Monthly Archives: July 2012

Adding value

By guest blogger Eve

Call me lazy.

It’s true: One of the reasons I like to do things with Meetups is that the leaders do some of the work for me. If it’s hiking, they scout the trail, and they figure out times and trains/carpools. If it’s eating, they find out about new restaurants, and they make the dinner reservations.

Hiking boots!

I went on a hike this past weekend that used mass transit to get us to the hike. However, this wasn’t a simple “get off the train and go,” as the park was a mile from any stop. The leader had spent a lot of time (including a scouting trip) to find the closest transit and then to find palatable routes to the park, minimizing road walking. Even if I had been willing, I don’t know the area well enough to have done that kind of planning. The group enabled me to see an area I thought was off-limits without a car. That is one reason I hike with a group.

But I see far too many Meetup events like this one:

You are responsible for your own travel to [out-of-town location]. You need to make your own reservations for the campground. You can choose the route you want to go; we will not hike together.

At that point, I scratch my head and ask, “Why I am hiking with a group?”

The key to your job as an organizer is in the name – organizer. That means it’s up to you to do more than pick a day and expect people to show up.

To be fair, an organizer can’t do everything. Nashville Hiking Meetup has held events at campgrounds without group sites, meaning that members had to book their own campsites. But NHM provides carpools and plans group outings for these events. For restaurant and movie meetups, it’s reasonable to expect members to buy their own food or tickets. And yes, given a map and an address, your members should be able to find their own way – to local events.

If you are asking your members to do much more than that, you are abdicating your responsibilities as an organizer. I know it’s a lot of work – I’ve done it. But that’s one advantage of having a deep leadership pool; you don’t have to do it every time.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a checklist of “the things a leader must organize on every event.” Events are too varied for that. As a general guideline, however, if the event is out of town or longer than a day, you should take some of the planning work out of the attendees’ hands. Arrange carpools (and let members opt out if they wish). Reserve a group site. Plan group activities. Give drivers turn-by-turn directions. Arrange group deals with a specific outfitter.

While many people use meetups to meet new people, the job of the organizer doesn’t stop with saying, “Come, meet cool people here at this time.” He or she has to add some additional value, and most of that value comes from the behind-the-scenes work of organizing and planning.

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Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City. See Eve’s Google+ profile here.

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Read your event questions (and respond!)

By guest blogger Eve

It’s good practice, as any trip leader knows, to read and respond to questions posted about an event. But it’s also worth noting what kinds of questions people ask. Many of them are preventable with better event descriptions, and it’s easier on you to furnish that information up front than to go back and answer it piecemeal. Pay attention to what kind of questions are being asked in your meetup, and learn to answer many before they are asked.

Some people will ask questions because they didn’t read the description carefully. It’s irritating, but that’s human nature. Some questions are logistical and cannot reasonably be answered in advance. For example, here in New York City, it’s impractical for out-of-town events to have a central departure point in the city, so the comments sections are often full of people asking for rides and other people announcing they have cars. The third kind of question is the problem: Where are we meeting? What does CDT mean? Can you provide more details? All of these questions should have been answered in the initial event description.

What, precisely, goes in an description will vary by the kind of event: Nashville Hiking Meetup uses a difficulty rating system for hikes, but it wouldn’t make sense for a movie or dinner meetup to do that, or even for NHM to rate its annual picnic as “strenuous.” However, every event description should answer these basics:

  • When and where is the event? Be sure to include an address or map whenever possible. “When” means a start and an end time.
  • What are we doing? Hiking? Dinner? Happy hour? Stitch ‘n bitch?
  • Are all abbreviations explained? I’m not telling you to spell out “5 p.m. in Seattle, WA.” But your event description shouldn’t require a crack team of cryptologists to decipher, especially if it’s aimed at newer members.
  • Who can attend? Does it require experience? Is it for the leadership team only? Are little kids or significant others welcome? What about dogs?
  • What does it cost? Are there admission fees? Bar tab minimums? Do members need to pay up front? What’s the refund policy?
  • Who is leading it? While Meetup makes us answer this one, event organizers should make sure their profile page includes a recognizable picture and an up-to-date bio — not your life story, but enough information to establish that you know something about this activity.
  • And let’s not forget about a descriptive name of your event. That can make or break your attendance numbers.

