Types Of Meetup.com Events, Based On Their Social Dynamics
Meetup.com is a site that lets people create social groups, then host get togethers that anyone can attend. In this article I talk about whether Meetup.com generally works as a way to make friends. This article shares some tips for socializing and mingling at meet up events.
Here I'll cover the broad types of Meetup.com get togethers, organized in terms of their social dynamics, and explain the pros and cons of each. If you're thinking of attending your first meet up, or have gone to a few but didn't have much luck, what I'll go over may give you a better idea of what to expect, or what types of groups may work best for you.
The three general types of Meetup.com events
- Get togethers that focus on talking and socializing for its own sake, maybe with a light activity thrown in
- Get togethers that revolve around doing an activity, one that can get in the way of conversation
- Events that aren't really social meet ups, but are being advertised through the site
Naturally there are Meetup.com get togethers that are a mix of these types, but overall I think you can slot most them into those categories.
Another factor that affects what socializing is like at meet ups is how many people are in attendance.
Get togethers that focus on socializing and getting to know people for its own sake
There may be an activity, but it's the kind of thing you can do in the background as you chat with everyone. Examples include:
- A pub night
- Trying a new restaurant
- Getting together for coffee
- Playing pool
- Going on an easy hike
- If you want to meet new people and get to know them, these events let you do that without other things getting in the way.
- Since you're just meeting and learning about new people, if you really click with someone you'll know fairly soon. Friendships can develop quickly from this type of event. You see someone at a meet up or two, then start spending time together outside the site.
- If you want to practice your social skills, like being able to approach and chat to a group of strangers, this is the best kind of gathering to do it.
- Since they're so purely social, these events can be tougher if you're shy or have less-polished conversation skills. That's not to say they're impossible for shyer people, but they do play to the strengths of more-outgoing, confident types.
- The ratio of People you click with to People you don't have much in common with will be less favorable. A wide range of folks are interested in general things like socializing and eating out. You can't expect to gel with all of them. At some get togethers you may not feel a connection with anyone.
- You can meet and speak to a lot of people at these events, but you can also end up doing a lot of samey small talk where you ask the usual getting-to-know-you questions. If all goes well some of those conversations will move into more interesting territory, but not all of them will.
- At any type of Meetup.com event you can never know if a person you met will show up to another get together. Because of that, if you meet someone you get along with you sometimes feel a self-imposed pressure to make up your mind about them then and there ("They seem fun... Could I picture myself being friends with them though? Should I ask for their contact info and see if they want to hang out again?") You can get this feeling at other types of events, but in my experience it's more likely to happen at purely social ones.
Socializing-focused events with a small vs. large turnout
The dynamics of meet ups also change based on how many people show up. While this factor affects every kind of meet up, you'll mainly feel the impact of the group's size at ones centered around socializing. Of course, there's a blurry line between a "small" turnout and a "big" one.
Small turnout meet ups
Either only a handful of people show up, or the overall gathering is bigger, but everyone quickly gets divided into smaller, fixed subgroups. For example, fifteen people attend a meet up at a restaurant, but have to split up into separate tables of four or five, then stay at them all evening. These meet ups basically force everyone into a small group conversation. There's nowhere else to go, so everyone has to chat to each other.
- You're put into a conversation pretty much right from the start. There's no element of having to work the room. You don't have to show up to a bar of mingling strangers, pick a group you want to join, then summon up the courage to approach them.
- If you're more comfortable in small groups these events will allow you to show the best side of yourself.
- You have a good opportunity to really get to know the handful of people you're with.
- If the same small number of members regularly attend the group's events, that's a great environment for a closer friendship to develop.
- If you're quiet or inhibited in smaller groups you may feel especially on the spot and awkward. If things aren't going well you can't excuse yourself to chat to some other guests.
- If you don't click with the handful of attendees then that meet up is a bust. Tiny events are much more hit or miss.
- If the same small number of people go to all of a group's meet ups, and you don't connect with them, then that group stops being an option for you. At least it does for the next little while. Down the line you can check on it to see if there's been any turnover in the membership.
Big turnout meet ups
Lots of people show up, and everyone is able to circulate and chat to everyone else. These events are all about mingling. That might involve a classic setting, like an open area of a pub, but also something like a hike, where you can speed up or slow down to chat to different groups along the trail.
- You have the chance to meet a lot of people in one outing.
- If you find you don't have much in common with someone you can move on.
- If you're shy or not good at working a room this can be the most uncomfortable, sink-or-swim type of meet up. Though there are still things you can do. You could wait for people to approach you, or look for other attendees who seem shy or left out, and chat to them. Overall though, people who are comfortable with introducing themselves to strangers and chatting them up will have an easier time.
- The conversations you have can be short or shallow. Some of the people you talk to will be in the mindset of wanting to speak to everyone for a couple of minutes, not stick to one person and really get to know them.
