Meetup Cookbook

My spouse and I have been running LessWrong meetups in two different cities for the past six years (... well, we weren't married when we started). Over time, we've gotten lazier and lazier about organizing, while still maintaining similar results, mostly by coming up with a bunch of simple recipes and scripts for running meetups. Here I have documented how we do it, so others can use what we do.

If you run one of these meetup topics and you like it (or hate it!) I'd love to hear about how it went. It would be great to incorporate updates from other people's experience here so we can keep sharing knowledge. I'm maia on LessWrong.

Table of Contents

Introduction

What is this document?

A step-by-step guide to how we ran regular, weekly meetups. This is not a philosophical discussion of what meetups are about, or should be for. This is also not a guide to how anyone else has or can run meetups; there are lots of ways to do it that are good and serve their purpose. This is how we in particular have done it to our particular purposes, and should serve as a comprehensive guide to anyone who wants to use our meetup as a starting point. Or straight-up copy it if you want.

Who are you?

Here are our credentials: When we started organizing the Washington, D.C. rationality meetup, it had 0-3 attendees per meetup. When we left, there were consistently 7-10 attendees every week, a base of around 20-30 irregular attendees, and a small community of friends who hang out outside the meetup. As far as I understand it, it's in a similar state today. The San Francisco meetup didn't exist when we first moved there; now it's in a similar state. In other words, we believe we've found a formula for creating a sustainable smallish community. We've made many lasting friendships ourselves through these meetups.

That said, we certainly have more to learn. It takes a lot of time and work to reach a point where other people are willing to step up and help organize; in SF's case, it's taken nearly four years. And I'm still not sure how to handle the problem of people "graduating" out of the meetup.

What kind of meetups are these?

We have focused primarily on organizing social meetups, with the goal of building community where there was none before. This means that the meetups we run aren't focused on "dojo"-like atmospheres, "leveling up" one's rationality skills, or organizing people into large-scale productive projects. Some of the topics found here achieve other goals, like the Projects meetup, but that's not the main goal.

These are for LessWrong meetups, which means they're optimized for a particular type of person/group of people. Specifically: people who are somewhat socially awkward, who are often new to in-person LW community, but who are generally familiar with the online community and have probably read some to all of the Sequences. A lot of this will work even if those assumptions aren't true, but I can't guarantee it since this is all we've done.

People vary; experiences vary; communities vary. Experiment and do what works for you. This is just an accounting of what has worked for us.

Getting Started

To run a meetup, you need a few things:

  1. A plan for how to run the meetup.
  2. Advertising beforehand.
  3. A location.
  4. An organizer who can take charge on the day-of.

Let's go through each of these in turn.

Plan

That's what this document is for: helping you find one. You can pick one of the meetup plans below.

Planned activities should be good icebreakers. They need to be structured enough to get people talking to each other, but not so structured that people feel bad about giving up on them to have a conversation.

If you have an idea for a topic, write it up, run it, and see how it goes. If it goes well, try reusing it. If it has good replay value, reuse the hell out of it. That's how we got all of these meetup topics to begin with.

We have a rotation of planned meetups, doing each one at different frequency depending on the topic. Some topics are easy to reuse very frequently, like Projects; others, like Short Talks, benefit from having more time in between so that people have time to find new interesting things to talk to each other about.

We have Meta Meetups roughly once a year, and use that to re-plan and re-evaluate the meetup schedule, make modifications to topics, and try new topics.

I make a schedule of the planned topics about six months in advance in a spreadsheet. Here's what that looks like:

This makes it extremely easy to post the meetups every week. Reducing friction for ourselves means that the meetup happens more reliably.

Lastly, we usually have the planned activities start some time after the official meetup start time (30-45 minutes). This helps accommodate stragglers who have trouble showing up on time, and break the ice a bit. You can tweak this to your liking, but I think it's useful to have at least a few minutes at the beginning of "Hey, what's your name? How are you doing? How did you hear about the meetup?" before launching straight into the topic.

