: Tech Community Chats: How Meetups are Adjusting to Connect During Lockdown

Tech Community Chats: How Meetups are Adjusting to Connect During Lockdown

By Candice Grobler

With the lockdown and COVID-19 prohibition on gatherings, SA tech meetup organisers have had to start thinking out-of-the-box about how they’re going to bring their communities together. Since these events occur more frequently than bigger conferences, the community relies on them to keep connected and informed. This means that organisers have to spend time thinking about the best solutions for bringing their communities together online in a way that actually helps them learn and connect.

Our events team spoke to local meetup organisers to find out about the challenges they’re encountering trying to keep their communities engaging, and how they’re planning on adjusting their meetups to add value remotely.

The peeps who joined us for this chat were:

Here’s our discussion around what the biggest issues are in taking a meetup remote, and how these organisers are planning to solve them.

Transcription of discussion:

Alex Hanson: 03:15
Cool. So just as, maybe before we jump in, a little ice breaker because not everyone maybe knows each other. I know I don’t know some of the people in the room either. I think it’s maybe useful for everyone to intro themselves with maybe their name, the meetup that they organise, how often you meet, maybe where you are in the process. So have you decided to stop running your events? Have you gone virtual? What are you doing and then your favorite OfferZen t-shirt. Candice has posted those many different things in the chat in case you got a bit lost, but I’ll start.

Alex Hanson: 03:46
So cool. So my name’s Alex Hansen and I work at OfferZen. I haven’t run a meetup myself, but we’ve run meetup-style events for the people as well as our MERGE conference last year. And my favorite OfferZen t-shirts is Astrosloth and I’m not biased because I designed it, but it’s my favorite. Mike, I don’t know if you want to jump on first?

Mike Geyser: 04:12
Sure. Happily. Hi, I’m Mike. I am an organiser for JoziJS in Johannesburg. I mean it’s in the name. I’m an obnoxious JavaScript pundit and we are currently exploring ways of running JoziJS remotely for the foreseeable future. And my favorite OfferZen t-shirt is the whale eating the unicorn in ASCII. I wear that a lot.

Alex Hanson: 04:44
Awesome. Hi Jonathan. Just to give you a wrap up, we’ve just been introing ourselves. You can follow along, but maybe you want to start with your name, your meetup, how often you meet. Where you are in your process at the moment, and your favorite OfferZen t-shirt.

Jonathan Bossenger: 05:01
Cool. So I’m Jonathan, from Cape Town. I’m one of the co-organisers of the WordPress Cape Town meetup and recently this year the PHP Cape Town meetup. We were kind of for the PHP meetup… Sorry, I’m just turning my phone off. For the PHP meetup we’re kind of wanting to see what’s going to happen. We literally had our last meetup the Thursday before everything blew up, so that was interesting. So we’re kind of seeing what’s going to go on. The PHP meetup, we normally meet every six weeks. The WordPress meetup we used to meet every month, but I’ve been struggling to get a venue, so we actually haven’t had a meet this year. And my favorite OfferZen t-shirt is the only one that I have, which is the one I got from PHP South Africa in 2017, that’s the one with a unicorn on the front and I’m like the six foot two big guy. And so when I wear my unicorn t-shirt everybody laughs.

Alex Hanson: 05:51
That’s amazing. But we’re going to have to change that. You can’t just have one OfferZen t-shirt, we’re going to have to make a plan there. Awesome. And then Gery?

Gergana Young: 06:03
Hey. Hey everyone. I’m Gery. I am also an organiser of JoziJS. Mike, pretty much filled you in on the JoziJS stuff already. We are trying to go remote, we’re figuring it out as we go. We haven’t had a meetup yet remotely. And my favorite OfferZen t-shirt is the “this is a joke” t-shirt from JSON SA.

Alex Hanson: 06:33
Awesome. I love all the oldies. It’s great to see that they’re still very popular. Cool. Justin, do you want to go next?

