Making Use of Meet-ups
by Kimberly A. Edwards
When she decided to start a group on public speaking four years ago, Stephanie Chandler of Authority Publishing met with three other people in a local Starbuck’s. Today, the group boasts 533 members. “Very creative types,” says Chandler. “Initially I just wanted to learn more about the business of speaking. I wasn’t looking for a client generator. But the professional connections turned out to be a happy accident.”
Like Chandler, hundreds if not thousands of independent publishers and industry specialists are stoking synergy with “meet-ups,” a type of networking that brings people with like interests face to face. As online communities try new modes of interaction, experts admit that the flexing muscle of social networking does not eclipse old-fashioned human contact.
Claiming bragging rights for this trend, Meetup.com bills itself as the first online portal to facilitate offline mixers. For a fee of $15 per month, an “organizer” sets a date, advertises to people with appropriate interests, and accepts RSVPs. Revitalizing the collegiality born when the “me’s” coalesce into a “we,” the concept has spawned Tweetups, meet-and-greets, study groups, affiliate and brand gatherings, informal ad hoc BOFs, and many other in-person configurations.
Chandler now charges $10 for online registration and $15 at the door for her group’s meetings, which attract about 50 people each month. The room buzzes with the aura of “important people here,” she says. Networking absorbs the first 30 minutes of each gathering. Then come introductions, with each attendee standing to deliver a 30-second “elevator pitch” (timed—with beeper). A featured speaker follows. Later, the floor opens for “Mastermind,” when attendees present business problems and solutions are brainstormed. Afterwards, attendees zigzag through the room, interacting with the frenzy of kids in a toy store.
Karl Palachuk of KPEnterprises, a publishing and computer consulting company, also started a group without using Meetup.com but has since transitioned to it. “The advantage is that you can connect with people who might not ever hear about your group,” he says. “It has been good for attracting strangers who might not otherwise connect. This keeps the group from going stagnant.”
Today Palachuk manages two groups. The IT professionals group meetings feature a speaker. The business technology group includes a presentation of some new technology, followed by a Q&A. Between meetings, some members interact, usually through a members-only online forum that Palachuk set up but in some cases on Twitter and/or Facebook.
Marika Flatt’s meet-up is composed of “vibrant publishing elements” in Austin, TX, where Flatt’s company, PR by the Book, is located. “Often I’d run into people at industry events like Book Expo America, and we’d say, ‘Let’s get together,’” she says, explaining why she organized an Austin central area happy hour last spring. A second gathering took place last summer, and the third is in the works as I write.
Flatt solicits attendees through Evite. She appreciates the ability to network in a relaxed setting, share ideas, and exchange business cards. “We benefit from knowing each other so we can refer business. We gain by knowing who does what locally. Everyone knows who we are, and we know them,” she explains.
Natalie Conrad of Organized Habits started her own group two years ago by following the Meetup.com template, which she found user-friendly. Now she has 120 members and holds monthly 90-minute meetings. Using keywords, she draws a population she wouldn’t otherwise meet. “I can test speech material on a group who may not share certain assumptions that my usual network might,” she says, adding that she likes the Meet-up Discussion Forum feature and feels it’s underused.
To Start Your Own
If you like the idea of exchanging advice, mingling with people in your business on different levels, having a network in tangible territory, and perhaps positioning yourself at the center of it, you might want to create a meet-up instead of just joining one.
The first step is researching relevant groups that already meet, bearing in mind that a focus on something other than “publishing” can draw a motivating mix. For example, a publisher might organize around promotion, trends, creative arts, fundraising, or writing.
“I encourage organizers to have a clear idea of what they want from their meet-up,” says Palachuk. You don’t need a full-blown business plan, he explains, advocating “at least a few paragraphs about what you intend and how you’ll get there. It’s important to think of the meet-up as a long-term project,” he cautions. “Don’t expect to create a large meet-up right away. It takes time to cultivate.”
Chandler says organizing for a meet-up session takes five to six hours, and she has learned the value of a good location—“parking, noise, size of room—we kept outgrowing the venue, and we needed a predictable meeting environment.”
Content and preparation are key. Find out what people want. Inspire attendees to chase their passion. Allow time for people to RSVP. Encourage them to bring what they’re working on. Provide name tags.
Mark Germanos of Cameron Park Computer Services, who attended six meet-ups in one month, found a range of usefulness. “Some lacked adequate networking time. Interaction is more important than a video that lasts two-thirds of the meeting,” he notes. When asked about the best meet-ups, Germanos said: “That is where I meet the people who are what I want to be.”
Kimberly A. Edwards serves on the board of directors of the California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch, and belongs to Northern California Publishers and Authors.