s a great way to get started.
You might feel awkward about taking charge of a group. That’s okay, and if you feel really uncomfortable, you can lampshade it by saying something like “Hey, so I guess I’m running this thing.” But you don’t really need to say things like that. Meetups are low-stakes. It’s not a dominance move to set up and run one; it’s a gift you give to other people. You may not be the best person possible to lead this group of people, but you’re the one who showed up and is doing your best, and that’s what matters.
Yes! As it turns out, people actually tend to like other people who set up cool things for them, and give them a chance to sit back and relax and listen. Even if you make a mistake somewhere, there’s a good chance no one but you will notice. If someone notices, there’s a good chance they won’t mind. If they mind, there’s a good chance they’ll ask to help instead of getting mad. If they get mad, the most likely result is that they just don’t show up next time. Which really isn’t so bad.
When I reflect on my organizing experience, I remember one major problem not covered by the guide: I’m not very good at talking to strangers. I get anxious at the thought of a room filling with people I have to quickly befriend. Some ways to get around this:
Have two people. That is, even if you’re the one doing most or all of the planning, having someone you know come along and share the social duties relieves a lot of pressure. When I was struggling to start the Yale University group, my co-founder was really helpful in this way.
Message people ahead of time. This doesn’t have to mean taking RSVPs (as noted above, those are of limited value). It can also mean asking people to join a Facebook group if they want to hear about events (less pressure than promising to attend an event) and then sending a friendly message to every new member, introducing yourself and asking an icebreaker question. (The Cookbook offers some good questions for this.)
You’re missing out if you don’t look at one of the Cookbook’s other links: Spencer Greenberg’s Better Formats for Group Interaction. If some of the Cookbook’s activities don’t feel like they’d apply to your EA group, maybe you’ll find inspiration here!