Justin Slack: 06:40
Sure. Hi. So my name’s Justin, I’m the co-organiser of the Cape Town Frontend Developers Meetup, along with Schalk, who will talk some more later. We actually were scheduled to have a meetup last night, but we have postponed those until further notice and we are looking into how we can hold them remotely and online. And we’ve also recently formed a nonprofit organisation. So we are also looking into, which Schalk can talk a bit more about. And we are also looking into how we can kind of leverage our nonprofit status to get good Zoom deals and things like that. So, Schalk can fill you in on that. We usually hold a meetup every month and we alternate between talks, which are usually on a Wednesday evening. And then we also run Saturday workshops and those are usually alternating month to month. Yeah. But for the foreseeable future we’ve postponed everything.

Alex Hanson: 07:43
Okay, cool. And your favorite OfferZen t-shirt?

Justin Slack: 07:48
Oh right. The first one I got, which is also the unicorn.

Alex Hanson: 07:55
Awesome. I’m not calling anybody old, by the way. I just saying it’s our old OfferZen t-shirts that not many people have because there was in the early days just putting that out there. You guys are true OfferZeners if you have those shirts, just saying. Cool. Inez, do you want to go next?

Inez Patel: 08:14
Sure. I’m Inez, I run She Can Do, which is based in Joburg. We are a meetup and also a nonprofit. We meet once a month and we’re supposed to have our next one next Thursday, which we are still going to have and we’re going to be running it remotely through Zoom. Yeah. So there’ll be quite an interesting thing to see if people show up and if the engagement is still high even though it’s online and, yeah, let’s see how it goes.

Alex Hanson: 08:50
Awesome. And your OfferZen t-shirt?

Inez Patel: 08:53
The Llama.

Alex Hanson: 08:55
Of course, he’s a cutie. And then, Sheena?

Sheena O’Connell: 09:02
Sweet. Hi everyone. I am also part of JooziJS. In my other life I’m also… I run a lot of Umuzi which is an NGO involved in training people and we’re busy transitioning everybody to remote work. So we’ve got 200 students that we generally teach stuff to in person and now they’re remote. So we’ve been doing a whole lot of experimentation around how to pull this off because not everybody has decent networking or anything like that. So we’re doing a lot around that right now. We’re still in a transition phase, so yeah, we’re still learning, still learning a lot. And my favorite t-shirt is also the one with the unicorn on, the muscly one. It might be my spirit animal. Yeah.

Alex Hanson: 10:01
No, it’s cool. Schalk?

Schalk Venter: 10:03
Okay. Hey guys. Yeah, sorry about the webcam. My laptop’s motherboard exploded a couple of weeks ago. I’m making do with what I have at hand. Yeah. So as Justin mentioned, we co-organise the Cape Town Frontend Developer Meetup along with Shaylin and Danny as well. Yeah, he spoke a bit briefly about the nonprofit we’re starting that is mostly kind of in preparation for the Frontend Conference that we were planning this year but seems like it might be pushed out to next year. Yeah. So then my favorite t-shirt is actually the one that Sheela is wearing. The old school Party Parrot one.

Alex Hanson: 10:59
Awesome. And then Cands do you want to introduce yourself?

Candice Grobler: 11:05
Yes. Hello everybody. I’m Candice. I work with Alex at OfferZen and I work on, also never really planned a meetup but like Alex says, we run events from 50 people to 180 and then we’ve run two conferences last year, so I helped with all the content side of things. So I’m here today to help just facilitate this chat but I want you to just make it super clear that this isn’t an OfferZen thing. I think, like Sheena said, everybody’s doing stuff now that is very with the goal of making learnings, because no one really knows that best way to do things.

Candice Grobler: 11:42
Remote is very new, especially in South Africa, especially with loadshedding. So we have a very unique set of problems and I’m super keen to just be here to help guide the conversation. Alex sent you guys an agenda. We do have those questions, but if you have any questions or you have any comments, please just unmute yourself and jump in. I think that’s how we can make the most out of this and really just all contribute to this discussion.

Candice Grobler: 12:08
Awesome. Okay, cool. So I’m going to just suggest that we go for the first question, especially by meetup, just because I think it might be a nice way to group these things. So, my first question is what do you guys usually aim to achieve with your meetups? I know some people care more about the social aspects, some people care about more the content stuff. So I’d really, I’m keen to know what you guys usually focus on and how you’re planning to do that now remotely or just what you’re worried about actually being able to achieve the goals you usually set up to do. So should we start with you Jonathan?

