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Cover image for Hello! I've been running developer events and building communities since 2012. Bring it on and #AMA !! <3

Hello! I've been running developer events and building communities since 2012. Bring it on and #AMA !! <3

tessamero profile image Tessa Mero ・1 min read

Are you thinking about starting a community? Have a community already? Just curious? Ask away! I'm accepting any questions, even if it's personal or sensitive!

It all started in 2012 when I was frequently attending Jeremy Lindblom's Seattle PHP Meetup, which quickly led to me being a co-organizer, then running a PHP Conference with Jeremy a couple years, then eventually I took over the meetup and continued the conference, then later starting the Seattle API City Conference.

I organized:
Seattle Joomla Meetup
Seattle PHP Meetup
Pacific Northwest PHP Conference

I currently organize:
Seattle Vue.js meetup
Seattle Developer Relations Meetup
Seattle APIs and Technology Meetup
San Francisco JAMstack Meetup
Seattle API City Conference

I've also organized countless one-off developer events, recent events include the Seattle Developer Christmas party (80 developers), the JAMstack pre-conference party (150 developers), and the list goes on forever.

After 8 years of running events, I'm at the point of getting a bit burnt out as it takes a lot of time planning and pure dedication to making it a success. I plan on delegating more and focusing on less events that help my jobs ecosystem.

More than often I get asked to help co-organize or help someone with their events, and countless times I have consulted with others on building/growing their community.

So, as someone who's been doing this for a long time, I am ready to give back and I am ready for your questions.

Discussion

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baskarmib profile image
Baskarrao Dandlamudi

Thanks for all you do to the developer community ecosystem Tessa. So here are my questions.

  1. What is your preference between In-Person Meetups and Online Meetups?
  2. Have you faced a situation where you are prepared for the meetup, speakers arrive to venue and you have arranged food based on RSVP to find out only 10% attend your in-person event from RSVP?
  3. How do you make your community to provide feedback on your events?
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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

Hello Baskarrao! Thanks for these questions.

Question: What is your preference between In-Person Meetups and Online Meetups?

I prefer In-Person meetups as I love the human interactions and meeting new people, expanding my professional network, and sometimes personal network. There's always so much more you can learn and gain from being around others, whether you interact with them or not. With online meetups, a majority of them there were more technical issues, but sometimes they go over well. Engaging with the audience doesn't feel authentic as it's just words exchanging with words. There's something so different with being face-to-face with other developers. On the contrary, I do like online meetups so I don't have to leave my house. So it's a bit of a toss up there!

Question: Have you faced a situation where you are prepared for the meetup, speakers arrive to venue and you have arranged food based on RSVP to find out only 10% attend your in-person event from RSVP?

This has happened quite a few times. Once at a conference, I donated all of the leftover dinner to the Gospel Mission Center that was right around the corner. I always make the best of every situation. The leftover catering or food from meetups, I donate to a homeless youth kitchen that I contribute too often. I know their kitchen is always lacking, and I'll go fill up their kitchen with my leftover catering. (Youthcare.org to be exact). I know if sponsors ask about it, I have to be honest, and if they know it's going somewhere good, everyone wins in this situation.

For presenters, they are happy if anyone shows up to listen to them. The audience size shouldn't matter. Sometimes I will get more value and engagement with a smaller audience over a larger one.

Question: How do you make your community to provide feedback on your events?

Occasionally I will send an email to everyone subscribed to meetup announcements asking their feedback on an idea. Example I've sent out:

"What do you think if I set up a quarterly hacking day where we get together and write code together or work on a project/learn something new?" Then I collect their feedback/suggestions/concerns, etc. This helps me determine what direction to take with the community.

As for conferences, it's good to send out a survey to get feedback afterwards. I don't always do it, but when I do, it has been very useful. :)

Hope this helps. If you have more questions, throw it my way. I'm always happy to help the community.

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baskarmib profile image
Baskarrao Dandlamudi

Thank you for the answering my questions Tessa.

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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

You are welcome!

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humblefool_2 profile image
SangeethaKP

Thanks a ton for hosting the AMA Tessa. I have attended a bunch of events organized by you and they have been super fun, welcoming and informative.

I have the following questions regarding event/community building.

  1. As a meetup organizer without a lot of social capital, what are some good ways to secure sponsorship for the events?

  2. Have you faced a code of conduct violation from one of the meetup participants, how did you handle it?

  3. Having organized so many wonderful events, do you have a generic process or template for event organizing that you would like to share with the community?

Thank you once again for all the good work you do! :)

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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

Hi SangeethaKP, here are my replies:

Question: As a meetup organizer without a lot of social capital, what are some good ways to secure sponsorship for the events?

