Meetup Advice #1: Choosing a venue

post by mingyuan · 2021-10-13T06:23:06.956Z · LW · GW · 2 comments

Contents

  Basic considerations for choosing a venue
    location
    
    
    comfort
    level
    
    
    
  Being findable
      Changing locations
  Setup & Circulation
  Types of venue
    locations
    
    
    
    
      Bar/pub
      Food court, or shopping center plaza
      Board game café/store
      University classrooms
      Library
      Workplace
  Conclusion
None
2 comments

This is the first post in a sequence I'm writing on how to run a meetup. The advice in this sequence comes from hundreds of survey responses and dozens of conversations I've had with meetup organizers and attendees over the past four and a half years. I'm just the messenger.


In this post, I discuss best practices for choosing a meetup venue. I'm erring on the side of thoroughness, but I also don't want the slew of considerations to give people decision paralysis. No venue is perfect on every single axis! People have had great meetups at all kinds of suboptimal places. Please don't give up on having a meetup because of this post; just pick a place that seems decent to you and see what happens. According to the most recent data, there's a 96% chance you won't regret it!


Basic considerations for choosing a venue

What factors should go into your choice of a venue? TL;DR:

Geographical location

Travel time is a major reason that people don't attend meetups, so you want to choose a place that's as easy as possible for people to reach. Consider:

Size

You need a venue that can accommodate all the people who might show up. If you expect a lot of people or have a lot of uncertainty about how many people will attend, choose a flexible venue such as a park, or plan ahead for a spillover location. For example, an indoor meeting might spill over into an adjacent yard or parking lot, or a nearby park.

Availability

It's important to be sure that the space you've chosen is actually available for a group of your size at the time you've chosen to meet.

If meeting indoors, you might want to:

If meeting in a park:

Physical comfort

Noise level

Noise can be distracting and unpleasant, and of course can make it hard to hear people talking, which is usually the point of a meetup. What's more, many people on this community are on the spectrum or have other sensory processing issues, so will be more sensitive to noise than the average person.

There are two main types of noise problem:

Here are some potential solutions:

Food

People consistently prefer meetups where food is available. If there's no food, and the meetup goes on a long time, people have to either suffer or leave, but if there is food, they can stay and not suffer!

Note that rationalists are disproportionately likely to have dietary restrictions or just strong preferences, and are especially likely to be vegetarian or vegan. Rationalists are also disproportionately non-drinkers.

If meeting at a restaurant, café, or food court, consider:

If providing food yourself, consider:

Privacy/publicity

There are basically three types of location. 

Unlike for the other factors, I don't have a strong prescription here; there are trade-offs and you should make your own decision. I will note that ACX readers in particular generally prefer locations that have some measure of privacy, so that they can talk about weird and/or controversial ideas freely.

Kaj makes a good suggestion in his guide [LW · GW]: 

New people may feel uncomfortable meeting in a private location. At the same time, people who do know each other usually feel more comfortable at a private location. An ideal balance might be to have regular meetups at a public location to attract newcomers, and also meet often at someone’s home. For example, you may want to hold weekly meetups at someone’s home and meet in public once a month.

Other

Some other things you might want to think about:

Being findable

It's not uncommon for people to attempt to attend a meetup, but be unable to find the group. This is often because the location given is too vague, e.g., just the name of a park or restaurant. It may also happen if the group has no obvious identifying visual characteristics; many people are uncomfortable approaching a group of people if they're not certain it's the right group. Here's how to avoid that problem:

Changing locations

Another reason people might have trouble finding you is if you're not where you said you would be. It's best to err on the side of staying put, but sometimes you can't avoid moving at the last minute. For example, you might find that the restaurant is unexpectedly closed, or you have twice as many people as you expected, or it might start pouring rain.

If you need to move, there are several things you can do:

Setup & Circulation

The setup of a space can strongly influence the social dynamics of an event, and many people are unhappy to find that their space leads people to socialize in one uncomfortably large circle.

So, if you're holding a social meetup with ~8 or more attendees, try to make it possible for people to congregate at multiple spots, so that you end up with a variety of small-group conversations. One way to do this is to arrange multiple small seating zones, each accommodating 2 to 8 people. If this isn't possible — for example, because the venue is your house, and it's just not designed for large social events — you might need to actively break up conversations. (More on that in a future post.)

