Saturday, 11 June 2011

Reflections on the first Bristol LISNPN meet-up

Many of you reading this will be familiar with the LIS New Professionals Network (LISNPN), and will also know that around the country LISNPN admins and members arrange LISNPN meet-ups/socials. I’ve been wanting to arrange one in Bristol since I moved here 7 months ago, but only recently got myself organised enough to set it up. We had our first Bristol LISNPN meet-up last Thursday, and I’m pleased to report that it was a great success!

Ten people came (which was luckily the size of the table I’d reserved!), and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Quite a few of us knew each other, but there were also some new faces, and some great conversation ensued. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about the idea of another meet-up sometime, and there were quite a few people who would have liked to come but unfortunately weren’t able to make it this time, so I shall definitely be organising more in the future.

I thought I would share some tips for anyone thinking of arranging a LISNPN social, or anything similar:
  • Reserve a table if possible. Even if you are going on a traditionally quiet day during the week, you never know when a pub might be unusually busy, due to something as simple as a work do from a nearby office, so take some of the worry away by making sure you’ll have somewhere to sit. I knew that this particular pub was usually fairly bustling, so I decided that this was a must, and, while I could probably have grabbed us a big enough table when I got there early, it was good to know that whatever happened we should at least have somewhere to sit! Obviously you will need to make a guess at how many people are attending. I created an event on LISNPN (anyone can do that) to which some people RSVP-ed, and I knew from Twitter that several others were planning to come, so I took that number and added a few on to allow for people who hadn’t responded online, or who might be brought along by confirmed attendees on the day. Don’t be afraid to ask people to RSVP to the event you’ve created on LISNPN, or let you know if they’re intending to come on Twitter or some other way – you’re the one doing all the work!
  • It’s ideal if you or someone else who is intending to arrive early has a phone that can connect to the internet. It’s not like meeting up with your friends – you won’t have phone numbers for everyone and you need to allow for people who make last-minute decisions to come – so it’s useful to have Twitter  and LISNPN available, just in case anyone needs help finding the venue or needs to get in touch for any reason. I tweeted when I arrived, half an hour or so before the official start time, and included a picture of the LISNPN sign that I’d made for the table, to let people know what to look for and to reassure them that I was there and the meet-up was happening!
  • Make a sign or two for the table(s)! It can avoid the awkwardness people might feel at having to approach a large group of people who may or may not be the group they’re meant to be joining! In the near future I am planning to make some LISNPN signs and upload them to LISNPN for people to print out if they want them for socials.
  • Think hard about your venue. A pub is the best place, as we’re not in a position to pay for room hire or anything like that, and meet-ups happen in the evenings usually. Think about space – are there tables big enough for a large group, and is there likely to be space to spread out a bit if more people arrive than expected? Also think about people who may be coming in from outside of the town/city where you’re holding the social; it’s very easy to forget how difficult it can be for an outsider to find their way around your city when you’re used to living there, and remember too that they won’t necessarily know the short-cuts. I suggest you try to hold the meet-up somewhere which is a straightforward and fairly short (15-20 minutes max I would say) walk to the nearest main train station. Perhaps if you anticipate problems you could offer to meet people at the train station at a certain time and walk with them to the venue?
  • Don’t expect to please everyone! If you ask for suggestions during the planning stage you will get lots of conflicting ideas. People who work locally might prefer after-work drinks, people coming from further away will want time to get there. People will have their preferred pubs. Obviously not everyone will be able to attend on the day you pick. You just have to do your best! I put out a Doodle poll asking people to select which day of a particular week would be their preferred date, and then went with the date with the most votes, and I suggest you do this, especially for your first one. That way, you’re trying to cater for as many of the potential attendees as possible (and it can also help when you’re trying to work out how many attendees you might get). I asked for pub suggestions on Twitter, but ultimately used my own judgement about location etc. to choose one. I opted for a 7pm start to allow those from outside of Bristol to make their way there, deciding that local attendees who didn’t have time to go home first could find plenty to amuse themselves with in town if necessary! Just use your judgement and make decisions as the organiser.
  • Don’t just advertise the meet-up on Twitter and LISNPN – send round emails at work and speak to people whom you think might be interested; although a lot of us are on Twitter and LISNPN, not everyone is, and we want to be inclusive!
I think what I will do differently next time is to try to make the decisions and confirm all of the event details a bit earlier than I did this time; I only did it with about a week to spare, and, even if people have been involved in discussions about it, we’re all very busy and it’s easy to forget about something unless it’s confirmed – if you leave it too late, you might lose attendees. I think I put off making final decisions for a couple of reasons; still being fairly new to Bristol, I felt like I didn’t know enough about suitable pubs, and because I have organised things like social events very rarely, I was worried that I’d do something wrong, choose a bad day or bad pub, and/or that nobody would turn up! However, the success of last week’s meet-up has boosted my confidence in both of these aspects, and so next time I will feel more able to move quickly with the organisation of the event. I  absolutely encourage you to go ahead and organise a LISNPN meet-up in your area!

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