21 tips to hack your next meet up

“Hi. I’m Alex and I’ve been an entrepreneur for 6 months.”

meet up business cards 2

A few of the folks I met…

I nervously fumbled through an explanation of why I was attending the meet up:

“We just hit $10,000 monthly recurring revenue!”… “I haven’t actually met my co-founder face to face yet”… “I’m looking to meet likeminded people and chat about your startup”.

I thanked the organizer Chris for putting the event on and slinked back into the crowd.

Welcome to the first meet up of 2014!

Why attend a meet up?

San Francisco is packed to the rafters with motivated startup founders, entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs… but last year, I didn’t make a concerted effort to meet any of them.

That has changed for 2014.

I love meeting motivated people, talking about new business ideas and making new friends and business connections. A meet up is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and present to a room of people that you’ve never met. Plus – there are often freebies like cake or cheap beer.

As a bonus, you might find a joint venture partner or a potential client, but I don’t think that should be the primary motivation for attending… I’ll explain why later.

The lowdown on this meet up

Event name: Let’s hangout for a bit

Audience: Non-tech startup founders

Location: The Raven Bar, which was ideal for this meet up. The bar was spacious, dimly lit and had a nice feel (good music and great bartenders).

Attendance: 90+ people RSVP’ed and 30 attended.

Attendees: There were a handful of service providers, including an accountant and a law firm – but my guess is that around 90% of the crowd were entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs.

Ideas, businesses and apps

Here’s a brief summary of the business ideas and products that I was lucky enough to be introduced to:

  • A satchel-mounted iPad holster
  • A real-time fantasy sports iPhone app in beta (co-founded by Joe Montana!)
  • A gluten free, dairy free and vegan friendly cake store
  • A glamping (glamorous camping) trip experience provider

My favourite was a Stickman artist (!?) who turned out to be a friend of a friend. Small world!

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It was a lot of fun to talk to these founders, listen to their ideas and give them some friendly (and hopefully useful) advice.

I love events and always leave with a few new friends. If you’re looking to get the most out of your next meet up – here are a few useful tips.

13 tips for meet up attendees

1. Do your research. Some meet ups will be ‘pitch nights’ instead of opportunities to network. You may find this boring. Check the meet up site for some specifics before you go and if you’re not sure, email the organizer.

2. Introduce yourself to the group. Jumping on an open mic is a very efficient (and nerve-racking) way of telling a brief story about who you are. This gives people a warm read on your background and makes it easier to start conversations and make connections.

3. Be genuine and ask specific questions. There’s nothing worse than being introduced to someone who machine guns you with a pitch about their business when it’s completely irrelevant to you and your interests. Be genuinely interested in what people have to say and you will have fantastic conversations.

4. Move along after a few minutes. There are 101 ways to exit a conversation gracefully, try using ‘It was great to meet you – will you be attending the next meet up?’ and excusing yourself.

5. Be helpful. Don’t judge people for where they are at in their business – the fact that they are taking action is great. Offer actionable advice if you know what you’re talking about and follow up with them later.

6. Be awkward. This is a great way to introduce yourself to people or join a group conversation. Asking… ‘Hey, can I join in?’ will feel strange the first time, but after you tactfully invite yourself into a few conversations, it will feel natural.

7. Bring your business cards. You can get some printed for a few bucks and this will help you to avoid the awkward ‘phone or email address exchange with someone you barely know’ dance.

8. Practice your introduction. I didn’t, but here’s one I can use for next time that will get people’s attention and give them the opportunity to start a conversation with me.

Hi, I’m Alex and I’ve been an entrepreneur for 6 months. I used to be a consultant, but felt like a sellout and I always wanted to start my own business. Since I started, I’ve helped my co-founder (who I haven’t met in person yet) launch 3 businesses and we have just achieved $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue, which pays us a salary. Our primary business is called WP Curve. That’s WP C U R V E. We offer 24/7 WordPress support from $69 per month. 

If you want to talk startups, business ideas or need some help with your business – please say G’day. 

9. Personally thank the organizer. The time and effort put into organizing a meet up deserves a thank you and maybe even a high five.

