Design Pattern for Maker Meetups
Darin White - firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Natalie and Andrew for reviewing v0.1
The purpose of this document is to provide a template for makers to initiate and run meetups, i.e. group meetings with a hands-on teaching focus on a particular topic. Having run a couple of meetups thus far, I can see there are common requirements, challenges, and rewards regardless of the subject matter, and by considering and recording these observations I hope to improve the quality of the meetups and reduce the amount of work involved in preparing and running them. By lowering the threshold for initiating meetups, I hope to see more of them.
These are all suggestions: take what is useful and disregard the rest. I recognize that there are different sorts of meetups with different requirements. Please add to this document as you make observations running your meetups. Forgive the imperative tone, it's mostly directed at myself.
I'll bold the important parts so you can skip over my folksy writing style.
Most meetups typically start one of two ways:
- "Hey everyone, I know how to X and I'd like to show other people how to do that."
- or -
- "I've always wanted to learn how to Y. Can anyone teach me?" This one also comes in the form "Wouldn't it be great if..."
In the first case, the Initiator (Init) is the Subject Matter Expert (SME) so their help is required and they've already volunteered. In the second case, the Init must help plan and run the meetup. You don't need to be a SME to advertise, gather RSVPs, get a venue, etc.
It takes 3
To avoid nervous breakdowns and bolster chances of success, each meetup needs 3 people running it. There's too much work for 1 or 2 people to do in addition to their other roles in life. 4 or more people start to run into communication and coordination issues and the old Diffusion of Responsibility phenomenon can creep in. General roles are:
Subject Matter Expert (SME)
- needs to focus on defining reasonable goals for the meetup
- develops training materials to support those goals (handouts, etc)
- passes any pre-reading to the Comm to send to the makers
- develops an agenda that includes realistic duration estimates for various parts of the meetup
- tests, actually tests, the workflow of the meetup to ensure there are no missing pieces. They're an expert so they sometimes gloss over the details only to find out during the meetup that we need six #2 Robertson screwdrivers.
- the SME needs to be free to deliver content and help makers with subject-related questions. Make sure they don't have to worry about how many chairs are available, why the A/V isn't working, or telling makers where they can find the bathroom.
- provides any follow-up materials/links through the Comm
Communicator (Comm)- often a good job for the Init
- handles all the advertising
- manages the RSVPs
- answers any questions prior to the meetup
- is the single point of contact
- arranges rain dates
- arranges the venue
- finds out if you can bring food to the meetup venue
- sends out an email reminder 3 days prior to the meetup
- greets makers as they arrive at the meetup
- introduces the SME
- collects the money
- notes where the bathrooms are, where the food is
- notes what time you expect to wrap up
- keeps an eye on the progress of all makers to ensure nobody's getting stuck
- is the timekeeper, moving things along where required, because the SME loves the topic and will go on at great length, sometimes to the detriment of delivering the meetup in the time allotted.
- takes photos/videos and notes names/faces for blogging the event later
- at the end of the meetup the Comm will thank the SME and Purch as well as the makers who attend, and note that pictures/videos will be posted within 2 days and where they can be found.
- musters all the makers for cleanup duty
- encourages all to join the hacker space to support on-going meetups
- blogs the event with pics/vids
- emails the attendees with link to the blog, noting any upcoming meetups
Purchaser (Purch)- think "Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption"
- arranges for all the required equipment, tools, and materials including projector and net access
- rents the tables and chairs
- researches the best prices on material
- sets the meetup fee to ensure cost-recovery
- plans for unexpected attendees while at the same time containing costs
- makes backup plans for broken equipment and materials
- "feeds" materials to the SME and makers
- assists makers so the SME can keep the meetup moving forward
- ensures everyone has the materials/kits/tools to take home that were included as takeaways in the entry fee
- settles up the bills with anyone else who purchased or contributed materials
A common trap to fall into is thinking that if 1 SME is good then 3 SME's is really good. While it's handy if the non-SME's are familiar with the subject, it's important that the Comm and the Purch devote attention to their responsibilities to ensure overall success.
Beware the Scope Creep
Better to have a shorter successful meetup that may be limited in scope than to have an exhaustive marathon. Ask "what can we accomplish in 2 hours?" You will go an hour over. Break up meetups that have latency (like, say, drying time for screen printing) over a couple of dates. Consider moving advanced aspects of a topic to future meetups.
Making vs Talking
We are makers, so get to the "doing" as quickly as possible. Of course this doesn't apply to meetups where talking is the primary goal.
Just Pick a Date
Any date you pick will have 4 people emailing you saying they wish they could come, but can't make that particular date. Tell them you'll catch them on the next iteration of that meetup. No date will work for everyone. Too little lead-time makes it hard to get the word out to enough people. Too much lead-time and people forget they signed up for the meetup and they may bail. 2 to 3 weeks ahead is a good starting point for announcing a meetup.
