Friday, February 21, 2014

Organizing Meetups: Some Tips

Meetups are a moment in time and space where people from very different worlds can get together and exchange on a specific topic. The crowd can be much more diverse than what one sees in a traditional academic meeting. 

In the course of organizing the Paris Machine Learning Meetup series, here are some of things Franck Bardol, Frederic Dembak and I have noted and which ought to be considered for whoever wants to organize similar venues.

Use the platform. I don't know eventbrite, but I have organized different series of academic meetings in the takes a lot of the headaches away so that you can concentrate on getting the best speakers and the best discussions during the networking events. On top of being a good platform to organize meetups, there is an underlying recommender system that lets users know of new meetup groups in the "vicinity" of their current interest/meetups they attend. 

You also need a place that provides:
  • high speed internet and wifi.
  • a projector that connects to any laptops
  • a microphone that connects to louspeakers
  • people who support your technical community
DojoEvents has provided this in the past few meetups.

We generally use only one laptop for the projector so that no computer switch be allowed to break the flow of the presentations. All presentations are generally available on the archive section before the meetup. This serves two purposes, one of which is that there is a backup on the interweb.
We have taken the initiative to do streaming for each meetup for different reasons ( see one of them below ). This only requires a laptop. The microphone used by the speaker in order to be heard by the rest of the room, will be enough for the streaming provided the laptop is at the right location. We have also used the suitcase of Parisson. If you have only access to a laptop, you ought to use Google+ Hangout on Air (not just the regular hangout where several people can interact). When the streaming is done, you can have the video on YouTube, Vimeo eventually....

We have also maintained an archive of all the previous meetups so that potential speakers can gauge the level of technical details of their future presentation accordingly. That archive serves another purpose: Damping attendances issues.


Initially things will be OK, but soon enough you may run into the following problem: people will RSVP yes irrespective of their actual physical attendance. allows one to set limits for attendance. If one look at how other Paris area meetups handle this, we have noticed that if one sets a limit on the number of attendees, people will RSVP yes automatically without an actual regard as to whether they will be in town that day. The attendance list fills up very rapidily (for some Parisian meetups, I have heard of events being full after four hours after having opened the attendance list). Because the attendance list fills up so rapidily, other people get put on a waiting list. The problem with this is that being on the attendance list becomes something artificially "precious". As a consequence, few people will  reset their RSVP to NO, even an hour before the meetup because nobody gives away something that "precious".

Our strategy so far has been as follows (we may change in the future) a combination of
  • streaming the event 
  • setting up an archive of previous meetups with the presentations
  • making available the presentations on the archive before the event
  • sending constant reminders to attendees to change their RSVP to NO, a week, a day, an hour before the meetup.
  • allowing people to RSVP yes even an hour before the start of the meetup
The first three items make being there less "precious" and makes it more likely people will RSVP NO much before the meetup starts.
In terms of organization of the meetup:
  • We generally have sodas, champagne and pizza before the presentations allowing for about 30 to 45 minutes of meet and greet / networking between attendees.
  • We generally try to have a word or two at the beginning of the meetup to give some context about what the speakers will talk about. We also mention local initiatives. 
  • We generally ask the presentation slides be in English (a good thing for the archives) but we leave the option of the spoken language open. It goes without saying that listening and understanding what is said in a foreign language (English) is not the same as really understanding what is said. Most of our speakers have given their presentations in French. We are absolutely open to both languages even for those speakers who's mother tongue is French.  
  • We started a series of remote presentations by having remote speakers give us a pitch or a presentation through Skype. Those are very convenient on two accounts: they require 20 minutes' time of somebody that is sometimes 8000 miles away, no travel required. A local crowd is exposed to some of the most innovative stuff on Earth, who would say no to that? 
    • In the case of a pitch, we had two speakers give us pitches for their crowdfunding projects. It required that we played locally the video on the projector of the crowdfunding campaign followed by a 5 to 10 minutes Q&A of the presenters directly on Skype. The Skype call was made directly from the laptop connected to the projector so that the face of the presenters would be big enough for the attendees to feel like they were talking to a real person. This happened in Meetup 7 and it went flawlessly. As an organizer, it is important you prepare the crowd to ask relevant questions. 
    • In the case of a remote presentation, we used an iPad for the video Skype call and put the microphone next the loudspeakers of the iPad (we could also have connected the local loudspeakers to the iPad). The full screen of the iPad was located at about the location where a local presenter would stand giving the impression to most that the remote presenter was not that remote. We had the presentation locally on the laptop connected to the projector. The speaker would ask the local organizers to go through each slide. A good thing was for those slides to be numbered. This happened at Meetup 8 and it went pretty much flawlessly. Again as an organizer, it is important you prepare the crowd to ask relevant questions. 
  • At the last meetup, we had five presentations. This was a bit much, three or four might be more optimal. 
  • We ask presenters for their presentations ahead of time and we also ask them to keep in mind the general topic of the meetup, for us it is Machine Learning. We also generally ask the speaker to provide ways for people to get in touch with them after the meetup: email, webpages, twitter....
  • Finally, we have also created a mirror group on LinkedIn in order to provide a means for advertizing jobs etc which is not the main purpose of platform like Currently the meetup group has more 597 members while the Paris Machine Learning Linkedin group has 294 members and about 10 job offers since the group started about five months ago.
So what's stopping you from organizing meetups ?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
W00086955.jpg was taken on February 19, 2014 and received on Earth February 20, 2014. The camera was pointing toward SATURN at approximately 1,762,178 miles (2,835,951 kilometers) away, and the image was taken using the CB2 and CL2 filters. 

Join the CompressiveSensing subreddit or the Google+ Community and post there !
Liked this entry ? subscribe to Nuit Blanche's feed, there's more where that came from. You can also subscribe to Nuit Blanche by Email, explore the Big Picture in Compressive Sensing or the Matrix Factorization Jungle and join the conversations on compressive sensing, advanced matrix factorization and calibration issues on Linkedin.


Joshua Stults said...

Wow Igor, thanks for this! We use meetup for our hackerspace here in Dayton, Ohio. I had the sneaking suspicion we were not using it to full potential, and you confirmed it. Lots of good ideas here. Thanks for sharing.

Igor said...


Cool. If you happen to make streaming or videos, please let me know!