If I don't count my social media following for reaching out, I do more "cold calling". I list out companies that sponsored similar meetups or conferences and fill out their contact form or message them on social media, asking who the appropriate person is to connect with related to sponsoring an event. Once I connect with someone via email, I keep it brief so they reply. If I copy and paste a long email, my response rate significantly decreases. It's really about how brief and simple you keep your point, until the time comes to give them more detailed information.

When speaking to attendees at your meetup, talk to others about how you are looking for sponsors for the next meetup. I've had a pretty high success rate of people saying, "Here's my business card. Contact me and maybe I can get my company to sponsor".

Be very vocal with what you are looking for because things don't always magically happen. <3

Question: Have you faced a code of conduct violation from one of the meetup participants, how did you handle it?

Yes, two different times. And one resulted in a year long lawsuit that almost drove me to insanity, but I fought for my community and I won.

Situation 1: Someone with an unfortunate mental illness kept sending death threats to community members via the email thread claiming they are people he think they are, when they aren't. None of the things he said made any sense. I decided to remove him from the group from these complaints, especially complaints about his behavior that made attendees uncomfortable in person, and the death threats aimed towards me. I never replied to any of it, so he disappeared eventually.

Situation 2: I had several people complaining that a certain individual is stalking them and harassing them. I reverted the harassers attention towards me and tried to get him to leave these individuals alone. I ended up having to ban this person, which resulted to him harassing me, targeting my company, friends, and followers with false accusations and lies. Note that I found out he was doing the same to over 20 other people in the same community, and most have kept silent afraid of his reactions. I took him to court for online stalking and filed over 15 police reports on him so the court would take the situation more seriously. After a year of hearings, it finally came to a trial. After the trial, I won, and he stopped harassing me. After speaking to other people he was harassing, he also stopped bothering them (some of them dealt with his harassment over 4 years). I will reach above and beyond to help others be more safe. It's just in my nature.

Note that I've never once talked publicly about this, so I'm feeling a bit, weird.... But, for those who have been in intense situations or currently in a situation that involves death threats or your life in stake, feel free to open up to me about it. You can talk to me personally or anonymously at tessamero@gmail.com. I have so much experience dealing with harassment I know the exact steps to take to deal with the situation appropriately.

I want to really emphasize on the importance of keeping your attendees safe. You MUST take action and put your community first. :) If it's too uncomfortable for you, reach out to someone who can help. Like me :)

Question: Having organized so many wonderful events, do you have a generic process or template for event organizing that you would like to share with the community?

My brain is a very loud active place where I can listen to hundreds of tasks at once. I have it pretty clear in my head all the steps it takes to run a meetup or conference and have never really documented it. As for as spreadsheets/guides for smaller tasks of running events, I have created my own templates for everything. The most important for my conference is the Budget Spreadsheet, which determines whether you "make or break" financially and your reputation too.

If you want me to answer more questions, feel free to ask.

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humblefool_2 profile image
SangeethaKP

Thank you for the detailed answers Tessa!

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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

You are welcome!

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andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

How do you deal with keep a continuous queue of speakers monthly and ensure they are prepared?

I've queued up speakers only for them to admit they just started working on the slides the day prior and the talk is not in good shape, or people just ghost you.

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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

Hi Andrew,

This is a very important question and I have my own process that has been working very effectively. I will write it as a list:

  1. I always have 2 speakers per meetup, in case 1 cancels, which life happens. There's only been one rare moment when both speakers cancelled. Also, for speakers to do their slides/talk very last minute is an expectation. Even when my slides are done, it never feels done and I will update it and work on it until the minute I have to present it.

  2. When I'm lacking speakers, I send an email out to the group looking for anyone interested.

  3. During each meetup, I will ask about anyone interested in speaking.

  4. During meetups, I will talk to attendees and offer them to speak at upcoming meetups.

  5. I will meet other people from other meetups or tech groups/events in my city and invite them to speak at my meetup.

  6. I'll ask social media if anyone from my city is interested in presenting.

  7. I'll invite known speakers (developer advocates or people who have companies that will support their travel) to travel to my city to present at my meetup

  8. If I have a food sponsor, I will invite/offer a speaking slot.

Now, what if you have tried this all and unable to get ANY speakers for, let's say, February 2020? Here's some options of what I do:

  1. Skip a month and take a break, so you don't burn out quickly.

  2. Have your meetup anyways and turn it into a round table. Create a topic or a set of topics to discuss.

  3. Throw a developer networking event. (big win if you find a sponsor to cover food/beverage costs)

  4. Put together a breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetup (people pay for themselves so it costs nothing of course).