Aim for cost recovery when setting fees. Resist the urge to "just figure it out later". Losing money on meetups is not sustainable, nor is wildly over-pricing a meetup. Some meetups will require pre-paying to cover costs in the event of no-shows. Most meetups cost >$0 so figure out your acceptable level of risk (i.e. "if 3 out of the 10 makers don't show I'm out $X"). Nobody plays for free: we've got to pay the rent.
Advertise, Signup, Remind
We're all busy so help makers make a decision to participate and manage their time. Use a clear and consistent template for announcing meetups. Get your co-organizer to sanity check the invite. The Comm should send the invite to your announce DL and post it under Events on the web site.
Require RSVPs because without them you have no idea of numbers and you're flying blind. Require name, email address, and phone number. Having phone numbers makes it convenient and fast to contact people in realtime in the event that the meetup has to be postponed. It also raises the bar for potential no-shows, who may easily ignore email, but would be uncomfortable getting your call to remind them that not showing up after RSVP'ing yes costs everyone.
A simple reminder email 3 days prior to the event can save lots of disappointment and also light the excitement of anticipation.
Membership Has It's Privileges
Give your hacker space members the opportunity to sign up first before the general masses. These are the people who pay the bills after all. Try: members get priority the first week to sign up followed by non-members. It's incentive to join.
There are a number of options available, each with pros and cons:
- private home: good availability, net access, specialized gear (SME's house), often limited space
- local community centre: free, limited in what activities can be done there, no net (a big issue)
- your hacker space: ideal for many activities that don't involve fire
- public space: may require permission or permits
Consider what space is best suited for your topic. Remember when it rains, you get wet, in which case you need a backup venue, or at least some sort of a plan or tarp.
It's easy to forget critical elements like, say, extension cords. Good idea to do a methodical mental walkthrough of the event, bearing the venue in mind and develop a list of everything you'll need.
Safety gear is non-optional. Safety glasses, gloves, etc are must haves for some topics. Be a hard-ass about requiring them. If you don't have 'em, you can't stay. Don't accept "I'll just watch from over here". Unsafe behaviour requires a full stop-the-session warning and then red-card ejection the second time.
Capture the moment
Be sure to get photos and video of the event. At the same time, respect anyone who asks you not to take their picture. Make sure you can match names with faces. Try to get at least one pic of each maker. And then blog(!) the event ASAP. You achieve several wins:
- Makers who attended feel part of the group and are motivated to return for future sessions. The also have something to point their friends at the next day at the water cooler when they say "hey, I did some metal casting yesterday". That can lead to completely new members by induction.
- Makers who knew about but didn't attend the session see the fun that was had and are motivated to attend future sessions.
- It's a great visual record of what we're about. We can share this on poster boards at conferences (like Maker Faire) and also point the media to it rather than trying to explain in words what our hacker space is all about. It's so compelling to see pictures/videos of people having fun and doing cool stuff.
Be sure to keep an on-going record of who has attended meetups so we can say in the future that we've taught #-hundred people in the course of 5 years. Sounds like a little database project for some of our keen software makers.
Makers and Watchers
Encourage makers to make rather than watch the making. You will be asked "Can I just observe and not pay the $20?" Resist that. Sure, some select events with observers can be useful recruiting tools, but in general it's better if everyone's in on the action.
Kids and Adults
Make a deliberate and explicit decision whether kids are welcome to an event or if a separate kid-focussed event is really better for everyone. Where kids are involved, Mom/Dad stays the whole time, supervises, and assumes all risk. No exceptions.
Note in the meetup announcement if any pets will be at the meetup. Allergies, etc...
Everybody takes home something tangible. It's a souvenir, something you can hold in your hand or show your co-worker. It's schwag for the hacker space. It's a talisman, a charm that reminds the maker they actually did something. Make sure it's functional and complete. If it needs batteries, make sure it has 'em even if they're from the dollar store. Again, this doesn't apply to all types of meetups.
The Show Must Go On
Despite all the planning, unexpected shtuff happens. The projector bulb dies halfway through your talk. You forgot an important device driver and you now have no net access. Etc. We are all makers. Failure is a fact of life with which we are fairly comfortable. Remember, whatever happens, you're doing *something* instead of the alternative which is doing *nothing*. Keep moving forward.
There Ain't No Education In the Second Kick of a Mule
Reflect on things that went well and things that were sub-optimal in your meetup when it's all done. Bring those items back to this document to improve future meetups. Informally survey a few makers who attended the meetup and get their input. They are your customers and possibly the makers running the next meetup.
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