Advertising

You can't have a meetup without people showing up. To get people to show up, you have to tell them about it.

Most of our new attendees through the years have found our meetups via the LessWrong website. I strongly recommend advertising there.

There may be nearby local rationality-adjacent groups, mailing lists, or just people who you know might be interested. Try asking them to come, too. People like it a lot when you tell them individually that you'd like to see them (only tell them that if it's true, of course).

We currently post meetups to four places: LessWrong, a local LW mailing list, Facebook, and the SlateStarCodex meetup repository.

To make this more convenient, my spouse wrote a Python script that takes the meetup topic name (e.g. "Projects") and then posts the corresponding description to all four places. You can find it on GitHub here.

You could also try meetup.com, if you're willing to put in some cash for advertising. Often people who come from there will have different ideas about what "rationality" might be, and won't be as familiar with in-group jargon or concepts. Most of our meetups have been run by advertising on LessWrong and local groups, so I don't have much advice for handling people who haven't even heard of the rationality community.

Should I ask for RSVPs, so I know how many people are coming? No. Probably don't bother, it never works.

You might get a couple of RSVPs, or more for an especially popular meetup, but most people seem to like to be able to decide day-of whether they're going to come. Asking for RSVPs might dissuade people from coming on the day-of, unless you preface it with "BUT COME ANYWAY EVEN IF YOU DON'T." It probably won't hurt to ask for RSVPs, if you do add such a preface, but don't expect much out of it. RSVPs are usually poorly correlated with attendance.

Another strategy is to say "I'm going to be at the location from X-Y PM, guaranteed," and hang out the entire time to see if anyone shows up. This way you catch people even if they show up very, very late - which does happen, in our experience. This is more useful if you have very low attendance, or you're starting a new meetup and are not sure what to expect from possible attendees.

For each meetup announcement, we use a consistent format of: 0. Subject line with the meetup topic and date; 1. Date/time/location; 2. The text explaining what this particular meetup will be about; 3. Boilerplate text explaining what the meetup series is about in general. Here is the boilerplate text we use for the San Francisco meetup:

Format: We meet and start hanging out at 6:15. There's often a group food order. The official meetup topic starts at 6:45-7:00 and runs until ~9:00.

About these meetups: The mission of the SF LessWrong meetup is to provide a fun, low-key social space with some structured interaction, where new and non-new community members can mingle and have interesting conversations. Everyone is welcome.

We explicitly encourage people to split off from the main conversation or diverge from the topic if that would be more fun for them (moving side conversations into a separate part of the space if appropriate). Meetup topics are here as a tool to facilitate fun interaction, and we certainly don’t want them to inhibit it.

You might also want to put important information like date/time/location changes, or stuff the attendees need to do, like signing up for cooking, in BIG LETTERS or bold at the beginning of the announcement.

Lastly, it's very important to advertise roughly a week in advance at least, so people can plan. We often have problems with posting the meetups too late, as late as the day before, and this correlates very strongly with low attendance.

Day-of organizer

That's you! (I assume.)

Note: The person who takes point on the day of the meetup doesn't have to be the same person who posted the announcement. You can split it up with a friend to reduce the load on each of you.

My spouse and I have been running meetups together for a while and can both do it on the day-of, so we take over for each other if the other has a commitment or isn't feeling great on a particular day. It helps a lot.

As the person taking point on the day of the meetup, you need to announce the topic and read out the activity directions; e.g. "Hey everyone, we're going to start the activity now. It's called X, and the first step is..."

A few words of advice:

You might feel awkward about taking charge of a group. That's okay, and if you feel really uncomfortable, you can lampshade it by saying something like "Hey, so I guess I'm running this thing." But you don't really need to say things like that. Meetups are low-stakes. It's not a dominance move to set up and run one; it's a gift you give to other people. You may not be the best person possible to lead this group of people, but you're the one who showed up and is doing your best, and that's what matters.

