The Oklahoma City WordPress Meetup group has been around since 2009. It was originally started by David North, tech enthusiast and geek. I started helping him with the group in late 2010 since I observed he was a busy guy with a heavy travel schedule and asked if I could help out. Since then, I’ve been arranging for speakers and sending out the monthly announcements.
When I first started co-organizing our WordPress group, I was looking for some direction on how to organize a really great meetup, but I didn’t find any articles, so my next step was to look at other WordPress meetup agendas and announcements to get ideas. That was more helpful. But quite frankly, experience is the best teacher and now that I’ve got quite a few meetups under my belt, I thought I’d write tips on what I’ve discovered.
A Little History First
I’m writing this is because Cory Miller, iThemes Founder, asked if I’d be a resource for an e-book he’s having written on ‘How to Organize a WordPress Meetup’. While I was writing my notes out and then speaking with Kevin Hendricks, the writer, I realized I had enough to make a great blog article and Kevin agreed. So while we’re waiting for the book to come out, (get on the iThemes mailing list or just check back at their site regularly to download great resources), I thought I’d share my thoughts on what has worked for us here in Oklahoma City.
Organizing a Great WordPress Meetup
I’d recommend getting a Meetup.com account. Meetup.com is a go-to for people searching for specific groups to get involved with. Meetup.com does have a monthly fee. Good News! The WordPress Foundation has proclaimed 2012 the year of the Meetup and they are putting systems in place at Meetup.com where WordPress organizers can register their groups at no charge – the Foundation will take care of this cost. Check it out here.
Make a Facebook Page. I haven’t done this yet, but thinking about it. It’s another resource and those members of the community already on Facebook might participate. Keep in mind someone needs to maintain, update and check messages here!
Venue needs to have a projector, desks/tables and of course wi-fi is a must! Look to some of your members to find a free space – perhaps at a techy business in town. Our group meets at a University in North OKC. You’ll want to have convenient parking and strategically placed signage to direct your group. Put detailed driving directions in your announcement so people can have it with them.
Announce Meetup two weeks in advance with follow-up reminders. The Meetup.com site is wonderful for this. It’ll send out your announcement and you can set the software to send out reminders a week before and then a couple days before the event. You’ll also get notified of who has RSVP’d.
Consistent time and place. We polled our community and the majority wanted to keep this consistent. For example, our group meets the last Monday of the month at 7 PM at Oklahoma Christian. Meeting concludes at 8:30 and we stick to this.
Find speakers – this is usually a challenging area. A couple of ways to make this easier: 1. Talk to folks coming to the Meetups either before or after and get to know them and their WordPress knowledge and excitement for using it. When you get to know people, they have a hard time saying no to you! 2. Survey your group and make sure one of your questions are, ‘would you be willing to speak to our group’. We’ve done both of these things and now I feel comfortable with asking people and I have my spreadsheet of people who said they would speak. (If anyone would like to see the survey I did, just contact me. I did it using Gravity Forms and sent everyone a link to my site where it was available for a period of time.)
Plan the agenda in advance. This is of utmost importance! You’re trying to attract people to the Meetup, so your upfront effort to put together an interesting agenda is important. Set a reminder on your calendar to get started on the agenda 3-4 weeks ahead of the Meetup. We like to leave topics up to the speaker because we feel they know their strengths best, however, sometimes they ask and we give suggestions. By all means, ask someone to speak on a specific topic if you feel it would be beneficial to the group and the topic is familiar to the speaker.
Meetup Format. We usually start with going around the room and introducing ourselves – this may not be feasible for a large group. We ask what people use WordPress for, what their URL is and what they want to get out of the group. If there are beginners, we do a quick overview of what WordPress is. Then we have presentations where speakers actually are logging into the backend of WordPress to demo their topic. We like to make it more work-shop like than just a talk/lecture. We like to end with Q&A – if anyone has a burning WordPress question, one of us will try to answer it. You can mix things up too – sometimes have a workshop-type meeting
Have a Beginner Topic at each Meetup. Don’t scare off the beginners by having complex topics on CSS/HTML and other ‘dev’ stuff. I’m not a coder or an advanced user and I’ve sat through many a presentation that went right over my head. But there was usually one I could get something out of. Aim for that, you want people to come back and be inspired to learn more.
Snacks and refreshments. At the very least, bring some bottled water and invite people to grab a bottle before sitting down. When I started baking homemade cookies to bring and would put a teaser in the announcement about what kind I was bringing that month, our attendance increased by about a third and has maintained that. Of course, it was probably the topics… People like to be fed! Again, this is something great for a smaller group.
Survey The Group. Get the group’s input on topics, speakers, venues, etc. from time to time. Let me know if you’d like a coy of the one we sent out.
Get help – Co-organizer. If there are two of you, the work can be spread out so neither of you gets burned out.
Keep in mind you don’t need top WordPress skills to organize a meetup, you just need organizational skills!
Hopefully, some of these tips will help you as you organize your WordPress Meetups. Feel free to add your comments and ideas in the comments!