This June, OpenTable hosted the London Machine Learning Study Group to great success. We provided the food, drinks, and space for an extremely talented speaker and over 100 RSVPs. It was also my first experience hosting an external meetup at OpenTable - and I learned a lot!

My Experience

OpenTable has frequently hosted meetups in our office such as Web Platform London and WEBdeLDN. However, acting as an event host was a complete unknown for me, so leading up to the machine learning event, I made a point of sitting down with someone who had organised one before.

We documented the key steps in setting up an external event, and then published what we’d discussed on our internal wiki so as to avoid siloing useful information for future use. Following the steps documented in the wiki proved invaluable in reducing my stress on the day.

After our last event we also looked back on how we’d done the last few events.

Retrospective

Following our last meetup, we held a retrospective as, along with the London Machine Learning Study Group, we have had a recent spate of meetups at OpenTable. This was extremely useful to underline our shared experiences as well as the considerations we want to make for our next external event. Here are a few areas we will look to improve.

Push social media more

We want the largest number of people to know about these events ahead of time, which means not just relying on one platform. Instead we aim to advertise our meetups on all channels available to us to get as diverse an audience as possible. We will tweet about our events more via @OpenTableTechUK and we will use this blog to advertise upcoming events.

A lot of people don’t turn up

This is completely expected for a free meetup, but we want to be able to provide food and drink without too much wastage. In our experience actual attendance can vary between 40-70% of the RSVP but we have no concrete formula for estimating. We presume it depends on the number/quality of speakers and the topic – and perhaps even the weather. Next time we will be more conservative with pizza, but we don’t mind over ordering drinks as they be drunk in our weekly office happy hour!

More mingling

Understandably, attendees can feel too shy to freely interact, which is a real shame as this casual networking is a source of great value of these kinds of meetups. For our next meetups, we will do what we can to get people mixing together; we’ll look at how long before the start we ask people to arrive, as hosts we’ll do more to interact with people and get them talking, as well as perhaps strategically placing the food to bring more people together and avoid having guests sit down by themselves.

Watch this Space!

OpenTable greatly values meetups: As with our Open Source initiatives, we see meetups as part of our commitment to open collaboration and communication within the developer community. We aim to hold many more in the future so watch this space! If you are an event host, please get in touch via @OpenTableTechUK. We are very open to suggestions and, provided we have the time and space, more than happy to accommodate.

Our next event is another London Machine Learning Study Group this Thursday. Please sign up!