Running community meetups used to be pretty straightforward; get the speakers, organise the location and you’re set. Now that most events are run online and virtually, meetup organisers have a new set of challenges. The good news is that once you get around the initial learning curve, you’ll find it’s full of new opportunities too. Here’s my experience in bringing our local developer meetup to an online stage.
Find an Event Platform
The default option for a lot of people seems to be to use Zoom for the event, maybe recording the meeting to share later. This works fine, but does it provide the level of engagement that you’d like? Having attended one of the AWS Community Days, I noticed the event was using CrowdComms, which allows clean navigation of the event schedule and the ability to interact; a much better experience for attendees than I had seen in the past.
Then I remembered Vito, a product that Paul Campbell started to build at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis to provide a better event experience. I sat in on one of the weekly demos of the product to see how it works, and it’s a deceptively simple interface that allows you to create a much better experience for you attendees in seconds.
You get a place to stream your video content to (more on that shortly) and a number of options for page types to include. This will include an attendee list, and a posts section, which allows you to have a mini-social-network experience for people during (and after) the event where they can ask questions, or just discuss the event they’re watching.
Once you’ve worked out your streaming tools, you simply use the key provided by Vito, and you can then test that the whole thing works before going live. The great thing about it is that your stream will automatically be recorded in Vito, so once completed, you can upload the video to the hub for people to watch later. So you are building up content for your hub as you go along.
That’s the great thing about Vito for our meetup; people can drop in anytime and watch over again, and use other parts of the hub for things like adding local job listings. It saves you the work of creating a dedicated site for your meetup (we had previously), and just leave all the hard work to Vito.
Work Out Your Streaming Options
When I was introduced to the options for streaming software, I have to say it was a bit overwhelming! Paul gave me some solid advice though, and I went with OBS Studio in the end, purely because of the fact that it was free.
With OBS you get a decent amount of options for managing the content that will be streamed, such as backgrounds and titles for you videos. You also get a “studio mode” that allows you to see the live content on one side while preparing what the next cut will look like on the the editing side.
I sunk a lot of time into working out my audio issues though. On a Mac, sharing your desktop audio is a little bit tricky. To cut a long story short, follow the instructions here to set up iShowU Audio Capture. Make sure that the sample rate you choose in the Multi-Output Device settings matches those of the master device you’re using (like Airpods in my own case).
On the topic of audio, you can easily mute and unmute your own microphone as the event happens in the audio mixer section. During the event make sure you stay aware of this!
When you’re bringing someone else into the event, you could use Zoom/Microsoft Teams/FaceTime or your video chat tool of choice. However, if you want to go that extra mile and have even more control, I’d recommend OBS.Ninja where you can create your own “room” for a group chat specific to your meetup. Each person in the room gets their own URL which can be then added to OBS as a stream. For Mac’s it a little more complicated (again) so I used OBSN to share the content coming from OBS.Ninja.
Make sure to put a lot of time in getting your setup just right and use the livestream testing tool on your Vito Hub to make sure that it works.
Work Hard on Event PR
It goes without saying, but you’ll have to work hard on pushing the event out to the public. You’ll need to send a lot of annoying reminders on Twitter, and if you’re already using Meetup, make sure to use the tools there to push out reminders via email for event too.
Running an online event as described here is an opportunity to get your branding right too. I used Canva to create some basic backgrounds and titles for the event. Variations of those assets were used in the Vito hub too. Having a consistent colour/font/style combination really is worth it. Particularly when the event will be recorded and stored forever.
After that, you’ve just got to get ready for the infinite loop and plan your next events! Some advice that I got that I’ll recycle here is: make sure you plan out your event calendar. Try to have topics and ideally people, lined up for the next three events. That way you’ll never have that last minute panic and scramble in trying to work out your next great event.