Jonathan Bossenger: 12:52
Cool. So it’s difficult to speak specifically for the PHP meetup because I’ve only started organising those this year, so I’ll kind of try and jump… I’ll kind of gather thoughts from the two different types of meetups that I organise, but generally the goal is, or for me at least, is to try and find sort of interesting topics around what people are busy with, what people are doing, what people are learning, sort of topics within the current trends of whatever technology we’re planning the meetup around. So for the WordPress meetup, it’s usually around whatever’s going on. So, last year the focus was Gutenberg, so it was mostly Gutenberg focus stuff.

Jonathan Bossenger: 13:39
With the PHP meetup, what we’ve done so far is focusing on kind of how we can make things faster, smoother. So we had a talk recently about using live wire, we had a talk recently about using AWS Lambda and running custom PHP environments.

Jonathan Bossenger: 14:03
So it’s kind of all around, for me at least. I work pretty much in isolation. So unless I go and look for knowledge online, I don’t stumble across it unless I sign up for newsletters and things like that. So I find the meetups to be extremely useful to see what other folks are doing and kind of learn from them and share that kind of knowledge. Whenever I’m looking for speakers, I’m always more interested in speakers that are prepared to share what they’re working on, that maybe the rest of us haven’t worked on, so that we can kind of share that knowledge. And then I can come back and share that knowledge with my team and we can decide if we’re going to use it or not.

Candice Grobler: 14:39
Awesome. And is there anything that you’re specifically worried about being able to do those things right now?

Jonathan Bossenger: 14:45
Well, funny enough, I think, because we’re chatting about looking at online meetups obviously, we’ve actually had a discussion with… I just realised now I should’ve invited them, but I’ve had a discussion with the WordPress, Joburg, and Pretoria meetups. They’re actually already switching to online, and we’re going to look at almost sharing all these online events. So they’re maybe going to manage one and then we’re all going to sort of suggest that our attendees go and sign up for theirs, and then we’re going to manage one, so we’ll kind of share the load that way, which I think is going to work nicely. And I think that the online process almost makes it easier for people to attend a learning session, if you will.

Jonathan Bossenger: 15:24
But the downside is obviously question and answers. How do you manage that within a remote environment? It’s a lot more difficult than just being able to ask the question in person at an event. Because as we’re sitting here now, it’s enabling your mic and disabling your mic and putting up your hand or whatever. Whereas at a real meetup, it’s easy for someone to just go, “I got a question.” And then the person can speak to that person, say, “All right, where’s your question?” And chat about it. So I think that’s my biggest concern because we’re always… The meetups tend to be very, I’m going to say free for all, but questions during the meetups are encouraged so that it’s more of a let’s all learn together. So if something comes up, ask the question, go for it, and we’ll discuss it. And I think that is more difficult in an online environment. So that’s the one concern that I do have.

Candice Grobler: 16:10
Definitely, generating that proper engagement.

Jonathan Bossenger: 16:13
Yeah.

Candice Grobler: 16:13
That’s a really good point.

Jonathan Bossenger: 16:13
And also [crosstalk 00:00:16:15].

Candice Grobler: 16:13
Yeah, yeah?

Jonathan Bossenger: 16:13
Sorry, just one thing I thought of now, and I do this while I’m in this call, is also interest. Involvement. Because it’s very easy to be sitting here, turn my mic off, and I’m doing something on another screen and listening to the background. That’s another concern that I have.

Candice Grobler: 16:31
Definitely, definitely. Inez, would you like to tell us what you’re worrying about or what you guys are focusing on? Yeah.

Inez Patel: 16:40
So we have specific topics that we aim to cover throughout the year, and that’s based on what we’ve noticed that people need to learn about in the design industry. So, yeah. So we specifically focus on making sure that people are able to get the knowledge that they need about the specific topics. What we’re mostly worried about is the workshop elements. So all of our meetups have… It’s really only like a 20-minute talk and then an hour interactive workshop where people get into groups. So trying to facilitate that online. Also because we have actual workshop kits, these big stationary boxes that we take to every meetup. So people don’t have access to the poster, to whatever we need to use for that workshop.

