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The Rise and Rise of Meetup Events

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Smaller meetups are filling the gaps in between conferences, turning the spotlight on local talent and creating a positive eco-system for creativity in your area. Let's examine why this is and how you can get involved with meetups in your area.


Size Isn't Everything

As an organiser of a monthly meet-up, I have seen first-hand the value and importance that such an event can have on a local community and the wider industry.

sw-meetup

Second Wednesday image by Kyle Shrives

Over the past few years, we’ve born witness to some of the larger national conferences closing their doors, but in their place, there has been an influx of small and medium events - this is no surprise. We’ve seen, with such intimate conferences as New Adventures in Web Design, Build Conference or any event put on by ClearLeft, the level of community that seemingly comes as hand in hand. Ask anyone who’s attended one and they will tell you that it feels like a bunch of old friends getting together to be inspired, share and gain knowledge and to feel integrally connected to the industry as a whole.

While smaller events can't always attract the better-known and established speakers, what they can do is bring together what can often feel like a physically disconnected community, showcase local talent and help to raise the collective standard of students and practitioners alike. There’s something quite special about looking across a room and seeing several agencies from the same city sharing a beer and a chat - whatever rivalries they may harbour being left at the door.


Industry and Education

As a student, I quickly learned that there was a disconnect between industry and education. While there was plenty of room to explore at university, our taught practices were far behind industry standard. In my second year, I became a frequent meet-up, workshop and conference attendee. Firstly to get to know practitioners in the city I was studying in with a hope of getting work, but secondly to gain friends, acquaintances and colleagues with people I had so much in common with. While I am still very young in my industry, I do believe that this immersion is what set me on the path towards getting a job doing what I love.

I think that events such as conferences and meetups are important to anybody in industry for all manner of reasons. For me as a student, I could make contacts, learn and, more importantly, be inspired. For freelancers, they are a great place to get out and meet others in an often solitary workspace. On top of this, it’s also a great chance for practitioners to share their problems, seek advice and generally vent shared frustrations.

Oh, and did I mention networking?

Yeah, a lot of that goes on too - you might just find your next job there. Second Wednesday has talks from both new speakers and industry experts, but arguably just as much knowledge can be gained from the conversations that happen afterwards over a few beers.

Likewise, I believe the conference culture is something that is quite unique to our industry and so we should embrace it. Other industries, not too dissimilar to our own, would be far more reluctant to share the knowledge, skills and personnel on a regular basis for fear of giving away trade secrets. Instead, we stick everything on Github and all meet up for a beverage or two to share in our learning, ultimately in an effort to make the internet better for not only the practitioners, but more importantly the users.

So with that in mind, I want this article to be a call to arms, either to urge you to start attending local events, or better still, start your own!


More Meetups Please!

While Second Wednesday tries to be a relatively broad platform for all digital/creative industries, hosting an event with a specific specialism can ensure a particular type of attendee. Similarly, creating an event based around themes or principals allows for a wide interpretation of the subject matter. It doesn't even have to be a large event, gather a few of you, pick a book, a design principal or a development methodology and discuss what you thought.

When it comes to organising an event, there are a few things to consider:

  • Content
  • Speakers
  • Attendees
  • Venue
  • Promotion
  • Merchandise
  • Technical Setup
  • Date / Time

I think it's valuable to consider each of these factors as a possible feature or perk of the event.

Mmm stuff
Mmm.. stuff

Every decision you make on each of these aspects will help to build a tone and atmosphere. There are events, such as Erskine Breakfast, that choose to hold theirs even first thing in the morning, others run from 5:30 on a friday afternoon. The time you choose will be a big deciding factor on who will attend.

sw-erskine

Venues are, for me, the second most important aspect of an event after the speakers - the venue can literally make or break an event. For Second Wednesday, we looked extensively around Nottingham for the right venue, and in the end settled at Antenna. We chose this venue for its great technical set up, well stocked bar and the informal seating arrangements - comfy sofas, small booths for groups. As a very social event, this was perfect for us, being in a cinema or conference style arrangement would kill the atmosphere we wanted to create - but would work for others.

Speakers and content, naturally, are the most important aspect of organising an event. By this I don't mean it's about getting the highest profile speaker, however. It's about matching the type of talk to the audience, or the message you want to convey.

Rachel Shillcock entertaining the crowd
Rachel Shillcock entertaining the crowd

In Conclusion

Above all, when it comes to creating an event, you have to be clear about what you want to achieve, and more importantly how you want those who speak and those who attend to benefit. It's not about having the largest attendances, it can be about shared learning, it can be for networking, or a hack day where you build a product, it can even simply be about letting everyone blow off steam and see friends.

So what are you waiting for? There's an entire industry out there waiting for you!


Dead Useful

Here are some useful resources to help in either finding or organising local meetups. Suggest your own in the comments!

  • meetup.com The world's largest network of local groups
  • lanyrd.com The social conference directory
  • eventbrite.com All the online tools you need to bring people together for an event
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