How To Be a Meet-Up Organizer.
Although this post is from the POV of someone with diabetes, I fully believe this advice can be translated to any interest, whether it be a chronic illness, hobby or belief.
Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that my reputation for being a meet-up organizer has risen dramatically. In fact, I was asked by a good friend to help organize a meet-up at an event I wasn’t even attending.
Often times, I read blog posts from people who wish they knew more people with diabetes in their area, or they see the meet ups that I organize and wish there was something similar where they are. Well, I will tell you that I am a big believer in the saying “If you want something and it doesn’t exist, don’t wait around for someone else to do it” because you never know when someone else will get around to doing something that you can do yourself.
I have always had a diabetes community of some sort. I attended diabetes camp in high school, participated diabetes fundraisers, and volunteered at the JDRF chapter office and at events. I also volunteered at a quarterly diabetes support group. At each place, I was able to meet others with diabetes and my network slowly started to grow, even before I started blogging in 2005.
Get to know people online. Many forums and Twitter will allow you to search for people in your area. If someone is within driving distance (and think broadly with this), make a note of who they are. Start chatting with them, and form a relationship. It makes the initial in-person meeting a seamless transition. Most of the people I know offline are people that I originally met online (including my husband-to-be). I have been meeting people from the Internet since I was in high school and it’s relatively safe – if you’re not an idiot. Tricks of the trade:
- DO NOT INVITE PEOPLE TO WHERE YOU LIVE. Duh.
- Don’t even invite them to your neighborhood.
- Go someplace where there are a lot of other people. And security cameras. Restaurants, museums, and shopping malls are all places where I have hosted meet-ups. They also give you something to do if you’re like “Awkward silence!”
Get to know people offline. If you’re not active in your local diabetes community organizations, get moving. Yes, I know the old “But no one cares about adults with diabetes” reasoning runs rampant. Everyone cares about people who participate. So lace up your sneakers and volunteer to hand out materials at a Walk to Cure Diabetes or volunteer to do registration at the annual gala. Attend a Diabetes Expo or volunteer for a local health fair with your clinic. Not only will you meet people, but you’re also helping the cause. Slowly you will meet others with diabetes, both children and adults. One of the first adults with diabetes I ever met was on the Oregon Chapters Board of Directors. Her name was Michelle and she wore an insulin pump just like me. And remember, child advocates with diabetes grow up to be adult advocates with diabetes (wink, wink).
Time and distance are no object. Most of the meet-ups I’ve hosted or participated in were not in my neck of the woods. I travel, and when I do, I always try to figure out who lives where I’m going. I make lists of people who live within driving distance of the city. You have to believe that there are other people out there who are just waiting for an opportunity to attend a meet-up, and more likely than not, you’ll even have some long distance travelers come out of the woodwork. Invite everyone you can think of. The worst thing they’ll say is “I can’t come.” I have had people drive hours or take a train to attend a meet-up. You’d be surprised how many people will try to come.
Pick a spot and time that is easy for you. You will never be able to please everyone, so don’t even try. I have tried the “plan by democracy” but I soon realized that in the meet-up world, this is not a democracy, this is a cheerocracy (see also: Bring It On). Be in control; it’s the only way to maintain some semblance of a plan. Some of the best meet-ups I’ve ever been to only had a couple people come and they were still wonderful.
Start small. You don’t have to host a meet-up, you know. Meeting one person is absolutely acceptable in the land of hanging out offline. My dinner and spontaneous joy ride around San Diego County with a certain Ninjabetic was one of the most fun times I’ve had. In and around New York City, there are several people with diabetes who I have met, either through the ACT1 Diabetes group or my blog. Now we go on double dates and talk about things not related to diabetes, like wedding planning and how completely unattractive leggings are on women who aren’t Kate Moss.
Start big. There’s no reason to limit yourself! You might not think there is anyone out there, but those three million people with type 1 diabetes don’t exactly live in a commune in the Appalachian mountains. They are everywhere! A couple of suggestions:
- Meetup.com: The New York Type 1 Diabetes Meet-Up group was launched here and although it’s gone through a couple of iterations, it is now a successful monthly dinner meet-up group, with approximately 15 people attending each month. While we have our regular attenders, there are also lots of new folks who come, so there is always someone to talk to and connect with for the first time. Meetup.com currently lists 81 Diabetes Meet-Up groups. Maybe there is one near you!
- Grassroots based: ACT1 Diabetes, which is hosted in NYC, and the former Children’s Diabetes Network, which was a support group I attended in Portland, OR, were all started by someone who said “We need this. Let’s do it!” and they worked to promote via clinics, social networks and word of mouth. They picked a convenient location that was regularly available (a conference room at a diabetes clinic) and have slowly grown.
There is no “magic formula” for being a meet-up organizer. Mostly it just takes asking a few people, “So, who wants to get together?” Many people are far more likely to jump on an open invitation to meet others with diabetes than you might think. It is scary to do this when you are opening yourself to people you may not know as well. It may take a few tries before you find your groove. You may have to change times or locations, but trust me, there are hundreds (or a least a couple dozen) people with diabetes who live in your area. I guarantee they are going through the same issues that you are. And for those of you looking to meet people you from the Internet, I will tell you that it does take some investment. Many of us do not live in one central location, but even when I was in high school, before blogging and before Facebook, I had a community of people with diabetes that I could count on. This is how I have built my diabetes community. I hope you will build one too.