Inez Patel: 17:32
So we’re looking at being able to just create PDFs that people can use on their own machines. But we’re not sure if the workshop aspects, how we could do that and still allow the speaker to… Because people won’t be able to meet or… we’re thinking of trying to set up… I know that there’s some video software that allows you to create groups or rooms, they call it. So we’re thinking of trying to facilitate five different rooms within the time being and having one of the organisers plus the speaker, just join each room. So that is someone to facilitate and handle the questions and stuff. But we’ll see how it goes next week.

Candice Grobler: 18:22
That’s cool. I actually learned that Zoom can do that yesterday. You can split people into groups that are prearranged. I’m not sure what package is needed for that, though.

Inez Patel: 18:33
Yes. So our speaker has the full paid version, so he’s going to allow us to use that.

Candice Grobler: 18:40
Yay for good speaker.

Inez Patel: 18:41
But when we don’t have someone with that, I don’t know what we’ll do.

Candice Grobler: 18:46
Fair. Okay. That’s a really interesting point you raised there. Schalk, do you want to tell us what you guys are thinking about right now? What you’re trying to achieve and what’s blocking you?

Schalk Venter: 18:57
Sure, yeah. Cool. Just in terms of kind of the reason why we do it as… So Justin has been probably doing it way longer than me. I’ve probably been doing it now about for three or four years. But I think I’d probably speak for him as well when I say that kind of front-end development is a very confusing place to be in at the moment, and there isn’t as established based practices as they might be for something like Python or whatever.

Schalk Venter: 19:39
So for myself as well, I kind of just see the meetups as an opportunity to get a sense of what other people are doing, how they are solving problems, and to kind of refine my own ideas and maybe get challenged on my own ideas. And I think also, a lot of the problems that I sold on it day to day basis, are very South African specific. Yeah. I often find that a lot of useful insights come out of those.

Schalk Venter: 20:11
In terms of what our challenges are, just general meetup challenges, attendees knowing… How many attendees are going to pitch up and so forth. So that’s kind of the things that we were struggling with pre-Corona. But yeah, and I think in addition to that, apart from just the fact that we have no idea what we’re doing, none of us have a background in organising events or whatever. I think a lot of the things we just figured out as we go, which I guess is probably going to be maybe even worse now because I almost want to say organising online events and facilitating online events is albeit even more niche thing. Yeah. I don’t think any of us have kind of any experience in how to go about doing that. So as I’m speaking now, we’re actually looking into just the first step, what our actual platform [inaudible 00:21:22] So yeah, there’s probably a lot of challenges, probably more than I can probably just list now.

Candice Grobler: 21:33
Definitely. Hundred percent, I can imagine. And I like the fact that you say we have to learn. At OfferZen we’re very much focused on that. So from my perspective, I’ve never ran events before last year. And then last year, we ran seven events and two conferences. So I definitely buy into the learn as you go kind of perspective.

Candice Grobler: 21:55
So I think Justin, it’ll be interesting to know how you’re thinking about this. Oh, you’re muted. Sorry.

Justin Slack: 22:03
Yeah. Can you hear me?

Candice Grobler: 22:03
Yeah.

Justin Slack: 22:05
Yeah, just to reiterate what Schalk said, and he’s pretty much covered, I think, what our aims are as a meetup group. I think something that’s really important to me that is becoming problematic now is that our workshop series, because those are really aimed at introducing people to maybe new things, learning environments where we teach a lot of stuff. It’s a lot of hands on work, where people are working on actual projects while they’re in the workshop. And yeah, I’m kind of at a loss really as to how we might get to facilitate those kinds of events.

Justin Slack: 22:46
I think in the last year or so we’ve actually run… and Schalk, maybe correct me if I’m wrong, that we’ve actually run more workshops than talks. So that’s been a big focus of ours. And one of the important things that we’ve done, we’ve tried to do is to open access to these kinds of events. So, talks in the evening are inaccessible for a lot of people, really hard for people to get public transport at night and things like that. So workshops that we run on a Saturday that are close to transit hub and everything end up being really important. And a lot of people who do come to those events, I’m concerned that they’re not going to have the kind of internet access that will allow them to continue being participants.

