This weekend I've participated in a retreat in Berkeley for organizers of prior ACX meetups, with around 50 meetup organizers attending. This post serves to write down my learnings from the sessions on the basic logistics of meetups and hopefully provide a reference document for future. This is an addition to the canonical meetup organizer guide from 2012, trying to integrate some new lessons over the past decade.

I'm not an organizer but want to run a new meetup in city [X]. Can I do this?

Yes, you can. Anyone can become an organizer right now or cease being an organizer at any moment of time. There's no authority or gate keeper bestowing the honor on would-be organizers. Just try to follow some basic common sense rules and hopefully your event will turn out fine. If there are already organizers in your city, you can check in with them on potentially co-hosting something, but you can also just go ahead and create a new meetup.

Where to announce the event?

The key to event announcements is to be mindful of the fact that no single platform is visited by all Rationality fans and that no platform is necessarily the place where people go looking for meetups. Just because you or I read LessWrong doesn't mean that every person reading LessWrong will necessarily visit the Events section to check out upcoming events in their city. They might not know about the Events tab, never check it because it almost never has events in their city, not interested in checking it because it doesn't integrate well with their favorite calendar, etc. So you want to advertise your event on every relevant platform that allows for such announcements

Online platforms

  1. LessWrong events page
  2. LessWrong community page (scroll to "Local Groups"). If you don't have a local group yet, you can create one. Some people only check their local group page for events.
  3. Open threads and Schelling meetup posts by Scott Alexander. Great way to find people who are LW-adjacent but don't actually read LW.
  4. Rationality groups on Meetup.com, i.e. here's one for Seattle. If your city doesn't have a Meetup group, create one! 
  5. Facebook rationality groups. You can find one for your city in this wiki.
  6. Relevant subreddits, especially /r/slatestarcodex
  7. Rationality-adjacent Discord/Slack/Whatsapp channels for your city
  8. Email lists with a lot of Rationality community members, if one exists for your city

If there's a platform I haven't mentioned, please add a link in the comments.

Offline locations

  1. Advertising by the venue where you're hosting the meetup. I.e. if you're renting a room in a brewery they might be willing to put up a poster in your meetup on their wall or post about in on their Facebook. This would be especially relevant if you're hosting the meetup at something like a board games club, where the audience generally intersects with LW readers.
  2. Hang a flyer/poster at your local university or post on their events page, if allowed to do so.
  3. Word of mouth: directly ask people who have RSVP'd to bring more friends and do so yourself.
  4. Go to LW-adjacent meetups (i.e. software developers meetups) and invite attendants to join your meetup. Obviously this shouldn't be the only reason you attend but this can be a secondary goal.
  5. Have a big, attractive sign at your event. Sometimes people will just happen to be at the same venue and would like to join your event if it seems interesting/relevant.

How to announce the event

A lot of Rationality meetups (including my own in the past) are very brief and don't explain much to people who aren't deep into the terminology. For example:

LW weekly meetup at the Marina grouphouse this Friday evening. We'll have a moderated discussion on wordcels vs. shape rotators in the context of Genevan philosophy of the 19th century. 

This is fine if you're just inviting your core group of friends who all know each other but its not optimal if your goal is to attract new members. Therefore your announcement should at a minimum include:

  1. Exact date and time.
  2. Exact address/GPS coordinates. If the place is somewhat hard to find, write down as many details as you can about how to get in.
  3. If the venue is not directly accessible from the street, include the phone number of a person who can let people in.
  4. Breakdown of the event's schedule. I.e. do you plan to give people 30 minutes to trickle in and then start the moderated discussion at 7:30? Write it down in the description.
  5. Legible explanation of what the gathering is about and what prior knowledge is expected to attend, if any. I.e. if you're doing a learning meetup based on the CFAR handbook, write up an explanation of what CFAR is and what the exercises will look like.
  6. Information about the organizer, if allowed by the platform. I.e. people are more likely to attend an even hosted by "Javier Monzales" with a real profile picture than something hosted by "l33t_rationalist44" with an avatar of a submarine.
  7. If you're open to new participants, say so directly. Scott Alexander has a good version of this statement: "Please feel free to come even if you feel awkward about it, even if you’re not “the typical ACX reader”, even if you’re worried people won’t like you, etc."
  8. If the event is recurring every week/month, post an update a few days before confirming that it is indeed happening that week. Otherwise it might look like the event is just auto-repeating and no one will actually show up.
  9. Make sure at least a few people have RSVP'd to the event so that it doesn't look like it will be completely empty. If you know that a certain number of people will show up without RSVP-ing, make it clear in the event description.
  10. If available, include photos from past meetups to showcase what people can expect if they show up, especially if it's at an unusual location. Many people like to assess the meetup's vibe before committing to attend.