Making conversation with new people and helping them feel included is a great thing for an organizer to do. I don't always have the energy to do it as actively as I'd like, but it helps a lot when I do. My usual opening question is: "How did you hear about the meetup / what made you decide to come today?" (This helps you see how your advertising is working, too.) This often opens up to follow-up questions like "Oh, you heard about LessWrong from [blog]? What subjects do you find most interesting there?" or "You're visiting for [event]? How is that going?". Try to pick up whatever conversational threads you can and ask open-ended questions. Don't be afraid to share some about yourself, too, as long as you're taking a reasonable share of the conversation.

Location

You need a place where everyone can show up and hang out for the duration of the meetup. Depending on the location, you may also need a host who is your point person for the space; for example, if it's at an office or someone's apartment, the host is the person who works or lives there (and doesn't have to be the same person as the meetup organizer).

Desirable qualities in a space include:

Some meetup locations that have worked well for us: Someone's home or apartment; lounge spaces in an apartment building; a publicly available space like the Kogod Courtyard in Washington, D.C.; an office that's willing to host the meetup; on days with good weather, public parks. You could also try a coworking space, or a quiet restaurant or cafe that doesn't mind acquiring a noisy group for a while.

If you have weekly meetups, it helps a lot to have the meetup in the same location week to week. People get used to going to the same place, and it's easier for them to plan if they know how long it will take to get there. We tried bouncing around the meetup location in SF for a while, but stopped after multiple attendees ended up going to the wrong location.

That said, it's very helpful to have a backup location or two in case the usual meetup host can't do it on a particular day, or another event is happening in the space.

Meetup Recipes

Here's the good stuff: Meetup topics and how to run them.

Some of these topics are more effort to run, or take more prep, than others. I've rated them on prep and social effort required.

Group Debugging

Prep work: None

Day-of effort: Moderate

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

We’ll be meeting to solve each other’s problems! Here’s how it works: we’ll have everyone brainstorm silently for a few minutes, then go around and summarize what problems we might like to work on; then people can break up into smaller conversations according to problems they think they could be most helpful with.

How to Run It

Give everyone paper and pencil.

Set a timer for 3 minutes for brainstorming problems. Tell attendees some version of the following:

Issues can range from small and specific, like "I have trouble getting to work on time," or "I want to get into social dancing," to large, like "I'm looking for jobs and could use some tips and help," or "I'm moving and really stressed out about it," or vague like "I have a vague sense of malaise about doing better in social relationships and want to talk through it with someone."

Try to think of all the problems you can, without worrying about whether you actually want to talk about them right now at this meetup. You can filter through them at the end, and you won't have to show anyone what you actually have written down. Relatedly, respect others' privacy while brainstorming, and do NOT look over other people's shoulders.

After 3 minutes are up, go around and have everyone give a brief summary of 1-3 things they want help with. Tell everyone that it's okay to pass, or just share one or two things.

Say to attendees "now go find people with issues you think you can be helpful with."

It's often helpful if the organizer starts the process, by saying something like "hey X, I think I can help you with Y."

Usually small groups will form organically around talking about someone's problem, and transition to general conversation after a while.

People will often switch conversations or switch to talking about a different person's problem over time. You could try making an announcement periodically to encourage folks to do this if they want to, if they seem to feel awkward about it. We don't generally do this; we pretty much led by example, switching conversations whenever we wanted to, until other people at the meetup got the idea, and now our meetup regulars switch conversations when they feel like it without any action on our part.

(credit to Sarah Spikes for helping me write this up)

Cooking

Prep work: High (reminders, buying groceries)

Day-of effort: Low to moderate (people usually get the idea pretty quickly, but organizing cleanup can be a pain)

This meetup usually runs significantly longer than others because of the time it takes to cook, eat, and clean up. Expect about 4 hours; our cooking meetups starting at 6:15 usually go until 10-11 (closer to 10 now that we're better at coordinating them).

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

We'll be meeting to cook food! If you're interested in leading a dish, please sign up to do so here: [INSERT LINK TO GOOGLE DOC].

