Through websites like meetup.com and plenty of others, there are dozens of groups that get together and discuss topics relevant to almost every business, industry and interest you can think of. Of course, it takes time and commitment to go to a meetup in person instead of digital alternatives like a Google Hangout or webinar. Get as much as you can from the event by going prepared.
Here are some lessons I learned from attending a recent Nashville meetup focused on link building for Nashville businesses hosted by the fine folks at Raven Tools at their “HQ,” located in an area known as The Gulch, in downtown Nashville.
Get There Early
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it can really open some doors for you and give you time to have more conversations, especially with the hosts. You should plan on being early enough to get involved in the pre-networking. From a business development perspective, this is your best chance to meet anyone you were hoping to since people tend to rush out after the talk, especially if it's a lengthy presentation.
Leverage Social Media Ammunition
Getting @RavenTools HQ set up for tonight's #Nashville#SEO Meetup http://t.co/K75Wq49bw1pic.twitter.com/3lI5r1rbfo
— Jon Henshaw (@RavenJon) April 16, 2014
Be sure to leverage both the event itself for its value, as well as its ability to connect you with the other participants in the meetup and by extension, their audience of followers and fans. Be sure to announce your intent to attend, invite others, share information learned and connect with other attendees' profiles.
Add your Twitter Handle to your ID badge
This is a great way to help people connect your digital persona with your real-world persona. It's a good way to make sure that you're making an impression that can lead to further collaboration in the future and connecting with someone who is more likely to share and interact with your social media posts in the future.
Have Business Cards
It seems cliche, but it's actually a good investment to have some way of passing your contact information to the people you're meeting. In the past, I've done things like write down a bit.ly link on a puzzle piece that would lead to my website or G+ profile. But honestly, just having a business card printed on quality stock paper is an easy win because it unburdens people from having to work too hard to remember your name and contact details.
Prepare to Write About your Experience
While you're there, be sure to write down names, ideas and topics discussed that were interesting. This will ensure that you're able to write a follow-up blog post that will be a sharable and helpful resource for everyone else who attended. To get an even wider reach, be sure to mention people you met at the meetup and interesting insights that came out of it. For example, there was a discussion between me, Jon Henshaw and Michael Mcdougald about the viability of creating third party web resources as a way to send legitimate traffic and links to your site or client's site. Not only is that an interesting topic to read about, but mentioning specific people will lead to them sharing your content with their audience, who are also probably in your target audience.
Prepare Questions to be Answered by Attendees
Everyone likes to be seen as an authority, so giving people the opportunity to show off their abilities will not only help you by answering your question, which should actually be a problem you hope to resolve, but could also make inroads for them to collaborate with you and other attendees on future ideas or business opportunities.
Have Questions for the Presenter
Not all meetups are run the same way, but many of them will feature some sort of learning presentation. If you've ever been a presenter, you know how awkward it can be in those seconds after you ask the audience, "Any questions?" and get a wall of sheepish or blank stares in response. Bringing something new or interesting to the topic with a question, or even sharing a helpful tip if it's strongly related to the subject being discussed, will help the presenter not feel that same old awkward response.
For example, Jeff Siebach had a slide about sponsoring teams as a way to build up links, and I added an idea I've leveraged before to consider other sports aside from little leagues, like Women's Roller derby teams.
Know Who is Attending
I asked Alex Via, our business development manager, for some things he does when he attends meetups and he had this gem to contribute.
"If you can, look to see who else is going to the event and learn a little about the people you want to meet (i.e. read their discussion points, blogs, check out their website, or even their social media accounts)." This is a great tip because you will lessen the mental workload of remembering names, and have some topics lined up to bring up in conversation.
Go to the After Party
There’s a good chance there will be people headed to a nearby bar or restaurant after the session, and trust me, you want to be in on the conversations that happen there. You'll build up real relationships and hear slightly different views than might be shared in the atmosphere of a meetup. At the worst, you get a bite to eat or a tasty beverage.
Consider Playing Host
If you have the space in your office or can make arrangements for a venue, it could be worth your effort to play host. You'll be the subject of those social messages, get links from blog posts on what happened and have access to the audience of everyone that attends.
Any Other Ideas?
Been to a local meetup recently and have some advice to share? Please feel free to add to the discussion!