Takeaways From Hosting my First Virtual Meetup

Last night I hosted my first virtual meetup for my local chapter of Womxn in Machine Learning and Data Science. We were lucky to have Andrea Suozzo who is the Data Editor at Seven Days and she presented on her experience building the Vermont Eldercare Navigator. It was amazing to learn about the important work of protecting our elders with access to better data about the quality of their care and what it takes to build a database out of public data. You can see the story about this on Seven Days as well as at VPR.org.

A screenshot taken by Jane Adams during the meetup.

I had an interesting experience context switching from hosting in-person meetups to a virtual setting so I decided to jot down my notes about my experience for myself and for my co-organizers to reference later. I realized this might also be helpful to others as we adjust our communities to be able to continue to connect virtually in these unprecedented times.

Here some notes on what you should consider and plan for when hosting your meetups virtually:

  • Designate a host ahead of time who is not the presenter. The host will make housekeeping announcements at the beginning and end, moderate the chat, make sure people are muted to lessen background noise during the meeting, and make sure the presenter’s audio and screen sharing are working throughout. The host can copy URLs and reference links from the presentation and put them into the chat so attendees can check them out more easily. Sharing links referenced during the presentation is especially helpful for people who are sight impaired. The host also moderates Q&A throughout and makes sure the meeting ends on time.
  • After you’ve scheduled your meeting, send your presenter a personal calendar invite to their preferred email with reminders set. Include a direct meeting link and a link to the event registration link. Times are weird right now so checking in a few days before the event to ensure they are still willing and able to present is the kind and considerate thing to do! Better yet, schedule this personal invite to start 15–30 minutes early so you both have a chance to test things out before the meeting is scheduled to start.
  • Ask your presenter if they want you to record the meeting. Either for their own purposes, so they can watch it later and improve their speaking skills, or to share publicly via your community youtube account. Allow your speaker to be able to opt out of sharing the recording publicly (or have no recording at all.)
  • Ask your presenter if they want everyone muted or if they are happy to take questions throughout so you as the host can frame this in the beginning for the attendees.
  • Don’t share the zoom (or other) meeting link in the description of the event or on twitter. Only share your meeting link with people who have registered for your event. Meetup.com now lets you list an event online and hides the link from people who aren’t registered. This helps protect your meeting from getting hacked. Make sure to generate a unique meeting ID for your event, don’t use your main profile link for a public meeting. If it gets hacked, a unique meeting ID can easily be trashed.
  • If possible, set the meeting up so there is a waiting room. This allows you to let your presenter(s) and organizers in first so you can chat about what they want to do, test audio/screen sharing, adjust lighting, etc. The downside to setting up a waiting room is that the host will need to watch for those notifications throughout the meeting to ensure late comers are still able to get in.
  • In the beginning of your meetup make sure to mention your code of conduct and warn folks about what you as the organizer will do if the meeting gets hacked (or if an attendee acts inappropriately.) If someone says or shares something that violates your code of conduct, you need to be prepared to interject a reminder about your community standards and worst case scenario eject them from the meeting to protect the folks in your community.
  • For a smaller meetup, start the meeting with introductions. Asking folks to share who they are, what they do, and what interests them about the talk topic helps your presenter frame their topic toward the audience and gets everybody more engaged. Don’t expect everyone to talk, but if people are being bashful maybe call on someone you know to get the ball rolling. For a larger meetup, prepare a shared document and use the first few minutes of the meeting during speaker/host introductions to give attendees a chance to share their name, title/company, and some notes about what they are working on. The meeting will be more fun if people feel comfortable engaging with the speaker and have a chance to get to know each other.
  • NEVER unmute people in your meeting unless they explicitly ask you to in the chat. They may not be speaking up for a reason and you don’t want to be the host that unmutes somebody and causes everyone to hear something they shouldn’t, like toilets flushing or babies screaming or dogs barking or personal conversations. 😅
  • Don’t forget to thank your attendees and presenter for coming at the end of the meeting. Highlight what’s coming up next for your community and tell folks how they can reach you in the meantime.
  • Make sure to tweet or share any relevant links with your community who may have wanted to attend but missed out.

I’d love to hear your advice about how to host fun virtual meetups! Feel free to message me or share them here in the comments.

OSS DevRel at @IBM . board @vtTechAlliance . my words don’t represent my employer. (http://pronoun.is/she/:or/they)