We will buy groceries beforehand, so all you need to do is come prepared to cook your dish or help somebody cook theirs (and pay us back for groceries). In the past, grocery costs have usually been about $4-9 per person.

How to Run It

First, check with regular attendees to see if anyone is interested. This meetup requires a lot of participation, so buy-in is more necessary than usual.

People sometimes ask about dietary restrictions for this meetup. Our policy for this is "If you have dietary restrictions, you can ask someone else to lead a dish that works for you, or lead a dish yourself." We don't impose any blanket restrictions on food types. My spouse has dietary restrictions: usually one of us cooks something he can eat at the meetup, and with the total of assembled dishes, it generally ends up being enough.

One week beforehand:

  1. Create a Google Doc for the meetup, using this template. Customize it to suit your purposes.
  2. Post the meetup announcement to your usual distribution channels.

A couple days beforehand: Post a reminder to your usual distribution channel. Consider pinging individual people you know who might be interested to ask them to lead a dish, if responses are low.

Day before: Purchase groceries.

Day of the meetup:

  1. Arrive at the venue on time or a little bit early with groceries. Unpack and, if you have time, set up workstations (e.g. cutting boards with knives for each dish that needs them).
  2. Direct people who show up to the dish leaders for guidance on what to do.
  3. After you're done cooking and eating, figure out the cost per head of the meetup, and let everyone know how they can pay you back.
  4. Try to get cleanup done as you go / as soon as possible, so that it gets done while everyone is still there and before you get too tired. Ask for others to pitch in.

Projects

Prep work: None

Day-of effort: Low

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

We’ll be meeting to work on projects!

Near the beginning, we’ll go around and talk about what we’ll be working on, then do a couple of pomodoros. At some point we’ll break into general conversations and socializing.

Alternate text from Michael Cohn:

Bring a project (a website, a story, a knitting project, a business plan, or anything else...) and we'll co-work. At the beginning we'll each talk about what we're working on. You can choose to work on your own, or to team up with others if you'd like to learn about their work or offer help. There's usually one room for quiet work and one for talking and collaboration.

We'll do a few pomodoros with breaks interspersed, and after that we usually dissolve into general conversations and socializing.

How to Run It

After people arrive and you've done any intro socializing you'd like, say "Okay, let's go around and summarize briefly what we're working on before we get started. You can pass or say you're not sure if you'd like, or that you're open to helping other people." Ideally, you go first to give people an idea of what to say.

After everyone has said something or passed, if you have two spaces, say, "This space is for quiet work, and this other space will be for loud work - move to the other one if you prefer that." Then once people have moved, say, "Okay, we're starting," and start a 25 minute timer.

When it's time for a break, announce that there's a break, and make conversation with attendees as you see fit. Asking them how their project is going is a decent opener. The meetup is more fun if people actually do take breaks, rather than working through them.

Do at least two pomodoros, with 10 minute breaks in between. We usually take a straw poll (raised hands) to ask if people want to be done with pomodoros after two or three have been completed. Hopefully, after a few breaks with socializing, people will have started conversations about their projects.

Short Talks

Prep work: None

Day-of effort: Low, or moderate if you give a talk

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

We’ll be meeting to give and listen to very short talks!

We’ll do 7-minute lightning talks with 3 additional minutes allowed for questions. We’ll also limit the number of programming-related talks to no more than half of all talks, in order to promote variety.

A talk doesn’t have to be formal, planned, or even something that you’d expect someone to Give A Talk About; it can be as simple as telling the group about something you find interesting or cool. In the past, we’ve had people talk about topics like: how complicated the process of organizing fresh food for airplane flights is, their experience volunteering for a local political campaign, a video game they were designing and writing, and many others.

We don't expect any sort of preparation or practice for these kinds of talks. They're very casual and the expectations are low. If your talk isn't great, it's okay because we'll just move on to another one in a few minutes. If it helps, think of it this way: you're just being given the conversational floor for a few minutes, in a slightly more organized way than usual.

How to Run It

When you're ready to start the topic, say "Okay, it's time for short talks. Does anyone have a 7-minute talk they'd like to give?" Give people a few moments to think; don't be worried if there's some awkward silence.