A general approach to take toward socializing-centered meet ups
To summarize some of the ideas above:
- Read up on general conversation skills if you feel yours are a bit rusty
- Know and accept you're playing a numbers game. Try not to get discouraged if you don't hit it off with everyone you talk to. If you're new to meet ups, don't throw in the towel on the whole idea of them if you go to an event or two and don't come across anyone who's your type.
- Make peace with the fact that you may engage in more samey small talk than you'd like. Try to remember it's a way to potentially launch into a more substantial interaction.
Also, check out this article for more practical tips on how to socialize at these types of meet ups:
Get togethers that involve an activity that gets in the way of conversation
- Seeing a movie or performance
- Playing a more-involved board game
- Playing a more-intense sport
- Getting together to discuss or debate a particular topic
Some of these, like seeing a movie, totally prevent conversation. Yeah, you can talk a bit before and after, but while the film is playing you have to sit in silence.
Other activities don't entirely stop the conversation, but tend to limit it. For example, if you're playing board games a lot of what people say will be about the game itself. If you try to chat about other things it often won't be long before the discussion is pulled back to whose turn is next, a clever move someone made, or how the rules work in this or that situation. Or if a group has met to debate a philosophical issue, you may have a very interesting two-hour discussion about that subject, but not learn anything personal about any of the attendees (aside from their views on that one area).
- These events are great if you're a bit shy or not the best at keeping a conversation going. The activity structures the interaction. If you can't think of anything to say you can always fall back to it.
- These events let you get to know everyone, and get comfortable around them, in a more low key, indirect manner. While you're playing a complicated board game with three people you may not be exchanging a ton of background details about each other, but you can show your personality in other ways, like through the moves you make or the little jokes you crack. After a few weeks you can become a fixture at the group and see the other regulars as your gaming buddies.
- You have a higher chance to meet people who have similar interests, and who could potentially become long-term friends. Anyone may want to turn up to a generic pub night, but if you're doing something more niche at least a few fellow enthusiasts should be there.
- You get to take part in an activity that you hopefully wanted to do anyway. If you don't hit it off with everyone you're not forced to chat to them until it's time to leave. The activity keeps you from talking too much, and you can throw yourself into it until you're able to head out.
- If you want to get to know people in depth, these types of meet ups can feel a bit stifling. You can come away from them thinking, "Okay, I just spent three hours gaming with everyone, but I didn't learn much of anything about them. We spent most of our time trying to figure out the rulebook. I wanted more." You can especially feel that way if you weren't that passionate about the activity and were just putting up with it as a reason to socialize.
- Since you're not chatting with each other as much, it takes longer to get to know people. You may not feel patient enough to take the gradual approach.
A general approach to take toward activity-centered meet ups
- Try to pick activities you'd have fun doing regardless
- Accept you won't be able to have many long, in-depth conversations with anyone. However, you can still get to know people a little here and there. Like during a break in the action you could ask someone if they've lived in the area long. Or you could volunteer a detail about yourself and see if anyone shares one of their own. Just know that after exchanging a few sentences you'll have to get back to the main activity.
- Realize you can still show your personality, and get a sense of everyone else's. Like if you've all gotten together to debate an issue, do you help other people be heard, or do you interrupt all the time? Are you easygoing or argumentative? Do you make the odd joke to keep the mood light, or are you overly serious?
- Take a somewhat longer-term approach. You may not get to know any one person that well in a single meet up, but might be able to if you go to the group consistently.
- If there's someone you've chatted to a bit, and you'd like to get to know them better, invite them to hang out in a setting where you're able to talk freely.
Non-social events that are just advertised on Meetup.com
- A library posts about an upcoming presentation on nutrition it's putting on
- A local instructor is holding a workshop on marketing your small business
- A new age organization has a weekly drop-in group meditation
- An art gallery is having a reception for its new exhibit
People may indicate they're attending on Meetup.com, but there's no expectation that everyone will find and talk to each other once they've arrived. Each person shows up and takes their own seat. You may as well be a random member of the public who found out about the event in another way.
These types of listings aren't all bad. You may still learn about an interesting event you wouldn't have known about otherwise. At the venue you may still be able to strike up some conversations or meet some people. The built-in Meetup.com structure just isn't there. You're on your own. If you're not as confident about talking to people you don't know, this isn't the best option for you.
A general approach to take toward meet ups that are really just public events
- By all means, check out any event of this type that you're curious about. If you show up and have an opportunity to talk to someone, go for it. Just don't go in expecting a prearranged social outing.
- If you want to talk to someone treat them like a stranger who may or may not be in the mood to chat. That is, it's okay to initiate a conversation in a friendly, respectful way, but don't push the issue if they're not receptive to you. If you looked at the event's Attendees list and recognize someone, you have a bit of an in to say, "You're from Meetup.com, right?". But realize that while they may have RSVP'ed through the site, they may not have attended in a social frame of mind. They may want to arrive, watch the presentation, and take off.