Meetup Milestone: Navigating my First Year as an Organizer

Meetup Milestone: Navigating my First Year as an Organizer

So it’s been 1 year now since I started to get involved in organizing two meetup groups in MTL with Pydata MTL and MLOps Community Montreal. Here are a few stats for the past year:

  • 4 Pydata + 5 MLOps community events organized
  • Average attendance of 60
  • Event hosted at Coveo,, Sama, Ubisoft MTL, Google, CRIM, Le wagon, Potloc

I would like to give a big shoutout to Alexander Kim for endorsing me and helping me get started with the meetups world. Also, a huge thanks to all my co-organizers Vinh Nguyen, Stephane Burwash, Jean-Philippe Petit-Frere, and our newcomers Thomas Meimoun and Mohammad Amin Shamshiri in the MLOps community family.

I wanted to take some time to wrap up this year with a few learnings that I gained from this experience and also to share some thoughts on organizing meetups in general.

What I’ve Learned

Event organization

Organizing an event from the ground up typically takes between 1.5 to 2 months, which includes finding venues and speakers. While this may seem extensive, it’s not a constant demand on time. Coordination with all involved parties ahead of time is key to preventing any last-minute issues.

We aim to announce our events on the Meetup page a few weeks prior, usually 2 to 3 weeks in advance. Additionally, we observe a summer hiatus from June to August, a period when hosting companies are less active, and potential speakers are likely engaged in summer activities.

To make the organization smoother, we’ve created checklists and slide templates, which greatly reduce preparation time. There is, for example, a spreadsheet/timeline that can give you an overall idea of when to do what and with whom.

An important part of organizing a meetup is choosing the main platform. In our case, it’s It has been around for a while and offers solid basic features for communicating with the community and handling organizational tasks (like getting a list of attendees), but it has some flaws:

  • Checking who actually comes: Right now, we see about 60-70 people show up, but up to 150 might register. Typically, only 50-60% of those registered attend, and it would be really helpful to confirm who actually makes it.
  • Knowing who’s who: Some users don’t use their real names, and when we need to provide a list to the venue’s security, it can be tricky to manage. I get that collecting personal info can be difficult, though.

Let’s talk about communication in and out.

Communication Between Organizers

Most of us are the same group of organizers for both meetups, and we don’t hold many meetings to sync up. Services like Slack and Discord are really useful for sharing information and maintaining a public record of discussions.

For each meetup group, we have a linked Google account. This way, we can store all content in one place (by giving access to personal Gmail accounts to a shared folder) and have a general email for the group for any necessary interactions with specific entities.

Communication with the Community

LinkedIn is our main channel for communicating with our community. It’s an excellent platform for sharing upcoming events and registration pages. To promote an event effectively, we try to:

  • Create an engaging agenda that includes:
    • An introduction to the event, covering the topic, host location, and any entry requirements (e.g., security checks).
    • An agenda with time slots for different talks.
    • A brief summary of each talk and speaker bios.

Here’s an example of a Pydata meetup description with these elements.

  • Craft a LinkedIn post highlighting the event’s topic, location, and speakers. This original post is often reshared by other organizers to increase visibility. Here’s an example of a promotional post.

We make sure to include relevant keywords in all our materials to boost visibility (and ChatGPT can be pretty helpful in suggesting improvements).

  • After the event, we post another LinkedIn update showcasing photos from the event and thanking the speakers and hosts.

Additionally, we’ve set up a local Discord server (for MTL tech people only), where discussions can continue post-event (this is also where we share slides, etc.).

During the event, we collect feedback from attendees by linking a Google form at the end, asking for their input (who they are, what topics interest them, if they’re interested in speaking), and offering a chance to win an O’Reilly eBook as part of a contest. This feedback mechanism was in place before we started organizing, and I find it to be an excellent idea, although there has been a noticeable decline in interest over the past year, possibly due to solicitation fatigue (my GF guess).

Workload & Workflow

For this, I have a simple rule: one hour on weekdays and one hour on weekends, nothing more, usually less.

From what we’ve learned over the past year, we’ve managed to streamline our work and share tasks between the two meetup groups.

One thing that still takes time is finding speakers and venues. We have a few members who offer to speak at future events during our events, but we still need to secure places to host these events and find additional speakers for future events.

My technique for finding speakers and places:

  • Reach out to past speakers and venues to see if they’re still interested in participating in an event.
  • Connect with local companies and tech people in the Montreal region on LinkedIn.