At a social meetup, you also want to make it possible for people to circulate, so that everyone can converse with multiple different groups over the course of the event. I recommend against a single table at a sit-down restaurant; it's better to have something like those small standing-height tables used at cocktail parties, or a mix of standing and sitting areas.

But maybe you're running an event that's not primarily social, like a presentation, or a reading group. In that case, you may not need to focus so much on the mingling aspect. However, it's still a good idea to choose a place with some flexibility — people may want to discuss things after the presentation, and the rigidity of e.g. a lecture hall makes this difficult.

Types of venue

Okay, so we've talked about a bunch of abstract factors, but how do people feel about specific locations when they actually have meetups there?

Outdoor locations

People generally love outdoor locations as long as the weather is favorable, because they're more flexible and less cacophonous, and it's just nice to be outside. Parks and beaches also allow for physical activities like e.g. playing frisbee. And of course, as of this writing, a lot of people still feel uncomfortable meeting indoors.

However, outdoor locations are also high-variance, and can be terrible if it's raining, really hot or cold, or smoky; if there are biting/stinging insects or a lot of ambient noise; or if your meetup goes on into the night and it gets pitch dark.

So if possible, it's good to keep your options open, for example by holding your meetup at a house with a backyard, a restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating, or a café near a park. You can also designate a rain location, or precommit to canceling in case of bad weather.

If you have to have your meetup outside (e.g. for COVID reasons), take weather into consideration when deciding on details. For example, if it's a hot season in your city, have your meetup in the evening when it's cooler, rather than at midday. Or if there's a chance of rain, find a covered outdoor area, like a park shelter or someone's garage.

Homes

Homes are generally a good fit for more personal or vulnerable meetups, such as a rationality dojo or a deep questions meetup. They're less good for meetups where you're trying to attract newcomers — having to show up at an internet stranger's house is a dealbreaker for some people.

In general, private homes offer a lot of advantages that other types of venues don't. They're:

Homes do have some disadvantages as well. 

Cafés

Cafés are one of the classic meetup locations, and previous guides have suggested them as a good place to hold a first meetup. 

Pros:

Cons:

Restaurants

Pros:

Cons:

Other

These are some less-common venue types.

Bar/pub

Plenty of meetups take place at bars, pubs, beer gardens, or breweries, and at least one group has successfully met regularly at a brewery for years.

Food court, or shopping center plaza

Food courts seem to be a pretty well-liked option. Austin has been meeting at a place that I think fits this description every week for like ten years! I think the main reason more meetups don't use them is that they're just not that common of a thing.

Board game café/store

Again, be aware that you'll be pre-filtering your group by choosing a board game store. It seems fine to have board game meetups as part of a rotation of different meetup types, though.

University classrooms

If you're a student this is an obvious and possibly easy venue. If you're not affiliated with a university, it's probably not worth bothering to reserve a university space, unless you're hosting a big lecture or something.

Library

I basically do not recommend libraries.

Workplace

Some people have meetups at their place of work, either in a private room or after hours. I don't have a lot of data on this as I only know of four cases (a bookshop, a gym, and two different corporate offices), so this section might not be very helpful.

Conclusion

I think that's all the basics! Do you have questions? Did I miss important advice on choosing a venue? What do you want to see a post on next? Let me know in the comments.


 

2 comments

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comment by CitizenTen · 2021-10-15T03:31:19.910Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmmm... It seems that someone has thought of doing the exact same thing? Though considering the digging I had to go to find it, it should be more prominent. 

 https://wiki.lesswrong.com/images/c/ca/How_to_Run_a_Successful_Less_Wrong_Meetup_Group.pdf 

Replies from: mingyuan
comment by mingyuan · 2021-10-15T06:03:21.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mentioned this in my sequence intro [? · GW], but to restate it here: That guide is nine years old, and things have changed a fair amount in the past decade; it's also difficult to navigate. Also, you might notice that the advice on choosing a venue covers less than one whole page; I thought there was room for an updated guide that's also more thorough and data-informed.