Choice of venue

Mingyuan did a nice writeup last year on finding a great meetup venue. If you don't have a great venue in your city yet, check out her post for ideas on how to find one. My only comment would be to try and checkout existing events on Meetup.com to see which venues they're using in your city - often times these would be the best venues for Rationality meetups as well.

Choice of activities

Every event should have more structure than just "stand around and hangout", so that participants have something to fallback to in case their conversations go stale. Ideally the activity should have something to do with "Rationality" but this is not a pre-requisite. Examples of activities you can include for the meetup include:

  1. One or more boardgames for people to borrow. The games should have rounds under 30 minutes and not be too complicated. BoardGameGeek's advanced search provides a handy list of such games.
  2. Physical/dexterity games, such as Jenga/Chess Clock Jenga or Klask. This website can provide more ideas. For 1-on-1 games you could even run a tournament for those who show up.
  3. Default conversation topics. You can ask participants to think about topics like "Who's my favorite person and why?" or "What did I enjoy about my high school?" and share the answer with others they meet at the event. 
  4. Moderated discussion events. Prepare a list of questions for people to answer, break people down into smaller groups and then ask them to discuss each question for 15 minutes. An example would be a discussion on "Probability of AGI misalignment" with questions like "What are the odds of a misaligned AI by year 2050 and why?".
  5. Doing fun stuff together. I.e. a hike in the forest, a rock climbing meetup, a road trip, a beer tasting, a cooking class. 
  6. Have a participant run a workshop on a topic they're an expert in. I.e. someone who's good at art could teach others the basics of drawing a human face.
  7. Presentation night. Have every person spend 10 minutes talking about any topic they'd like.

You can find more examples in the organizers handbook. If there's an activity you've had particular success with at your meetups, please share it in the comments. 

Being inclusive

It's always a good idea to try and make the event more appealing to women and members of other groups who are underrepresented in the Rationality community. Some tips I've got include:

  1. Make sure at least some events are hosted in a public space. It can be scary for women to show up in a strangers house or group house, especially if they don't know anyone at the event.
  2. Consider inviting one or more co-organizers who are female or members of other minorities. They could also offer their perspective on how to make the event more appealing.
  3. Try to have at least a few events that aren't exclusively appealing to "young guys who work in tech companies". 

Running the event

People generally expect the organizer to uphold the structure of the meeting and give guidance on what happens next. This means you can't sit timidly in the corner and talk to people - you have to be cognizant of what's happening and remember to manage the event where necessary:

  1. Be welcoming to new meetup participants and encourage them to join. These would generally be people you've never met or people who look like they're not sure what to do. It's your job to make sure they don't feel left out.
  2. If the meetup has a schedule, make sure people adhere to it. I.e. if your plan was to start a group discussion at 8pm, make sure this actually happens on schedule.
  3. Identify people who are behaving out of line and cause distress to others. I.e. people who constantly interrupt others, who make inappropriate comments, who are bothering other participants or venue staff, etc. Usually a simple tap on the shoulder and a quick side conversation should be enough to resolve the situation peacefully.
  4. Listen to feedback and make notes on future improvements. 
  5. Invite people to join your local Facebook/Meetup/LessWrong group, if they aren't members. People who actually show up to events are extremely valuable and you don't want to lose touch with them. Some organizers even have a local Discord/Slack channel for local events and invite prior meetup participants to join.
  6. Take a few photos of the event (ask permission first) to use in future announcements.

After the meetup 

  1. If the event was larger than ~30 people it might make sense to send out a post-meetup survey. Response rates to such surveys are generally pretty low so it doesn't make sense for smaller events.
  2. If available, post a couple of good pictures from the event as an update. People who have RSVP'd but didn't show up might see the photos and decide they do want to come next time around. 

I'm just an amateur event organizer myself so I'm sure there's things I forgot about or things others might disagree with. Feel free to post corrections/suggestions in the comments.

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Possible addition to the Online Platforms section: email lists. I know Boston has one, NYC has one. Finding them might be tricky if you aren't already on them and there aren't any previous organizers in your city, but if someone is going down a list making sure to announce it everywhere email lists are another place to announce at.

Thank you for writing this up!