  5. Turn your meetup into a Hack Day, where you get together at a coffee shop and work on personal projects together.

Once I ran my vue.js meetup where I had 2 speakers. One wasn't able to come, and one canceled a few hours before the meetup. I hosted the meetup anyways and turned it into an open discussion where we talked about why we choose Vue.js over other frameworks. Then the conversation organically evolved into other fun topics related to Vue.

Always have a backup plan and be prepared. You don't always have to have 2 speakers every single month forever. Be creative.

Hope this helps. If you have any more questions or want me to elaborate on any comment I made, please feel free to ask!

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maniflames profile image
Maniflames

Late to the party but I do have a burning question!
What advice would you give to someone that has a super tiny (16 member) online community that has become inactive lately?

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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

Hi Maniflames,

Is it an online community that meets on webinars? How have the events been structured in the past? I have answers for you as soon as I understand your community more. :)

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Maniflames

Hi, we're a small telegram group and we have a book club-like structure. We share reads that we're interested in and discuss them. It's also very common someone asks a random question about development throughout the week. We all want to grow the community but also realize that the format we use right now is not that scalable.

Thanks for your time :)

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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

Hi Maniflames,

One of my communities of many was a very small one, like 3-5 people, sometimes up to 15. When I wanted more people to show up, I'd try to keep the meetups as consistent as possible, example: 3rd Tuesday of each month at the same library at the same exact time, so that way they always know when the event is. When event date/time/place changes frequently, people tend to schedule their work/personal lives over your meetup and it is easily often missed.

What you can do is send out a survey to your group asking what they'd like to see or have. Also throw out some ideas and see what their thoughts are. If your community is on a chat tool, such as Slack, Discord, or Gitter, then it would be easier to reach out to them.

You can also throw contests or have prizes during the event. $5 starbucks gift cards to giveaway or something. Incentives are always fun.

For a book club, this is a bit out of my knowledge area, but if i was in a book club, and they... once in awhile threw a book gaming event, i'd be really excited to join.

An example: "Bring your own Book" game. bringyourownbook.com/

I recently bought that so i can talk/share about books in a fun way. I am just lacking any friends, let alone friends who read books. LOL :) just a fun thought! Throwing a twist can always gain your momentum back!

Let me know if you have any other questions. :) I can go on forever.

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maniflames profile image
Maniflames

Thanks this advice is really helpful! Some consistency will help a ton and a poll around topics would actually be great too. I'll check out the example too, I think shaking things up would make things a lot more interesting. πŸ˜„

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tessamero profile image
Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

You are very welcome. You can always follow up here and let me know how things went! I am happy to continue to mentor as I find it will help many others if this information is public. :)

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maharony profile image
Maharony

What are some ways organizers can seek funding/sponsorship for their events? Especially in emerging developer ecosystems?

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Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

When you say emerging, do you mean newer tech communities where it's harder to find companies to sponsor?

Sometimes when you haven't secured a frequent list of sponsors, it's good to start small and find a venue at no cost (that's a whole conversation in itself) and host meetups until you get consistent attendees coming.

During the introduction of every event I host, I talk about how I am looking for sponsors with a little details on why and what that monetary sponsorship will cover (usually food/beverages). This usually opens up conversations for potential sponsorships. It's important to keep mentioning it, even when attending a conference or meetup, I'm still talking to others about my events and how I am looking for sponsors, and things happen organically over time. :)

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carimu profile image
Carimu

This is great! I’m organizing events and talk for my group and need advice. How do you delegate tasks to other team members, so you don’t handle all the work?

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Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

Hi Carimu,

I have recently only learned to delegate as this is not something I've considered a lot since I have the "I CAN DO EVERYTHING ON MY OWN" mindset.

I recently appointed someone to take over my PHP group, I'm doing great at finding other organizers to run the JAMstack meetup for me. I'm going to work on finding someone to help run the Vue.js meetup.

Sometimes it's as simple as kindly asking an active member of your group if they'd be interested in hosting an upcoming meetup. You'd be surprised who'd be interested in stepping up and wanting to take charge. Hard to see this without giving people these opportunities.

You can also send an email to the whole group asking who'd be interested in hosting a future meetup, but be clear on the wording because half the time I ask, people think I'm asking about "hosting" as in a venue to use. :)

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Kim Sean Pusod

I'm thinking about making a coding bootcamp just for few people. How do i get started with it ? What are the needed preparations ? How do you setup the program flow ? Thank you

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Tessa Mero Ask Me Anything

Hi Kim Sean Pusod,

I have plenty of answers for you, but I'd like to understand the situation more.

  1. How long is the bootcamp for? 2 hours? 8 hours? 3 days?

  2. Do you have content prepared already? What level materials will it be for? Beginners? Intermediate? Advanced? All?

  3. Do you plan on charging or is this a free event?

  4. What do you already have planned so far as far as brainstorming ideas? Do you have a venue?

With this information I can throw some tips down :)