Guide To Socializing And Meeting Friends At Meetup.com Events
One way to meet new people, to make friends or practice your social skills, is through meet ups organized over the internet. At the moment the most popular and well-known site for this is Meetup.com, which lets you attend or create local social groups. It's free to join and go to events, but costs money if you want to form a group yourself. Some of the groups are based purely around having people meet and mingle, while others are centered around hobbies, careers, or business networking.
Over the years I've gone to a bunch Meetup.com events, met some fun people, and made a few friends. I haven't created or run any groups myself, though I see how that could have potential. This article will share what I've learned about how to mingle and meet people at them (this other article discusses the pros and cons of Meetup.com as a way to make friends).
I'll talk about Meetup.com events specifically, but most of the ideas can be applied to meet ups organized through other means, like a forum. The biggest difference is that if you're going to a meet up arranged through a forum you frequent you may already be familiar with some of the attendees through your online interactions, rather than going in not knowing anyone.
(This article is currently focuses on Meetup.com because it's the biggest site of its kind and will be the most useful for anyone who wants to try to socialize through meet ups. Down the road if it dies off and another site takes its place I'll rewrite and update the content to reflect that.)
Guide to socializing at larger meet ups
The social dynamics of meet ups vary. Some are big events where everyone circulates and mingles at a pub. Others are smaller and more activity-focused, like five people getting together to play board games. Below I'll focus on the bigger meet-and-greet type, as people tend to find them the most intimidating. However, some of the ideas will apply to other kinds of meet ups as well.
It's totally fine if you're nervous ahead of time
Pretty much everyone gets nervous before their first meet up or two, especially if they're going alone and won't know anyone there. It's an uncertain, unfamiliar social situation, and it's only natural you'll feel some anticipatory anxiety. It's also fine if you sign up for and then bail on a few meet ups before you finally work up the courage to show up to one.
It's okay if you're not used to this kind of thing
I attended a couple of get togethers from a particular Meetup.com group. More often than not when an event was posted there'd be a comment from a new member saying, "I'm going to attend this meet up, but I've never done anything like this before. It feels weird to walk into a room of people where I don't know anyone." It's no big deal if you feel this way. Not everyone does this kind of thing every day and effortlessly knows how to work a room.
Finding the group when you arrive at venue
Newcomers are often worried about finding everyone else when they arrive at the venue where the meet up is being held. Sometimes the other members will be easy to find. There might be a designated room set aside at a pub, a greeter, a sign, name tags, or just a conspicuous large group of people who clearly haven't met before. Meetup.com lets members attach pictures to their profiles, so you can check who's attending the event ahead of time and try to spot some familiar faces. Another option is to exchange contact details with the event organizer so you can message them if you can't find everyone when you arrive.
Worst case scenario is you'll have to go up to people and ask them if they're from the meet up. This is not an embarrassing thing to admit you're attending. It's just a social get together. No one will think you're a freak if you go up to the wrong group by mistake. Once you've found the right group at least your asking who they are will have broken the ice.
Actually, there's another worst possible case, but only for time-sensitive events like movie nights. If you arrive late everyone will already be seated and you may not be able to find them. If that happens just accept you needed to leave earlier and try again another time.
It's fine if you're nervous and shy when you first get there
Again, this is common. Aside from the situation being unfamiliar, not everyone is able to launch into 'confident mingler' mode as soon as they step through the door.
Don't bail if you feel nervous at first
I've been to meet ups where attendees have been shy and reserved for the first hour or two, but they hung in there, became more comfortable, and got involved in several quality conversations later in the evening. If you're hesitant to approach anyone, it's fairly likely people will still come talk to you. If you want to start conversations you could ease into it by going up to the most friendly-looking, non-intimidating people first. If the event is at a pub a drink or two may help you relax. You never want to use alcohol as a social crutch, but a small amount can take the edge off and help you ease into the evening.
The event organizer may help you feel more comfortable or join some conversations
Most event hosts want the attendees to have a good time. They realize meet ups can make people feel out of their element, and will often happily chat to you when you first arrive so you can get that first scary conversation out of the way, or introduce you to everybody. Some will go out of their way to help ease you into the group if you email them ahead of time and say you're feeling nervous about attending.
This is great when it happens, and it often does, but at the same time you can't take it for granted that the organizer will be there to support you. They're likely a regular person who wanted a way to go to more social events. Most are fine taking on some light social facilitator duties, but others can't be bothered and just want to show up and talk to their friends. What none of them are are dedicated shyness or social coaches. Some meet up organizers complain that some guests expect too much, and want them to put their entire evening on hold to help one person.
Some ideas for getting into conversations
At smaller meet ups the dynamic will be that of a casual group conversation, and you'll automatically be part of it as soon as you show up. If the meet up is centered around an activity, that will tend to structure the interaction. At larger social meet ups you need to actively mingle, but the reason everyone's there is to talk to new people, so starting or joining conversations is very easy.
The simplest way to start talking to a single person is to introduce yourself. Once the conversation begins you can ease into it by spending a minute or two asking about nothing-fancy topics such as:
- "Is this your first meet up?"
- "How long have you been in town?"
- "Do you work or go to school? / "Where do you work?", "What are you majoring in?"
- "What kind of stuff do you do for fun?"
If the group is hobby-related you can obviously ask about your shared interest. If the event involved watching a comedy show or band, you can ask people what they thought of it. Most attendees are fine talking about meet ups themselves, but occasionally someone will seem embarrassed and self-deprecating about the fact that they're at one. If that's the case just casually reassure them it's no big deal, and it's just a way to be sociable and meet people.