Sometimes it helps if the organizer goes first. You could also say "Well, I have an idea to talk about X, are people interested in that?" or perhaps "I could talk about X or Y, which are you most interested in?" It can help you get over the hump of giving a talk if you know the audience is interested. And remember, it's only for 7 minutes.

I usually don't do this, but it might be helpful to tell them "I'll hold up one finger when you have one minute left," and then do that. Sometimes people have requested one-minute and two-minute warnings.

Set a timer for 7 minutes. Tell the person to start whenever they're ready, and start the timer when they start talking. When it goes off, tell them, "OK, we have a few minutes for questions now." Set a timer for 3 more minutes. If no one has questions, or if they just want the presenter to keep talking for longer, that's OK too.

I try not to be too strict with the timers if the audience is engaged -- as long as people look interested and are asking more questions / getting into the discussion, I'll let it go on for longer. I'll stop the presenter in a more timely manner if no one seems interested in their talk.

When you've decided to cut off a particular talk, say (politely), "Thanks, [Name]. Okay, does anyone else have a talk?"

Reading Discussion

(credit to Jim Babcock for this format, which I stole nearly wholesale from his reading meetups)

Prep work: Some (picking readings, printing them out). Needs to be posted further in advance so people have time to read the articles.

Day-of effort: Moderate

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

This is sample text; substitute in your chosen readings.

This week, we'll be meeting to discuss two interesting blog posts or articles.

We'll be discussing "Against Responsibility" by Ben Hoffman (http://benjaminrosshoffman.com/against-responsibility/) and "Bring Back the Sabbath" by Zvi Mowshowitz (https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/ZoCitBiBv97WEWpX5/bring-back-the-sabbath). It'd be convenient if you read one of the articles beforehand, but we'll bring copies for anyone who hasn't.

How to Run It

One week before the meetup:

Select two blog posts or articles that you think would be interesting to discuss, ideally under 10 minutes of reading (a few thousand words). This is the hard part. You could try recent posts on LessWrong, SlateStarCodex, or another blog you like. Consider your audience: if your meetup attendees are mainly people who have been reading LessWrong for the past decade, more recent posts will be of interest; whereas if they haven't read those, it might be interesting to look at an older post rather than something that depends on four levels of inside baseball to understand. Try to pick articles on relatively disparate subjects, to make it more likely that each attendee will find at least one of them interesting.

Post the meetup to your usual distribution channels, with links to the articles.

The day of the meetup:

Print out and bring several copies of each article.

Ask the group to split up into two groups: one discussing each article. Having separate conversational spaces is helpful for this.

Discussion prompts: What did you find interesting about this? (Or if you don't find it interesting, why not?) What do you disagree with? What were your overall thoughts?

Encourage conversational equality by asking quieter people what they think. You could try giving a general announcement like "Try to notice how much conversational space you're taking up, and equalize it with the people around you."

As the organizer, it can be helpful to switch conversations periodically to see how things are going and help moderate each discussion. If things are slow, try asking some of the prompt questions.

Deep Questions

Prep work: A little bit (picking questions)

Day-of effort: Low to moderate

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

(credit to Michael Cohn for this updated text)

How Deep Questions works: We break into pairs. The MC reads an interesting, open-ended question. You and your partner spend about 6 minutes each listening to each other's answers. Afterwards, you pair up with someone new and answer a new question.

Example questions:

Note: The questions are (arguably) deep, but your answers don't need to be. There's no expectation that participants will share any more than they're comfortable with.

How to Run It

Before the meetup: Decide on a reasonable list of questions to use. Here's my document with some resources, question ideas, and how questions have fared in previous meetups.

At the meetup:

When you're ready to start the meetup, say "Time to start doing deep questions."

Break everyone into pairs. My preferred way to do this is the following: Count the number of people in the group. Divide that number by two, and go around the room counting up to that. So for example, if there are 10 people, count them "1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5." People with the same number are assigned to the same pair. If there's an odd number, you can sit out, or ask to switch off sitting out with someone else.