Justin Slack: 23:34
So that’s a big concern for me. Yeah. And then all the things that Schalk mentioned as well, around organising. I’ve been doing this since 2012, and it doesn’t get any easier. It just gets harder all the time. And we do, we try all sorts of methods to do for attendance and things like that. And then you just kind of give up and go, and if two people show up, that’s fine. So there all those other challenges that… Taking things online in some ways makes them more accessible, but in other ways, it makes them even more inaccessible to a whole group of people who we kind of target with our meetups. That’s a big concern for me.

Candice Grobler: 24:20
Definitely. [crosstalk 00:24:20] Go ahead.

Schalk Venter: 24:22
If I can maybe just add to that as well. I think Justin actually brings up a very valid point that I may be glanced over as, yeah, I think all of us running the Frontend Development Meetup are unanimously in agreement that this… We want to try and proactively make it as accessible as possible, which is why we often also look at venues that are not in the middle of town because they can be a bit harder for people from the outskirts to get to. But yeah, I think something that has been raised internally a couple of times is that, as Justin mentioned, unfortunately in South Africa, access to technology does kind of follow economic and social lines. So yeah, I’m not really sure how we can solve that problem. In terms of solving it in person, we’ve explored several options before like having a shuttle service and so forth. For people coming from specific areas. But yeah, I’m not really sure how we’re going to solve that in an online environment.

Candice Grobler: 25:53
Yeah, I think that’s a very big question. And a lot of people are thinking about it. I see Inez nodding furiously there. You’re in the middle of my screen, so it like pops out.

Candice Grobler: 26:03
So we haven’t quite heard from Gery, Mike, or Sheena around JoziJS yet. I don’t know if one of you maybe want to tell us what your main focus is and your worries. Cool. Mike, and then Sheena. And Gery, you can jump in with anything you want to add after that.

Mike Geyser: 26:22
They know they must interrupt me, so they’ll correct me when I drift off topic or I start rambling about JavaScript. I apologise in advance.

Candice Grobler: 26:31
That’s fine.

Mike Geyser: 26:37
So, we’re also in a very similar position. I think it’s important to know that. So we look after two meetups, JoziJS and then a new initiative of ours, which we’re very disappointed about, which is SowetoJS. And we’re disappointed because we started that meetup on a Saturday to be far more accessible and to have this intersectional audience taking it to Soweto and get industrial speakers speaking in Soweto. And that obviously can’t continue because of the concerns that we’ve got around Coronavirus.

Mike Geyser: 27:09
But for the main meetup, I think we’re in a slightly different position because we’ve known for probably about two years that we wanted to live stream at some stage. And we’ve had some experiments already around how we can have remote speakers speaking to a local audience and really leverage the idea of meetups being a global platform and import that knowledge into South Africa.

Mike Geyser: 27:37
And we had mixed results, but we are at least… We ruled out a couple options. Now, the situation has forced our hand. So we polled our members, and we’re relatively confident that there are things that can work and work overseas and we’re going to try and just basically steal those learnings and copy them and see if we can get it working.

Mike Geyser: 28:03
The issues that Justin and Schalk raised are super, super, super important. And we’re very worried about the audience members that we’re going to lose access to them because they just don’t have access to bandwidth. But I think the one thing that we’re trying to focus on is that it’s an absolutely exceptional circumstance and it’s not a forever answer. We’re trying to make sure that we don’t lose everyone over losing some people. I know that sounds very, very difficult, but I think it’s the reality. We’re trying to see how big the problem is and then past that we’re going to try and identify ways of reaching other people. So our primary focuses as a meetup has been transforming our audience and broadening the reach of our audience and the demographics in our audience. We feel like the best way of doing that is by transforming our speaker base.

Mike Geyser: 28:55
So we try and get us as many diverse speakers from different backgrounds. So this leaves us with a unique opportunity that we can now get speakers that would never, ever, ever have been able to make it to our meetup space on a Thursday night that can now speak to our audience. We can reach people who would never ever have been able to make it to JoziJS on a Thursday night. So as much as it’s a complex situation, we’re hyper aware of the challenges of it, we’re really excited by the opportunities to try and do something different. Does that sound right Gery? Sheena?

Gergana Young: 29:29
Yeah. So there’s just one thing that, I agree with all of those points, there is one thing that nobody mentioned?

Mike Geyser: 29:37
What?!

Gergana Young: 29:37
Which is a concern and concern for me. I know a lot of people don’t see this as a problem, but I do feel like a lot of speakers will not be comfortable with speaking like this, because speakers generally feed on audience participation and things like that. When you are speaking to your computer screen, it feels a little bit weird.

