I've been travelling around the US for the past month since arriving from Australia, and have had the chance to see how a number of different Less Wrong communities operate. As a departing organiser for the Melbourne Less Wrong community, it has been interesting to make comparisons between the different Less Wrong groups all over the US, and I suspect sharing the lessons learned by different communities will benefit the global movement.
For aspiring organisers, or leaders looking at making further improvements to their community, there already exists an excellent meetup organisers handbook, list of meetups, and NYC case study. I'd also recommend one super useful ability: rapid experimentation. This is a relatively low cost way to find out exactly what format of events attracts the most people and are the most beneficial. Once you know how to win, spam it! This ability is sometimes even better than just asking people what they want out of the community, but you should probably do both.
I'll summarise a few types of meetup that I have seen here. Please feel free to help out by adding descriptions of other types of events you have seen, or variations on the ones already posted if you think there is something other communities could learn.
Public Practical Rationality Meetups (Melbourne)
Held monthly on a Friday in Matthew Fallshaw's offices at TrikeApps. Advertised on Facebook, LessWrong, and the Melbourne LW Mailing List. About 25-40 attendees. Until January, were also advertised publicly on meetup.com, but since then the format has changed significantly. Audience was 50% Less Wrongers, and 50% newcomers, so this served as our outreach event.
6:30pm-7:30pm Doors open, usually most people arrive around 7:15pm
7:30pm sharp-9:00pm: Content introduced. Usually around 3 topics have been prepared by 3 separate Less Wrongers, for discussion in groups of about 10 people each. After 30 minutes the groups rotate, so the presenters present the same thing multiple times. Topics have included: effective communication, giving and receiving feedback, sequence summaries, cryonics, habit formation, etc.
9:00pm - Late: Unstructured socialising, with occasional 'rationality therapy' where a few friends get together to think about a particular issue in someone's life in detail. Midnight souvlaki runs are a tradition.
Monthly Social Games Meetup (Melbourne)
Held in a private residence on a Friday, close to central city public transport. Advertised on Facebook, LessWrong, and the Melbourne LW Mailing List. About 15-25 attendees. Snacks provided by the host.
6:30pm - Late: People show up whenever and there are lots of great conversations. Mafia, (science themed) Zendo, and a variety of board games are popular, but the majority of the night is usually spent talking about what people have learned or read recently. There are enough discussions happening that it is usually easy to find an interesting group to join. Delivery dinner is often ordered, and many people stay quite late.
Large public salons (from Rafael Cosman, Stanford University)
Held on campus in a venue provided by the university. Advertised on a custom mailing list, and presumably facebook/word of mouth. Audience is mostly unfamiliar with Less Wrong Material, and this event is has not yet officially become associated with Less Wrong, but Rafael is in the process of getting a spin-off LW specific meetup happening.
7pm-7:30pm: Guests trickle in. Light background music helps inform the first arrivals that they are indeed at the right place.
7:30pm-7:45pm: Introductions, covering 1. Who you are 2. One thing that people should talk to you about (e.g. "You should talk to me about Conway's Game of Life" 3. One thing that people could come and do with you sometime (e.g. "Come and join me for yoga on Sunday mornings"
7:45pm-9:30pm: Short talks on a variety of topics. At the end of a presentation, instead of tossing it open for questions, everyone comes up to give the speaker a high-five, and then the group immediately enters unstructured discussion for 5-10 minutes. This allows people with pressing questions to go up and ask the speaker, but also allows everyone else to break out to mingle rather than being passive.
Still to come: New York, Austin, and the SF East and South Bay meetup formats.