Set a timer for 6 minutes. Tell everyone, "The question is: [QUESTION]. Pick one person to go first; you have six minutes to answer." When the timer goes off, reset it, and tell everyone to switch to the other person answering.

When the second timer is up, you can optionally ask everyone to rate how that question went. I like to use a "hand level" method of polling for this: Say "Can I get a show of hands for how much you liked this question?" Raise your hand above your head and say "Up here means you really liked it," then lower your hand to as low as it will go, "down here means you hated it." Then look and try to get a general feel for the levels. You can also ask for feedback in words if anyone has some, but don't spend more than a minute or so on it before moving on.

Once you've polled, tell everyone, "Pick one of you to rotate partners, then that person move on to the next person clockwise." On the next rotation, you can then say, "Whoever rotated last time, rotate again."

Do roughly four or five repetitions (about an hour's worth). You can ask for a show of hands to see if the group wants to continue after about that many.

Shallow Questions

Prep work: None

Day-of effort: Low to moderate

Materials

None.

Meetup Announcement Text

We’ll be doing quick rounds where you spend 5 minutes talking to someone else, then rotate. We’ll have a couple of conversational prompts to help out, but it won’t be too structured; the goal is to just get familiar with a lot of individual faces at the meetup group.

How to Run It

This format is taken from authentic relating games.

Break everyone into pairs. See the Deep Questions description above for directions on pairing off and rotating.

Give everyone the following prompt:

Pick one person to be the question-asker, and one to be the question-answerer. The asker's job is to ask whatever random question comes into their head, as quickly as they can. The answerer's job is to answer the question in as much unnecessary detail as possible.

So for example, the asker might say "Your shirt is interesting, where did you get it?" The answerer could say "Well, I got it from a thrift store when I was in college, which was near where I lived at the time with my roommates, who I didn't like that much. I needed a shirt because I was tired of wearing my old clothes from high school..." and so on and so forth.

Set a timer for 5 minutes. Say, "Pick one person to be asker, and one to be answerer; we'll go for 5 minutes, then switch." After 5 minutes, say, "Switch who's asking and answering." After another 5 minutes, tell everyone to rotate.

Stories

Prep work: A little bit (printing prompts)

Day-of effort: Moderate

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

We'll be meeting to tell each other stories! Ideally, come with a story from your life (doesn't have to be about anything in particular) that you want to tell other people. We'll have a list of prompts to make this easier.

How to Run It

Here's a list of prompts to show people: Stories Meetup: Prompts. I recommend printing out one or two copies of this and bringing it to the meetup. Feel free to copy and add your own, or remove ones you don't like.

Start the meetup by saying "Okay, so it's time for stories - does anyone have a story they want to tell?" If no one has one immediately, pass around the prompts, or start by telling one of your own.

Don't be too strict with the structure - if a conversation flows naturally out of a story, let it happen for a while before steering back to ask if anyone else has a story.

Board Games / Singing

Prep work: Varies; low to moderate (getting board games, prepping song lyrics)

Day-of effort: Low

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

Some people don’t like board games, and based on our straw poll at the recent meta meetup, most of those people seem to like group singing. So this meetup has both!

We have a variety of games, but feel free to bring your own.

We’ll also bring lyrics for some songs to sing together. If there’s anything you really like singing and think other people might know, please feel free to bring it or a link to lyrics for it that we can pull up. A rhythm instrument might be nice to bring, iff. you know the particular songs we’re doing well enough to keep up easily.

How to Run It

This is a hybrid meetup; it can be easily adapted to be one or the other if you prefer.

For board games:

Once a few people have arrived, chat with them about what kinds of games they might like to play. It's often helpful to hold off on starting a really involved game until most of the attendees are there, so that latecomers aren't too excluded. Games like Set or Zendo that are easy to join are good for playing while you're waiting for people to show up.

Even if you start playing something before everyone arrives, make an effort to greet people, tell them what games are available, and help them find a game they'd like to play if you can.