Gergana Young: 30:04
So I do think that a lot of, especially because at JoziJS we encourage a lot of new speakers and we give them feedback and we help them grow into speaking into public and bigger events and so on and so forth. I feel like new speakers would not be able to do this kind of thing as a first time speaking engagement, which is a problem. I guess it can be overcome, but it’s something that we do need to think about.

Candice Grobler: 30:32
I definitely agree with that point. We had a speaker who wasn’t at all keen to speak at DevConf after and he’s an experienced speaker, but because they’ve now gone remote, he’s just like, “I can’t, I’m uncomfortable. I can’t speak like that.” So I definitely think it’s a valid concern. Sheena, is there anything you wanted to add quickly?

Sheena O’Connell: 30:53
Yeah, so from an Umuzi standpoint, like we have all those same concerns and the concern of not having that audience interaction is quite a big one for us as well because judging people’s understanding while you’re trying to explain something is really hard if they’re not in the room. It makes it very, very difficult. Then beyond that one major gigantic concern that we have, is that we really, really need everybody to be able to see what’s going on.

Sheena O’Connell: 31:29
So if we’re running a workshop for a bunch of students, then we want everybody involved, but some of them are going to be loadshedded, some of them are going to have crappy connections. So having suitable failover mechanisms is quite a big deal. So if you have a great connection join like this, if you have a crappy connection join like that, if you have no connection downloaded it later. So that’s quite important.

Sheena O’Connell: 31:53
Then the other thing that’s a concern is, the video platforms usage limits. So Zoom is high quality in a lot of ways, but it’s also costs some money. I think it’s high bandwidth, but I stand to be corrected. So we’re trying to figure out which platform actually works best. So far it looks like a thing called Jitsi Meets, which is so far it’s been treating us pretty well. Besides that, like everything Mike said, yes and Gery and everyone else actually. That’s it.

Candice Grobler: 32:32
Thank you. Thank you. I think there’s some very, very valid points that come up and I’m actually just going to pivot straight into those questions because I think there’s some actionable things we can already do here. But one thing I think Alex has done a lot of thinking around how we sponsor as OfferZen and I’m sure you guys also, I know you guys also like I’m sure that’s how you know about us is getting swag and stuff. So we have changed our thinking and Alex I don’t know if you want to maybe just give everyone a little bit of insight into maybe how sponsors are starting to think about meetups right now.

Alex Hanson: 33:03
Yeah, I mean I don’t think I can speak for all sponsors, because I mean I think sponsor, sponsor for different reasons if that makes sense. Like from OfferZen we just want to swag you guys up and we just want to give you guys leverage to like get people in a room and get them all wearing unicorn shirts and weird stuff like that. Whereas sometimes other sponsors expect a lot of things in return, which becomes very hard to deliver if you’re running an online event and you potentially don’t have those 60 physical people in a room at the same time.

Alex Hanson: 33:34
So from OfferZen standpoint, what we’ve decided is, obviously it’s a very hard situation and it’s very uncertain, and we kind of looked at what’s happening within the economy, what’s happening health wise. The thing is the spreading or the chance of getting sick is actually quite low, but there’s such a high panic at the moment people. People are just so fearful, people are buying things in shops unnecessarily. So it’s quite scary for people.

Alex Hanson: 34:03
But then also from a brand perspective, we still want to support you guys in the community and what you’re doing. We still want to be there, we still want to help you guys through this scary time. So from that we made kind of assumptions, it’s our way of thinking about things and then we set ourselves heuristics, that kind of answered those assumptions in a sense. So part of those heuristics, one of them was just opting for certainty, to kind of do what we know 100% now at least. But then also making sure that we can support the community in some way. So that’s why we were running these mini events, but we also want to be responsible, as a brand that we care about the community and getting together, the virus does spread through gatherings.

Alex Hanson: 34:45
So from an OfferZen standpoint, we have actually decided to stop sponsoring swag for meetups and stop sponsoring external conferences and those types of things for the time being, it’s literally on a month on month case that we’re reassessing the situation. As we said, it does change often, but we’ve decided to stop sending at least the swag to meetups because we don’t want to necessarily encourage people to gather. We want people to rather opt for more of a digital opportunity.

