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To learn a language you need to speak it! What is the best way to do this? By Meeting other language learners and native speakers! If you mainly learn languages online, Meetup is a really great way of getting you off the computer and meeting actual REAL people face-to-face!
Meetup.com is the world’s largest website that facilitates face-to-face meetings. Amazingly, while you’re reading this there’ll be thousands-upon-thousands of Meetups going on in some part of the world. Meetup.com uses the internet to get people away from the internet and interacting face-to-face. You gotta love this concept!!!
I LOVE Meetup groups! So much so that after discovering there were no local Mandarin Groups in my area I created my own Mandarin Meetup Group! That was well over a year ago now and the group I started is still going strong with regular members and a fabulous facilitator that helps to run things. I would recommend setting up a Meetup with a/some trusted friends to spread the workload so you don’t put all of the stress and pressure on yourself!
Don’t Do It All On Your Own!
Further Reading: Don’t forget to download the FREE Countdown to Meetup Checklist
What’s in a Name?
What language is it you wish to speak or maybe it is a polyglot group of many languages? First things first get a name or better still list some suggestions and take it to the initial Meetup Group and get the members to vote on their favorites!
The Meetup Group’s venue
There are a few important things that you should consider when choosing a suitable venue.
Costings: I recommended hosting your Meetup Group at a place that is free or at least costs very little. If your venue costs money you may need to split this with your members. In the early stages not charging will help you to attract more members. If there is going to be a cost involved you need to make that clear in the online Meetup description. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a discount or even for a free space with a venue. Initially, I used a local Coffee shop I spoke with them and they were happy for us to use a dedicated community space as it meant more customers, however, I found it was too noisy. I later spoke to the library and managed to get the community table for FREE! Don’t be afraid to ask! The worst that the venue can say to you is “no,” but if they say “yes” you will have a great place to host your Meetup.
Location, Location, Location: Host your Meetup in a place that is centrally located for most members to get too. Make sure that is close to public transportation or parking is available for those with cars. If there is a parking charge I recommend making a note of it in the event’s description. Include a link to a map or directions on your online Meetup page.
Size Matters: Make sure you choose a place that is appropriate for the number of people you expect to attend. If you are having a social gathering of about 10 people, having a venue that is too big will have members too far from each other to interact. On the other hand, an event with 50+ people in a space that only fits 20 or so people will be a serious issue!
Noise Levels: You want to ensure that the place you choose is not too loud. My mistake was hosting in a coffee shop where it was way too noisy to hear what other’s were saying!
Equipment and Facilities: If your Meetup requires special equipment such as a
whiteboard, projector or screen make sure that they have it or can accommodate
you if you bring your own.
Special Requirements: Does the venue have wheel chair access? Does any member of the group have a nut allergy or suffer from seizures? If on the first floor or plus is there lift access?
If you are not familiar with the venue, don’t just rely on internet pictures and their
website to make your decision – go visit. Some venues significantly change depending on
the day of the week. Go to the venue to check it out and specifically ask about
the day/time you are looking to host your Meetup Event. t is also recommended to call a week and then a day before to confirm that nothing has changed and they are expecting you. Do they have an events guide they could include you in? Would they be willing to display a flyer or poster regarding the Meetup?
It’s a date!
It’s good to keep these groups consistent so people get into the habit of going. So make sure you can book the same venue at the same time of the month or fortnightly. My Mandarin Meetup meets on the first Saturday of the month. I find for me, that weekend Meetups have the most people attending. You also need to think how long the Meetup will be for. Personally, I find 1-2 hours more than enough time for a meetup. I hold mine in the morning from 10.30am-12pm.
Start your online Meetup group
You will be invited to add the location and the group “topics” to start with. Choose these “topics” carefully as they will be the keywords that your potential attendees will use to find you! You may pick up to 15 of these and the good news is they can be changed later.
As you can see from the image on the left you will then be confronted with another short form with only 4 fields to complete.
You should also spend a bit of time here, writing an inviting group description that includes any costings or parking charges and deciding on what your group members should be called… “Language Hatchlings“.