For singing:

Caveat: how well this goes depends a lot on the attendees. If they're into it, it can be a lot of fun, but it might be hard to bootstrap interest that isn't there yet. The organizer needs to take a fair amount of initiative, too, which takes a lot of social energy for me personally.

Bring lyrics to a few songs you like. Everyone knows Still Alive, in my experience. Other nerdy songs might be good, or popular songs like Beatles.

When it comes down to it, you pretty much have to pull out the lyrics so everyone can look at them, and just start doing it, and hope that other people join in. Don't be afraid to strike out on your own; if you like the song and you can do it, you might inspire someone else to learn it, even if they don't know it well enough to join in this time. (I learned Skullcrusher Mountain at a meetup in this way!)

It does help a lot to have a ukulele or a guitar to get people to join you. It's a nontrivial investment, though; I generally want to be able to play a song fairly comfortably before I try playing it in front of other people and getting them to sing along. Stopping for a few seconds to get the chords right is all very well when practicing, but it makes it very hard for other people to follow what you're doing.

Meta Meetup

Prep work: Some (prepping good questions helps)

Day-of effort: Fairly high

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

It's been a while since we've reflected on questions like: What is this meetup for? What are we getting out of it, and what do we want to get out of it? How could we do better? What are new formats or topics we could try?

This meetup will be partly collection of feedback, partly brainstorming, and partly putting together concrete plans for the future. (And as usual, I expect there will be some casual conversations, too.)

How to Run It

Before the meetup: Think about what kind of feedback you're most interested in from attendees. What meetup topics are you unsure about? What are you pretty sure is working, and what things are you more shaky on? What are you worried about? Come up with a few questions for attendees based on your reflection.

At the meetup:

Go around and ask each attendee a couple questions about their experiences. Here are some suggested questions.

Take notes on what each person says. Pay special attention to issues that are brought up by multiple people.

I like the go-around-and-ask-each-person format, because it helps make sure that everyone's voice is heard, even if they are quiet.

On our first meta-meetup for the SF meetup, we focused on the social aspects of the meetup, and whether it was helping people form connections. Based on that feedback, we started doing Deep/Shallow Questions meetups, which were quite successful.

Year in Review

Prep work: Fairly high (prepping activity)

Day-of effort: Moderate to high (discussion requires active coordination)

Materials

Meetup Announcement Text

In keeping with previous years, we’ll be meeting to reflect on how our past year went. We’ll start with this post on LessWrong as a jumping-off point, then move into discussion.

How to Run It

We've tried a few different ways of running a "year in review" type of meetup, and haven't really settled on one yet. So this is still a bit in flux.

One way we've tried running it is: Ask what revealed preferences you would assign to someone who spent the last year as you have. This can be interesting if people like the framing behind it, but it can also be a little condescending/rude to your past self, which some attendees didn't like the second time we ran it.

Another way is to go through the questions in the linked LW post, above. We tried this this past year. People seemed to find it helpful, but we didn't have a concrete plan for the meetup. The disorganization was confusing and not great.

What I would recommend (and what I would do for next year): Find a reasonable stopping point for the questions - pick some of them that you think will take about 30 minutes to complete. Have the attendees answer those questions individually on paper, then after a reasonable amount of time or everyone is done, do some discussion. Be aware that some of these questions are very personal, and it's important not to pressure people to share more than they're comfortable with.

Some possible discussion prompts:

Other Resources

Credits

Thanks to Michael Cohn for giving detailed feedback on this.

Thanks to Sarah Spikes for encouraging me to do this.

Thanks to all of our attendees, location hosts, and friends at meetups. Y'all are the reason we do this.

And thanks to my spouse for keeping the meetups going, week after week, year after year.

Later Updates

This page was originally made public on July 14, 2018.

Update 2019-01-11: Aaron Gertler linked to this page and wrote some feedback and additional tips in this post on the EA forum.

Update 2018-08-04: Although it's only been a few weeks since this was published, there have been a couple things to report.