Alex Hanson: 35:13
But that being said, that doesn’t mean that OfferZen is going to go ghost you guys and go underground and not do anything. That’s why we are having these conversations because we do want to understand is there a potential opportunity for OfferZen to get involved in another way that we hadn’t considered before? So I think maybe a lot of sponsors are in the same boat where they actually maybe don’t know what you guys need at the moment. And hopefully by understanding what you guys do need, they can then try and get involved with a different way until they have been now. Like you might not need the venue, but maybe you need someone to sponsor data for people so that they can jump on a line, things like that, has changed the circumstance. So I hope that answers the question.

Candice Grobler: 35:53
Yeah, I think it’s just nice to see like people are… This is a different world now. It feels like things… the rules of engagement have changed somewhat and people pausing the usual way of thinking about it and hopefully the right sponsors are looking at like, “Okay cool, so maybe we can’t give you a venue, can we sponsor your wifi or give you airtime vouchers to send to people so they can download it at least?”

Candice Grobler: 36:16
So I think it’s important that we as organisers to start thinking around that and how you can engage your sponsors in the ways you need right now. So I think a useful question for us to maybe dive into, because this came up already quite often, is the ability to engage audiences in workshop-style formats. Has anyone already done research into this/found a tool that has been helpful to use when you want to try workshop things online? Anybody? Nobody?

Gergana Young: 36:51
So, I’m attending the MVP Virtual Summit at the moment and they’re trying really hard to make it a success because they had to cancel the physical event and they ran a few workshops. They use everything, everything is Microsoft. So they use Microsoft Teams to do it. However, I don’t think that they’re succeeding at the moment. They’re trying really hard. They’re doing the best they can, but it does take a lot away not being physically there. You can take part of the question and answers sessions, there are separate chat rooms for different things, they’re trying to make it as engaging as possible.

Gergana Young: 37:41
The one thing that is a benefit as an attendee is you can easily leave something that’s boring without offending anyone. But other than that and Microsoft Teams seems to be working really well in terms of that, but a lot of the stuff they using has not actually been released for general public use yet. So they’re planning on releasing it soon and hopefully we’ll know when they do release it, so we can try it out using it with your… I don’t know if it’s been very successful to be honest.

Candice Grobler: 38:23
Okay. Okay, cool. Any other ideas that anyone’s thought of? Inez as you said, you’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, especially with the accessories and resources people need to have in those workshops. Have you had any ideas around what do you think would be useful?

Inez Patel: 38:40
Well, so we’re actually just going to take it one step at a time. So with this workshop that we’re doing on Thursday next week it doesn’t require people to have massive types of stationary, so they just need a pen and paper and they’re linked to the Zoom meeting, so that will be listed in the meetup invite. We’re actually still looking for a tool to help us create the rooms. I was actually just checking with the guy who’s got the Zoom account, he doesn’t know if it will allow him to create rooms. So we can use it to invite as many people as we want and to have the first 20 minute talk on it, but we then need to find another platform to break into the smaller groups that people work in.

Candice Grobler: 39:32
Okay. [crosstalk 00:11:39].

Sheena O’Connell: 39:33
So I have an idea around this.

Candice Grobler: 39:36
Yeah, Sheena.

Sheena O’Connell: 39:38
So I did something interesting yesterday. Basically we ran a retro with my team and to do it, we did the name coffee thing. So if you have some kind of board where everybody can see it, you make a change and they see the change and that’s great, then you just need a voice client. So we use Discord for that and it worked really well, it’s a pretty low band width solution, which is cool for my situation and you do miss out on seeing people’s faces and sharing your screen and all of that, but if you’re all interacting on a central platform, then you just need voice.

Inez Patel: 40:17
Right. Yeah, that’s very cool. Thank you.

Alex Hanson: 40:22
Yeah, I mean a similar tool that we use, we use Miro from a design perspective at least, and it’s basically for those of you who don’t know, it’s like a massive never ending whiteboard where many people can collaborate on it. I mean Candice and I, we workshop obviously ideas for running events and it’s really useful because you can see her cursor and you can see my cursor and we’re typing or clicking on the same sticky and talking about it. So we’ve got a Hangouts or Zoom call happening, but then we’re interacting on the same platform instead of me trying to tell her, “No, you know that sticky note at the top right corner, just move that down.” Now we can interact really easily through that tool, which is really nice.

