We recently had the incredible opportunity to attend WordCamp Europe 2016. The event happened to be the largest WordCamp to date, and took place in Vienna, Austria with no less than 2200 attendees.
Given the relevance of WordPress, in the context of our own community, we were fortunate enough to have quite a lot of community members in town for the event, so we decided to organise a meetup scheduled around the event to get everyone together. It was quite last minute and we were surprised by the number of community members that showed interest in participating. A special thanks to everyone that joined us for the event and pictures, including, but not limited to: hogash, pixelgrade, CurlyThemes, revaxarts, tagDiv, a-idea, code125, ThemeFusion, meks, KrownThemes!
In this particular article, we’re going to be taking a closer look at why meetups are useful, what it takes to organise one, as well as how to make the most of attending these sorts of events.
Conferences are a great conversation starter
Everyone looking to attend a conference will, first and foremost, focus on the talks and the conference itself. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of useful information to absorb from talks and presentations! This however depends entirely on everyone’s personal level of expertise and interest in the specific topics being addressed by the conference. What this means is that you might attend a conference hoping to gain additional insights into a particular topic and leave disappointed, due to the limited amount of time dedicated to any specific topic. In contrast, if you’re just starting off, trying to gain additional insight into any given topic, you might experience a few ‘Aha!’ moments from a talk being held by some of the presenters.
No matter which scenario applies to you, there’s always a sure-fire way to get more out of attending a conference by using it as a means to connect with your peers and friends and enhance your experience. Attending a conference using a “meetup” mindset will allow you to achieve just that.
More perspectives give you better perspective
Generally, it’s always a good idea to collect more perspectives for a better understanding of any given topic. Having more people in the same room, while it may seem daunting to some, is the perfect opportunity to come together and have a closer look at all that’s being discussed. There may be things you can all agree on, but the most interesting conversations are usually sparked by topics that hold different meanings and conclusions for others.
Don’t shy away from asking questions
The best part about these conversations is the fact that they’re open to all levels of knowledge and expertise. That means that you can have a subject matter expert coming together with lesser experienced peers, sharing knowledge and progressing as a group. If you’re the more knowledgeable guy in the room, don’t shy away from helping others progress, as you stand to gain a whole lot yourself. Whether it’s a certain amount of respect, fresh ideas or maybe even just to hear things you’ve not considered yourself up until that point. Likewise, if you’re ever feeling unsure about something, or simply confused, you should never feel obligated to keep those questions to yourself. Simply put, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
Use the conference and topics as a pretext to dive deeper into the specifics and feel free to approach subjects that haven’t been raised. You’ll be surprised at the level of knowledge and valuable information that can come out of something as basic as a friendly chat.
It’s all about networking
Socialising may seem like a waste of time if one is usually focused on productivity and improving the efficiency of their workflows, But the truth is that it’s not.
“It’s such an incredible feeling to get to know the people behind avatars and logos… to get to discuss, debate and share ideas, especially since we define what we do as ‘our passion’, rather than simply ‘work’” – Power Elite team Hogash on ThemeForest
In reality, meeting new people most often has a beneficial impact on one’s ability to come up with creative ideas, finding better solutions to problems you may have been unable to solve previously, as well as to simply help with finding new partnerships opportunities, which otherwise would never have existed.
Find your group
It is, of course, a good idea to network as often as possible, but sometimes this may seem like a difficult task if you’re attending an event alone and don’t have any direct connection to anyone else there.
This is where finding someone that’s passionate about the same things, or has the same interests as you comes in handy. While you may not feel immediately inclined to spark up a conversation on your own, having someone around to support you, may just do the trick. And besides, you might actually have that effect on them, leading to twice the conversations!
It’s all about that personal connection
If you need a good reason as to why you should be taking networking seriously, consider the following scenario:
If you were to take up a new contract with a collaborator, who are you more likely to choose? Someone you’ve never ever met, or someone you’ve either met personally, or who comes recommended by someone else you know?
In case you’re still thinking about it, the answer is the latter. Purely because you should always be expanding your network and getting to know new people and peers in your industry and beyond. They will become your referrers, your direct clients, partners and friends.
Not everything has to be about business
At the end of the day, you’re taking time away from sitting behind your computer screen, tablet or phone. While attending a conference or meetup may seem like work, it doesn’t have to. This is a prime opportunity for you to truly disconnect from everything that would normally define your daily routine! In order to truly achieve that, at least initially, you will need to make a conscious effort to remind yourself that everything can wait.
Try not to look at your screen
When you feel compelled to check your phone for that ‘urgent email’ – don’t. Unless it’s absolutely paramount to the completion of a project you’ve been working on for weeks, it can likely wait a few hours, or until the next day.
Taking a step back from technology may seem off-putting at first, but it’s worth remembering that “social media” is often more about the media, and less about the social. You’re surrounded by people you’d normally not have a chance to talk to, and now’s the time to get those conversations going.
Talk about topics that aren’t necessarily business related
While it might seem like a good idea to talk about something work or business related that’s been bugging you for a while, try to be mindful of the fact that others might be less inclined to address those things then and there. Sure, if it’s something that can be cleared up easily, go right ahead! Otherwise, aim to simply schedule a follow-up meeting/call/email at a later point.
What about that hobby that you were always passionate about and just led you to the most amazing discovery, earlier in the week? You’d be amazed at how invigorating it can feel, to gain new perspectives on something you thought you knew absolutely everything about already.
The most interesting aspect of being part of an online community of creatives, however, is how independently we can all coexist while, at the same time, striving to achieve similar goals. In fact, unless conscious efforts are made to connect with other members, everyone progresses on an individual, parallel and completely independent path. While that is the most frequently encountered scenario, it certainly isn’t ideal, given the proven benefits of collaboration and joint efforts.
Meetups can help alleviate this problem, by offering a chance to connect on a personal level, to acknowledge some of the potential experience overlaps as well as to allow you to find like-minded collaborators for projects you might feel too daunted to tackle alone. Of course, going out for lunch or drinks, as a group, may be much more exciting than, say, booking a conference room. But, remember, it’s all about having a great time. Awesome conversations are encouraged in the right setting!
Choosing between attending or organising
Whether you’d like to participate, or if you’re feeling up to the challenge, organising your very own meetup, one thing is for sure: You’re in for an exciting time!
If you’re keen on organising an event though, please be advised that it won’t exactly be a walk in the park.
From finding a suitable venue, possible costs and amortisation strategy, to getting a close estimate of how many guests will actually show up and who they are, there are a lot of variables to look into. The more time you have to invest in the planning, the smoother the event will play out.
Of course, you don’t have to go all out at this point if you’re just looking to organise a grassroots type of meetup. Tools like Meetup.com or nvite come in handy, but you need to double-check all settings before starting any sort of promotion for the event.
Failing to set up a maximum number of attendees may lead to issues with reserved slots at your venue, for instance. Ideally, you’d start off organising a smaller meetup, with just your closest friends and contacts and expand from there. Not only will this allow you to get a good feel for the basics, but it’s simultaneously a great conversation piece, and some of the participants may even opt to help out with organising large events in the future.
Meetups are a huge opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and peers, gain and share experiences and lay the foundation for future collaborations. While many may see attending such events as a potential waste of time, in reality, it really comes down to each individual’s ability to find and maintain focus, in an environment outside of the one we call our ‘office’. They’re certainly not everyone’s favourite, but unless you’ve attended or organised a few yourself before, they’re something to consider getting involved with in the future.