Last Sunday, we had a LessWrong Meetup in Berlin in a new location and format with a lot of new people and it went great. We had 28 participants (32 if you count 4 kids that one person brought along).
The topic of the meetup was "How do we change our minds?" This was my second iteration of this format. I ran it before in Hamburg where most people who came to the meetup also didn't know each other.
We scheduled the meetup on meetup.com to officially begin at 13:00 with the first half hour being about arriving at the venue and chatting with other people. This setup makes it more likely that most participants will be in attendance at 13:30 and a setup I can generally recommend. Many people who attended the meetup heard about it through our existing mailing list or recommendations from friends.
Few people knew each other before the event started and little good conversations happened in the first half an hour. If you have more regulars in attendance, encourage them to start conversations with new people.
Fortunately, our event worked well and created common ground. By the end everybody was talking to each other and had great conversations.
Given that it worked so well, Janique Behman who was visiting Berlin asked me for the script for the event to be able to hold a similar event in another city. Given that it might be a valuable blueprint for other people who are thinking about what they could do on a Lesswrong meetup I decided to write it up as this post.
The general idea of the meetup is that all humans change their beliefs from time to time whether or not they already identify as aspiring rationalists or not. In the meetup every participant is tasked with writing a list of times when they changed their beliefs in the past year and afterwards we do exercises that build on that basis.
Instead of writing down the schedule as the event happened I write an idealized schedule based on what I learned:
13:30-13:40 Whole group: Introduction to the meetup and what LessWrong happens to be. Communicate the Chatham House rule for the event.
13:40-13:50 Whole group: Guided Meditation with theme of listening/incorporating new information (if you don't feel comfortable with leading meditations it's no problem to skip this step)
13:50-13:52 Whole group: Exercise explanation
13:52-14:02 Exercise 1: Solo work. Everybody takes 10 minutes to write down a list with meaningful beliefs that they changed in the past year. It's helpful when the presentation of the exercise makes it clear that the realm of possible beliefs that can be written down here is large.
14:02-14:09 Exercise 2: Groups of two. Every person takes 3 minutes to share a meaningful belief they changed in the last year and how they got to change the belief. When explaining the exercise it's worthwhile to point out to take a belief that they feel comfortable sharing. Prompt for listening well.
14:10-14:12 Whole group: Query about whether people now understand the belief change of the other person and how they came to make the change
14:12-14:32 Exercise 3: Groups of four. Two groups of two people come together. Each person shares what the partner of the first group shared with them and then the person from which the belief originates gives feedback. 5 minutes per person with the suggestion to take 2 1/2 minutes for explaining the belief and then 2 1/2 for feedback. (Note that the fact that this exercise happens wasn't communicated beforehand, so people have to recount the belief change of their partner without being specifically prepared for that.)
14:32-14:37: Whole group: Sharing as the whole group about what was learned
(additional minutes in the schedule for being able to give additional time as needed, when they aren't needed it's also fine to extend the pause with it)
14:55-15:30 Time for free mingling
15:30-15:35 Whole group: Talk more about how it's valuable to know how you actually change your own beliefs and invite questions and sharing of insights
15:35-15:40 Exercise 4: Solowork. Take another 5 minutes to write down belief changes from the last year.
15:40-15:45 Whole group: Sharing what was different doing the list the second time.
15:45-16:00 Exercise 5: Groups of three. Talk with each other about how you change your beliefs and what works for changing your beliefs.
16:00-16:05 Whole group: Sharing insights
16:05-16-15 Exercise 6: Solowork. Everybody writes about what they could do to get more beneficial belief changes given their new understanding about how they actually changed their beliefs.
16:15-16:35 Exercise 7: Groups of three. Talk more together about how you go about implementing what you talked about in the previous exercise.
16:35-16:45 Whole group. Time for people to share about what they want to do differently, have learned or ask questions. After everything is said, wrap up the meetup with a few nice words.
(15 additional minutes for free use)
17:00-18:00 More free mingling.
If there aren't enough people to share insights that is okay. You can simply expand the time that is scheduled for free mingling and the mingling time is appreciated by most attendees.
If you are hosting an event and it seems like a person has a hard time integrating themselves into a conversation during the free mingling, talk to them. The same goes for agenty rationalists who attend the event: if you see how something you can do could improve the event, go ahead and do it.
Even back at the time when I was organizing Quantified Self meetups and had more social anxiety, I found that simply having the role of being responsible for an event makes it easier to approach people and engage in conversations to integrate them. This means that even if you feel like you have social anxiety you might still be a good meetup host. You would also learn a lot from it.
After the event organisation going to a place for drinks/meals happened organically.
One lesson I learned during the meetup is that it's hard to end group exercises on time when the participants have a good time sharing with each other.
At the beginning I didn't announce beforehand that the exercise will soon end and a participant recommended that I say 30 seconds or a minute before the exercise is finished that the time will soon be up.
When it comes to actually gathering attention another participant recommended a tool he learned at toastmasters.
Everybody who hears me clap one time, then you clap your hands.
Everybody who hears me clap two times, then you clap two times.
You repeat the process till you got the attention of everybody.
Another general lesson for meetups is that it's often hard for people to find the location. In case of our location, it's even harder than usual. It's good to have signs that direct people to the right location.
On a more meta level, I think the format of changing between solowork and group work is great. Doing solowork at meetups is great because it allows people to do similar exercises at home. Group work is great because it gets people to exchange ideas and bond with each other.
The framework of centering the meetup about a basic theme that is to be explored has the benefit that it allows the participants to communicate their own ideas instead of technique teachings that's completely top-down.