10. Please don’t spam people with your business card or flyer. It’s fine to exchange details after you’ve had a conversation and found a common thread, but when someone interrupts you and slaps a flyer in your face – it’s leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Don’t butt into conversations and slaps business cards in people’s hands – that card is on a one-way ticket to the bin.

11. Value your time. If you’re not getting anything out of the meet up, it’s OK to leave. Would you sit through a terrible movie when you could be doing something more productive or enjoyable? No. Excuse yourself, enjoy your evening and shoot the organizer an email with some feedback.

12. Be prepared. Seeking out business opportunities is great, but if you’re ‘hungry like a wolf’ and only going in for the kill, you’re not going to have a good time and you might come off as a little desperate. A conference that you pay to attend is a different story – you’ll have a good idea of attendee’s background and their motivation… but that’s a whole new post!

13. Try not to hang around influencers like a bad smell. At some events, there will be well known entrepreneurs who are the centre of attention. Confidently introduce yourself, ask some specific questions and be memorable… then move along!

8 tips for meet up organizers

I was going to wrap it up there, but after I asked around… I realized that attendees are only one side of the meet up equation. Here are some tips if you’re planning a meet up.

1. I’m hungry and thirsty! Free snacks, beverages and maybe even some pizza (mmm) will help keep your attendees’ energy level jacked. The guys behind the WordPress San Francisco meet up have icy cold Pabst Blue Ribbon and piping hot pizza waiting for their attendees. They also run at capacity for their meet ups… coincidence? I think not!

2. Location, location, location. A central meeting point will give attendees one less reason to drop off after they RSVP. Please announce if there is parking, public transport or ride share available to the meet up.

3. Be consistent. A regular time slot, whether bi-weekly or monthly will help to maintain a steady level of attendance. Bonus points for scheduling your meet up early in the week, as most people’s motivation and calendars are pretty much exhausted by Thursday or Friday.

4. Avoid ‘Death by PowerPoint’. Slide decks and product demos are great. But after 2 hours of demos, you’ll probably hear people snoring in the audience, playing with their phones or worse – chatting to each other during presentations. Break it with opportunities to chat.

5. Have an agenda. I’m not talking about a hidden agenda of promoting your own stuff. We’re talking a simple breakdown of who’s going to do what and when – this will help people figure out if your meet up is right for them.

6. Get the crowd involved. Post pitch Q & As, competitions and an open mic session are great ways to engage the audience.

7. Reminders help. I’m busy and disorganized. I forget to attend meet ups if I don’t have a calendar reminder and an email from the organizer on the same day. Please email me so I don’t forget!

8. Follow up and ask for feedback the next day. Closing the loop with your attendees will help you get them to come back the next time around. A friendly thank you email with a request for feedback will do the job nicely.

Should I attend or organize a meet up?

It’s worth testing – what have you got to lose?

Want to attend or create your own meet up? Meetup is where it’s at!

Your thoughts?

Do you have anything to add to this list? Do you enjoy meet ups?

Please tell me in the comments!

About

Hi, I'm Alex McClafferty. I'm the co-founder of WP Curve.

4 responses to “21 tips to hack your next meet up”

  1. Nice post Alex. I’ve seen a few posts on this topic that encourage “going in for the kill” (as you put it) and then giving all sorts of tactics on how to do it. It’s nice to see a post that emphasises being genuine, helpful & polite.

  2. Thanks @thenbrent:disqus! The old ‘spray and pray’ of business cards just doesn’t work for me. I made a handful of new friends at the meet up… wait a minute, didn’t I meet you at a meet up?

  3. Ha yes, we did meet at a meetup and I’m sure we wouldn’t be hanging out today if you used the ‘spray-and-pray’ tactic!

  4. Mitchell Joe says:

    Nice post, Alex. I like #6 “Be awkward.” If you’re shy, you can psych yourself up by reminding yourself that the other people there are very likely in your same shoes, and know no one or hardly anyone. So just go over and say hi. Those people that look like friends just met 2 minutes ago. Join them or find someone else who is wandering the room looking to meet people just like you are. -Mitch “the Stickman artist” Joe (My stickman art, Hearts and All, is here: http://www.heartsandall.com)

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