The Meetup Cookbook (Fantastic Group Resource)

Link post

(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.

Other notes

  • 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!