There may be other questions specific to your activity – hikers want a trail map, movie-goers like a link to trailers, recreational sports enthusiasts want to know if they need to form their own teams. Don’t expect people posting events to remember all these items off the top of their head; even experienced event organizers can inadvertently leave a key detail out. It can be helpful to have one or more event description template for organizers to start from, tailored toward your meetup’s activities.

If you don’t include the basics, members will ask about them. Some will forget to come back and check out the answers. Others will give up reading halfway down the page of questions. And yet others will say, “I don’t trust that this guy knows what he’s doing. I’ll find another group.” You don’t have very long to capture your members’ attention; sell them on the event the first time they see it.

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Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City.

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The missing leader

By guest blogger Eve

One of my friends recently moved to a new city and has been using Meetup to try to meet people. Her experience with Meetup in her old town was very positive, but in her new city she’s had less success. And much of it is because of one person, who we’ll call the Super Organizer.

Super Organizer is a classic entrepreneur who loves to start meetups. That’s great, but the problems occur because he doesn’t delegate and relinquish control to assistant organizers, and one person can only do so much. It’s hard to run five meetups well. Who ends up dealing with problems? No one. While it’s disappointing to try a meetup and find it poorly run, it’s much more discouraging to find out that all the local meetups in your area of interest are poorly run.

I recognize there are many ways to successfully structure your meetup’s management. However, there are certain activities that the Meetup system only lets the organizer do, such as receiving money or kicking out members. Because of this, organizers can’t sit back and let meetups run themselves.

Ultimately, no matter what, members need to feel confident that issues they experience will be dealt with. They don’t necessarily know (or care) who is the organizer versus who is an assistant organize or an event organizer. They just want to know that events are well-run and that problems will be dealt with.

A good organizer does the following:

  • Attends events. You don’t have to be at everything. You should be able to evaluate the competencies of the rest of the leadership team. You should have a sense if a certain type of event or venue isn’t working.
  • Talks to a variety of people. Don’t just speak to the leadership team or your friends. Draw out new members or those who seem uncomfortable. Be available to people who are experiencing inappropriate behavior.
  • Counsels or removes people who are causing problems. This ranges from making sure event leaders are safety-minded to banning members whose behavior is inappropriate.

Notice what I didn’t say: An organizer does not have to plan or lead a single event. That can be delegated. What can’t be delegated is the overall role of quality control.

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Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City.

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Cautions for last-minute events

By guest blogger Eve

Slow Time in Wrist Watch on Dry LeafI woke up one morning and checked my email. “Last-minute event,” one message said, sent at 1:38 a.m. The event itself was to begin at 9 a.m.

Many groups have experimented successfully with last-minute events. Announce a weekend hike on Friday, or an after-work happy-hour that morning, and you’ll get some excited attendees without previous plans. It’s not a good idea to make all events last-minute – some of your members aren’t as plugged in, and others just aren’t spontaneous – but they’re a good way to fill in gaps in the schedule or attract a slightly different crowd.

There is a limit, though, on how far you can push it. Members need sufficient time to not only decide to go but to gear up and plan transportation. How much time is necessary will vary by the kind of event. It’s probably safe to announce that post-work happy-hour at 11 a.m. Events that require specific equipment or attire, or are farther away, should have a longer lead time. Also, take into account what time of day you are posting at: At 1:38 a.m., most of your members are asleep, and many of them will not wake up in time for that 9 a.m. event.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a policy on last-minute events. How close to the big day before an event must be labeled last-minute? What is the minimum lead required time to post last-minute events? This is especially important for Meetups that allow any member to post events. Remember, while a full calendar is nice, not all events are worth doing. Members will get frustrated if they never see event announcements until it’s too late.

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Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City.

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Photo: Slow Time in Wrist Watch on Dry Leaf by epSos.de, on Flickr

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