Approaching groups is just as straightforward. You can go up and introduce yourself, or saddle up to them, listen to their conversation for a bit, and then chime in. From there you can stay in the group discussion, or if it seems appropriate, turn to someone beside you and have a one-on-one chat with them.
Events will have a mix of newcomers and regulars
Newcomers are typically friendly, though they may be feeling a bit nervous or unsure at first too. Regulars can be a mixed bag. Some are as sociable as anyone else, and may even play 'host' and introduce you to other people they know. Others can unintentionally give off a cliquey vibe by mostly hanging out with their fellow regulars. The thing to know about this situation is you shouldn't hesitate to try to join their group conversations. Maybe you'll click with them, maybe not, but you're at an event where the whole point is to meet new people, so it's completely acceptable to take a shot at it. Of course, many regulars will be friendly if you take the initiative to talk to them. Others may be intially be more closed off, but get easier to talk to if you become more of a regular yourself.
If you can't circulate freely, try to make it happen
The ideal social meet up is an area where most people are standing and able to move around, with some chairs and tables off to the side so groups can break off and sit down if they want to have a more involved discussion. It's less ideal when everyone is sitting down at one big table or group of tables, because then people can get locked into one spot for the night and limit their opportunities. If you find yourself in an everyone's-sitting-down situation, don't be afraid to move around. If no chairs are free to sit down in, take yours with you.
If the event doesn't provide much opportunity for conversation, try to make that happen too
For example, at a movie night everyone may only have fifteen minutes to talk before the show starts, and then quickly part ways once it's over. If you want to socialize and get to know everyone better this is the time to ask if anyone wants to go to a coffee shop or pub to talk further. Some of the attendees may have shown up mainly for the movie and will still want to leave, but at least a few should take you up on your offer.
If the meet up involves something like playing a game, there may be plenty of interaction, but a lot of it will be about the activity itself. If you try to have a longer getting-to-know-you discussion with someone, you may only be able to ask them a question or two before everyone's attention gets pulled back to what's happening in the game. Accept you can't have an in-depth conversation then and there. Be okay with shorter exchanges. Again, maybe you can chat to people distraction-free afterward.
Don't expect to hit it off with everyone, or for everyone to be interested in you
You'll be meeting a range of people. Your only common ground may be that you're in the same fifteen-year age range and are open to meeting new friends. You can't realistically connect with all of them. Some you may find pleasant enough, but not your style. With others the conversation may not flow freely. Some won't be there for the same reasons as you, and not open to talking (e.g., if you're male, a fellow guy may only be there to meet women).
Expect some of the conversations to be fairly quick and maybe end abruptly
At bigger meet ups many people will want to mingle and meet as many other attendees as they can. You may end up in some longer conversations, but don't take it personally if after a few minutes someone says it was nice meeting you and they're going to look around a bit more. You can always catch up with them again later if you want. Of course, don't be afraid to float around yourself. If you want to end a conversation use the above line, or say you're going to get another drink, use the bathroom, go for a smoke, etc. It's fine to just slip away from group conversations you're not that engaged in.
Have an idea going in of the types of people you want to meet and concentrate on talking to them
It can be fun to mingle. It's sometimes easy to get distracted by having conversations for their own sake, and you can neglect to focus on the people who may be the best potential friends for you.
If you're a single woman I think this is something you particularly should be mindful of. It's easy for women to show up to events and have a lot of their time taken up by men who are looking for someone to date. If you're looking to date too, then great, but if you're mainly there to meet female friends, then be proactive about meeting and getting to know other women, and assertive about not letting your time get sucked away by men who want to chat you up (luckily it's easy to exit conversations with the, "It was nice talking to you. I'm going to mingle more" line). Don't let what I just said scare you off meet ups entirely though. They're not completely infested with pesky guys on the prowl. Sure there may be single men there, but no more than any other larger social event. Or if you're still unsure about the guy factor, many cities have female-only social groups.
A similar problem can affect you if you're a single guy who wants to expand his social circle. Even if you want to make some male or platonic female friends, once you get to an event and think, "There are cute women here, and it's easy to start conversations with them", you can get distracted and sidetracked from your original goal.
If you really click with someone, ask for their contact info and try to hang out with them outside Meetup.com
If you sort of get along with someone, by all means take your time and hope you can run into them at other meet ups and slowly get to know them better.
However, if you really hit it off with another attendee, be more active about jumping on the opportunity. You might run into them at another get together, but you can't count on it. If you don't ask them for their contact info at the event then message their Meetup.com profile in the next day or so to try to get it then. Taking the initiative to hang out with people outside the context you met them in is core making friends advice. Once you have their contact details, follow up on it fairly soon, or the lead could go stale. If you don't invite them out, at the very least stay in contact and arrange to show up at another meet up together, where you can get to know them further.
Even if you have a pleasant conversation with someone at an event it's not a guarantee they'll want to hang out later, of course. They may have enjoyed talking to you briefly, but don't see you as a good match for anything more. They may have gotten cold feet because they were nervous about hanging out with you one-on-one outside a meet up. There are also people who will go to meet ups to socialize, but aren't serious about seeing anyone outside of them. All these situations can be disheartening, but you've still got to try. There's always some uncertainty and playing the numbers game when making new friends.
Head home whenever you feel like it, but realize if you stick around sometimes a small cadre of people will go somewhere else after
If you've been at the event for a few hours and have had your fill of course it's fine if you want to take off. However, at social meet ups that start early it's not unusual for a smaller group to stick around and decide to go somewhere else after. If you click with them changing venues can be a good way to bond further and feel like you're really getting to know each other and are on the road to becoming friends.