Making Safety a Prerequisite for Your Meetups

by Anjali Leon, South Florida Women in Agile group

Meetups have awakened new possibilities for people who have similar interests to find each other and meet face to face to learn, share, and expand their common interests.  

Creating one of these special interest groups is as easy as creating an account on meetup.com and sponsoring a new group for $89.00 for 6 months.  Add a compelling description, a geographic location, and sprinkle a few search keywords to attract people with a similar interest, and you have created a special space for connection!   Once you have announced the venue and topic for your first meetup, you can sit back and watch the magic of the internet unfold. People who were once strangers start joining the group and become part of a growing network and community.

Who can join a meetup?  Who can show up to an event?  Well, the beauty in the model is that anybody can join.  And that is also the  scary part!

In 2015, I founded South Florida Women in Agile and have organized monthly events with my co-organizer, Colleen Esposito ever since.  As organizers we have the pleasure of creating a unique space for curiosity, connection, co-creation, and community to emerge—and we also shoulder the responsibility to do what we can to ensure the safety of the people who attend our meetups as well as the security of the organizations that offer their venues to host our events. While always hoping the extra effort is unnecessary, we do our due diligence to create a physically and psychologically safe space for all our members.

Here are some tips that may help you make safety a prerequisite for your own meetup groups.

Vet potential members

Include a verification step before anyone joins the meetup.  Acceptance into our meetup group is a 2-step process where one of the meetup organizers needs to officially approve a new member.

Get a sense of whether the new member is a good fit for your group.  We ask each potential member 3 questions about their Agile experience, their role in the organization, and what they hope to get from the group.

Verify the new member’s identity.  We check that the potential member’s profile includes their full name and valid photo and, if not, we ask them to update their profile.  We then verify the member’s identity on another social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or similar.

Publish and enforce a code of conduct

Add a code of conduct to your meetup description and let any new member know they are expected to abide by that code of conduct.  We use the official Women In Agile code of conduct to address the values and intentions of our group.

Do not tolerate any behavior that violates the code of conduct.  Luckily, we have never had to call out a violation of the code of conduct (so far).

Make the meetup location only visible to people who sign up

When posting a new meetup, select the option of making the meetup location only visible to people who sign up in order to deter unexpected attendees.

Verify and keep a record of attendees

If you are hosting your meetup at a company, send the attendee list to your contact at least 2 days prior to the meetup.  Some hosting organizations require the attendee list to be vetted by their security department—it may be a bit of a pain, but well worth the effort.

Ask your attendees to sign in so that you have a record of everyone who attended.

Facilitate connections

Send a welcome note to new members letting them know what they can expect from the meetup and remind them about the code of conduct.

Personally welcome each member at the meetup—especially those attending for the first time.  And make a conscious effort to remember their names.

Allow time for networking.  Facilitate a simple ice breaker when possible.

Offer snacks and refreshments.   Food is a great connector.

Share information about upcoming events.  We regularly share information about other Agile meetups and events.

Create opportunities for members to contribute and connect.  Facilitate events where everyone gets to participate and solicit topics for a future meetup.  Engage members to facilitate or host a meetup. Enlist them to volunteer for a local event or encourage them to bring a friend to an upcoming meeting.  Ask them to help grow the group.

I hope you find these safety tips useful, reasonable, and practical. Use (for LinkedIn:  the comment section ) our #Slack channel to share your own tips for making psychological and physical safety a built-in prerequisite for all of your fantastic future meetups.