This post is part of our series on Organizing a Mountain Town Meetup.
In this post, we’ll go over some of the basics you’ll want to consider at the event itself, using Tahoe Silicon Mountain (TSM), the nonprofit we’ve been running since 2010, as an example.
Identify Something You are Passionate About
Organizing a meetup is a lot of work. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, it will be very challenging to put in the time required to make your meetup successful.
It’s been 8 years and I am still very passionate about growing our local Tahoe-Truckee entrepreneurial ecosystem through Tahoe Silicon Mountain. I could have never put in 300+ volunteer hours per year without a strong motivation to better and grow our community.
Make Sure There Is a Community Need
Before your first event, make sure there are others in the community who are already interested in the same thing.
We started TSM before Facebook or Meetup.com were widely used for organizing events, so founding member, Johannes Ziegler, did it the old-fashioned way: by telling people he knew would be interested and asking those people to tell people they knew. Garrett and I didn’t know Johannes at the outset but heard about him and his idea for TSM from a mutual friend. Word-of-mouth can still be very effective.
The basic premise was that there were many ways to socialize in the Tahoe-Truckee area that brought together people excited about the outdoors, especially skiing and snowboarding. Although tech and other non-snowsports professionals might show up at these events, the topic of conversation was the same each time. Pow, pow, and more pow.
But, were professionals craving more intellectually based conversations? Eight years later with over 1300+ members, the answer is clear. However, it was less so back in 2010 when there were fewer professionals and our culture was more recreation-focused.
Ask around, post on social media, and see what people’s responses are. If you see people’s eyes light up and receive enthusiastic responses, you know that your meetup is worth a try.
Find Someone to Help You Organize
Although you may find you have the time to do everything required for organizing the first event, there are a few reasons I recommend finding a co-organizer:
- If someone agrees to help co-organize, you know they are as passionate as you are, further validating your assessment that there is a need in the community.
- Things come up. If you can’t make an event, you have a back-up.
- Your meetup might grow faster than you think and you’ll value having someone who can help out as the organization grows.
Decide Who, What, Where, When, and Why
Figure out who would be interested in coming and describe them. Having a description will help you recruit new members.
Although broader now, we initially wanted people to attend Tahoe Silicon Mountain meetups who were:
- Tech professionals who lived and worked locally, whether in their field or not
- Remote workers in tech who lived full-time in Tahoe-Truckee
- Tech workers from the Bay Area who frequently visited Tahoe
- Second homeowners working in tech
Ideally, your member description won’t be too broad (people who like music) or too narrow (retirees who are experts at curling), so that you can connect around a common interest while having a large enough group to sustain a meetup in a small mountain town.
Before officially getting the word out about dates, times, and location have a list of people who you know are interested and ready to commit. Reach out to them as soon as the first meeting is set. Find them through:
- Your network of friends and friends of friends (word-of-mouth)
- Social media – Facebook Groups, Instagram, LinkedIn
- Anyone you come into contact with around town. A good number of Tahoe Silicon Mountain members are there because I met them on a chairlift!
Know what your new meetup will be about and be able to say it succinctly.
Although the Tahoe Silicon Mountain mission and vision have morphed over time, our original pitch was to come to our events to hear an intellectually stimulating conversation and talk about something other than snow. This immediately resonated!
The “what” is intimately connected to the “who” and both should be given a lot of thought. People are more compelled to attend if they understand exactly what you’re about. Having this clear will also help with more formal marketing efforts.
Where you hold your meetup is completely dependant on what kind of community you’re building. If you’re starting a hiking club, then it might make sense to meet at a trailhead. A standup paddleboard meetup for beginners? Then start at the paddleboard rental shop.
For us, restaurants were and still remain the best places to meet up. There are food and drinks available in addition to the meeting space, which is perfect for our after-work sessions. We have fostered a great relationship with Pizza on the Hill in Tahoe Donner and have been holding our Mountain Minds Monday meetup there for many years.
Ask your initial group of interested people where they think you should meet.
Think about your target audience and what might work for their schedules. Then ask! You already have your list of interested people, so reach out and check. You can use Doodle to quickly survey a lot of people about what dates and times work.
If you’re looking at an event that occurs once a month, it’s common to choose a day of the week and week of the month. When making this kind of selection, look at the calendar for the year to see how those dates will fall. Be mindful of holidays, school vacations, etc.
Currently, we hold all of our meetups after work hours. This has been a success in our Tahoe Silicon Mountain community since many of our members have full-time jobs during the day.
However, it didn’t start this way. Initially, we thought that a majority of people would come to our meetups from the Bay Area, so we tried gathering on the weekends. While people might have been available, it was quickly obvious that intellectually curious or not, people liked to recreate on the weekends, not talk about tech.
If you don’t identify why you’re organizing a meetup, it’s much harder to be able to communicate to others why they should show up.
For us, that part was easy. People already enjoyed tech-focused meetups in the San Francisco Bay Area and couldn’t find any here. Enter Tahoe Silicon Mountain, where you can learn something new and network, all with a Tahoe vibe.
We developed a much more ambitious “why” over time, which was to grow Tahoe-Truckee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through our monthly and special events. You can listen to my presentation about this on YouTube at the link above.
Decide how often to meet based on the feedback from your initial group of interested people. If you meet too often, people might have a hard time carving out that much time on their schedule. If you don’t meet often enough, you may not be able to consistently draw the same crowd, which can make it hard to give your group the community feel it needs to be sustainable.
Consider how much time you have to put into the meetup. Each event can be a lot of work and you’ll want to make sure you have the time to put into each one to make it a success.
While Tahoe Silicon Mountain now has events almost every week of the month, we started with one meetup a month. Very quickly we settled on the second Monday of the month at 6pm and this was such a successful date and time for us that we’re still running our most popular event, Mountain Minds Monday during that slot.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Yes, I had to say it 3 times. It is that important. Since you’ve already done your homework to set a good time and date, it will likely make sense to stick with it.
Some meetups dictate a new location each time, like a hiking club, but for those that don’t, keep the location the same as well.
The consistency can really help build your attendance.
Even if you think 20 people should have shown up but only 10 did, the best decision may be to stick with the same date and time and see if your meetup grows.
All of our early Tahoe Silicon Mountain meetups had less than a dozen people. But, we stuck with it and that meetup, Mountain Minds Monday, with the same date and time, has drawn over 100 attendees.
When people know your meeting happens every time it is scheduled, they are able to get into a routine and create a habit. At TSM, our Mountain Minds Monday event has never been canceled. In 8 years! Rain or shine, snow or ice, chain controls or not, it happens the second Monday of each month. Our members don’t have to check our website or social media, they just know we’ll be there.
- It’s hard to get the cancelation message out to everyone who knows about the event, so some people might still show up.
- Those who did see your cancelation might wonder each time your event comes up whether it will be canceled or not. This uncertainty can be really de-motivating since people don’t want to waste their time showing up when they’re not sure if the meetup will be held.
- No one wants to show up to an event only to be searching around for a host who isn’t there. What if it was your first time attending a meetup and that happened? Would you come back? Sometimes it takes a lot of courage for people to show up at a meetup with a lot of people they don’t know, so work hard to make sure people have as few doubts as possible.
- Emergencies do happen and that is why it’s best to have a co-organizer(s) if something comes up and you can’t make it, thereby avoiding cancelations.
If you do need to cancel, make sure you communicate with the venue and/or put up signs so people know not to wait around.