For the last point, I’ve tried different approaches since the number of characters for a connection request is limited:

  • The funny icebreaker: add a data/ML joke at the start before asking for a connection as a meetup organizer.
  • The real connection: find something in common between my profile and theirs. It can be challenging but shows genuine interest.

The best approach is probably somewhere in between, but random connections without context (which are generally a bad idea on LinkedIn) should be avoided.

It’s also important to set up a tracking mechanism for potential speakers and venues. We use a spreadsheet to keep track of the following information:

  • General information on the contact, such as name, place, LinkedIn profile.
  • Which meetup could be a good fit for them to speak at.
  • Who contacted them.
  • What was the status (interested, not interested, interested but too busy, presented, etc.).
  • A free field for details (like “contacted in February 2023, etc.”).

This method of tracking may seem old-fashioned, but for me, it’s the most efficient to make decisions and defining your lineup (We tried using threads in Slack or Discord, but it wasn’t very effective).

There is no XXX, Why ?

So, let’s address some frequently asked questions in a straightforward manner:

  • Why is there no food and drink? It’s often because the hosting venue or company doesn’t have a budget for refreshments. As organizers, our main goal is to provide a space for learning and networking. Food and drinks are considered a bonus, not a necessity.

  • Where are the slides? We cannot guarantee that every speaker will share their slides, as some may contain sensitive information. However, we always strive to collect and share slides when possible, either through the Meetup page or our Discord server.

  • Why aren’t the meetups recorded? Recording a meetup requires the right equipment and setup, which can be challenging. Originally, meetups are meant to be local, in-person events, so we prioritize this experience over providing recordings. However, if a venue can handle the recording, we view it as a welcome addition, even though we don’t have the resources/skills to edit the footage.

Let’s move on to some of my thoughts on event organization.

Looking Ahead

Roles in an Organization Group

Our team consists of 4-6 organizers for each meetup, leading to discussions about whether we should expand our group of organizers. To be honest, I believe the current number is sufficient for organizing a bimonthly meetup.

However, I think defining specific roles within the group could enhance our efficiency. Drawing inspiration from the RACI project organization model, roles could include:

  • RA (Responsible/Accountable) Members: These members oversee the entire event organization, including syncing with speakers and venues in the backload, and managing the event promotion.
  • Consultable Members: Acts as a secondary reviewer, ensuring everything is on track and providing feedback on the process.
  • I (Informed) Members: The rest of the organizers who may review but are not required to. Their focus should be on other aspects of the meetup, such as finding speakers, securing sponsorships and venues.

I think for our current setup a good combo is to have 2 RA members + 1 Consultable member. This structure assigns clear responsibilities to each member, fostering a sense of accountability while allowing others to focus on different aspects of community management outside of regular work hours.

Collecting Feedback in the Community

As discussed previously, gathering feedback during event organization can be challenging. My current thoughts on improving this process include:

  • Separating Feedback Collection from Events: Instead of linking feedback collection directly to specific events, reach out to the community separately to gather insights. This approach can provide more generalized and reflective feedback.
  • Making Feedback Collection Engaging: The idea of incorporating contests is beneficial but should perhaps be decoupled from event attendance or specific events. Offering incentives that are not directly tied to event participation may encourage broader engagement and provide more diverse insights (potentially from people not coming to an event for specific reasons that they can explain).

Also, I think sharing the statistics of the feedback results could be interesting and offer good insights for potential speakers who might be interested in proposing themselves for future events (We had a few speakers who wanted to adapt their speech to the crowd’s interest).

Sponsorship of Meetups

Sponsorship plays a crucial role in the organization of events. Typically, when a company or venue hosts an event, this acts as a one-time sponsorship, usually valued around 750 CAD, covering the cost of the venue and food. This support is greatly appreciated.

However, there are instances where a venue might not offer food, or we may want to organize an event under specific conditions like a round table. In such cases, having a small fund through annual sponsorships can significantly help a meetup organizer group.

A common concern might be the handling of surplus funds, my thoughts on utilizing extra money include:

  • Organizing general contests to offer additional tech-related prizes.
  • Donating the surplus to local charities, with the community helping choose the beneficiaries.

These are preliminary ideas, and there might be tax implications to consider, but they reflect my ongoing thoughts on enhancing meetup sponsorship to broaden visibility and give back to the community.

Closing Notes

Reflecting on this past year of organizing tech meetups, it’s been an undeniably fun journey. Connecting local tech enthusiasts has not only been rewarding but a testament to the vibrant community we’re a part of. As I look to the future with anticipation, let’s embrace the adventures that await. Here’s to more exciting meetups and continuing to bring our local tech community closer. Let’s see how it goes!