Oh, by the way, it isn’t free to set up a Meetup Group! Maybe I should have started with that fact! However, it is FREE to set up a Meetup account as a member. Meetup charges organiser subscriptions to start and lead Meetup groups. Sometimes they offer the initial month for FREE! There are currently two types of ‘Organizer Subscription Plans’ and these are Basic and Unlimited.
The Basic Organizer Subscription plan costs around $9.99 a month and enables organisers to have up to 3 members on their Leadership Team and up to 50 members in their Meetup Group. The Basic plan is not available to organisers who start their subscriptions through the iOS app. The Unlimited Organiser Subscription plan is currently around $14.99 a month and grants an unlimited Leadership Team, as well as an unlimited number of members. When you are just starting out I would recommend ‘The Basic‘ plan. Are you happy to fund this yourself? Will you ask for voluntary donations from the group or will you charge members? Either way you need to make any potential charges clear within your group description.
Congratulations, you’ve just created your very own Meetup Group online to get people offline to connect and learn languages face-to-face – how ironic! The next step is to promote as no one will show if you don’t tell ‘erm.
Promote your Meetup
Your Meetup group will live or die by the effort you put in to promote it – especially at the early stages. Remember 80/20. 80% promotion and 20% group content. You can not rely on Meetup.com to provide the members for you. You have to put in all the hard work!
Stop at nothing to promote your Meetup Group and make good use of your social media accounts. Here’s what has worked well for me:
- I sent out an email to everyone on my mailing list. This was a bit naughty really as only a small percentage of people on my mailing list actually live near the Meetup location. However, my mailing list has proved to be one of the most effective ways of promoting my group. I also informed people that my Meetups would be held on the 1st Saturday of the month so people could join even if they were not able to make the first session.
- I make regular status updates on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you have the money maybe invest into Facebook or Twitter ads too!
- Posters, I advertised in the venue a month before the event PLUS I also popped the poster on Pinterest and Instagram too.
The day of the first Meetup
Before your first meeting, it’s best to put together some group boundaries and put some serious thought into what issues might arise. For example reminding group members to treat each other with respect and offer encouragement and constructive criticism rather than negative feedback. For my Mandarin Meetup, I try to keep the rules as few as possible but we do have an ongoing group agreement that anyone can add to.
- Turn up early and get some friends (or family) to come along too so you don’t sit there alone pondering over if anyone will come.
- Tweet and hashtag reminders of the Meetup and maybe do some lives updates during the event.
- If you have wifi at the venue ensure you know the codes to connect.
- Put out signs at the venue so people know where to go and which table to sit at (if applicable).
- Don’t forget to bring a register so you know who to expect. I have found that not everyone who says they will turn up, will turn up and sometimes the non-responders do actually turn up!
- Bring name tags or sticky labels. Okay, they are a tad embarrassing, but if you are anything like me they really do help if you’re bad at remembering names.
- Don’t forget any language learning materials such as flash cards or books.
- Bring plenty of pens and some paper. Although most people these days prefer to write notes on their phones, laptops or tablets.
- Remember to take some photos as they can be uploaded later to promote the group and to prove some people actually turned up!
“Keep Calm and Carry On…”
The first session is all about introductions and setting the stage, but going forward it will be important to define your goals for the Meetup and determine how your group will meet those goals. This will affect the way in which you will attract new members and your group’s activities. You need to think about the resources, games, and language learning objectives you will use. Get guest speakers, i.e. native speakers of the target language or inspiring people who speak many different languages.
Go Do It!
What is stopping you from starting a Meetup? It is you, you are stopping you! Go do and set up an awesome language Meetup Group. Don’t be disheartened if not many members turn up initially. When I first started my group 3 people turned up – and one of those was me! BUT I thought “hey ho at least I have 2 people” and we built it on from there and the Mandarin Meetup has now been running for over a year! Perseverance and consistency are also key to the success of a Meetup. Don’t give up at the first hurdle. Organising a Meetup isn’t easy and involves a lot of hard work but it is well worth it in the end. You are contributing to your local community and you will meet so many amazing people through doing so. I hope this post will help you get on your way to arranging successful language Meetups. If you have other tips, questions or suggestions regarding Meetups, please do share them in the comments section. Good luck!
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