Candice Grobler: 41:02
It’s actually really, really nice because you can like have, because it’s so big, you can actually group it out and have everybody working in the same space and I know Miro you get three free boards to start with and anyone can get access in your team. So that’s actually a really nice option. I mean you can just then download that content and delete that board and then have a new one if you really need that. So that’s quite a useful tool for that kind of thing.

Candice Grobler: 41:29
Awesome. So I think another thing that really strongly came up that I really want to talk about is accessibility because that’s like definitely something that’s come up quite a lot here, is how do we make these events more accessible and more engaging to people who are able to attend? So does anyone have any thinking around, Sheena especially, you did mention you’ve started thinking about it. How do you make it accessible across many options?

Sheena O’Connell: 42:03
Awesome. I’m on my phone, which is why I keep turning my video off. It’s annoying. Yeah. So what we’re doing is we’re using three platforms. So we’ve got Jitsi Meet, which I mentioned before. It’s kind of like Google Hangouts only but you can have more people on it and you can host it yourself if you want to. And it seems pretty good. It seems like it doesn’t use as much bandwidth as other things while maintaining high quality. So that’s cool.

Sheena O’Connell: 42:35
And then on top of that we have OBS Studio. So you can use that to record your desktop and stream it straight to YouTube. In theory, you can do it straight from Jitsi Meet as well, but I have not had success with that. I think if you host it yourself you can. But if you are using their thing then it sucks a little bit. But OBS studio is quite nice.

Sheena O’Connell: 42:58
And then YouTube streaming is fantastic as well. So basically if somebody has got the bandwidth, they joined the meeting. If they’ve got kind of connection issues, then YouTube streaming is better. And then later on they can watch the video. And I’m also sort of semi-excited about this because I think we’re going to learn loads and generate some useful reusable content as well, which is going to be very handy.

Sheena O’Connell: 43:24
And then besides that, the Discord thing is really nice. So we’re doing a lot of our meetings on Discord. And then just all looking at the same board or the same document and just chatting there. So far it works quite well and it’s fun, which is also a benefit. You’ve got to keep some fun in this.

Candice Grobler: 43:45
Yeah, definitely. If there’s no room for innovation at a time like this, then you know what is there time for? Awesome. Just so you guys know, we are going to transcribe this entire call. So we’ll have note of all the tools that are mentioned and we will be able to give those to you as well. Awesome. And does anyone else have any ideas of things that can be used?

Mike Geyser: 44:08
Yeah. So pivoting a little bit on what Sheena’s just said about YouTube. So we’re taking a little bit of a different approach because we feel, firstly on one hand, that Zoom has the most robust handling of small-scale conferences. But it won’t necessarily scale well to a hundred people. Perhaps I’m incorrect. But it’s very difficult to ask questions and it’s very bandwidth intensive.

Mike Geyser: 44:35
So what we’re planning on doing is we’re planning on having the speakers and organisers be on a Zoom call, and then using the live streaming functionality to live stream to YouTube Live, which is where the general attendees are going to be on, so that they get the ability to … Firstly, everyone interacts by the same mechanism being YouTube Live Chat, where the organisers are going to be active on collect questions and relate that to the speaker and interrupt the speaker in a sustainable way.

Mike Geyser: 45:04
And then secondly, YouTube has done a whole bunch more for bandwidth and low bandwidth conditions than anybody else does. So we feel that’s going to give the best experience to our

attendees in varying bandwidth scenarios. And then finally, it all gets recorded afterwards anyway. So people can go and just download it on YouTube and watch it offline.

Mike Geyser: 45:24
So a little bit similarly, but slightly different constraints. And I think it’s important to understand that some of these tools will work for workshops and small meetups or tens or dozens of peoples. And some of them need to scale past that and won’t scale to a hundred.

Schalk Venter: 45:39
Mike, how tough is that to set up? Because I mentioned in the text comments as well, in terms of accessibility, that kind of seemed our go-to. However, from what I’ve been reading, it seems to be a pain to have more than one person presenting. But that kind of sounds like a way around it. But I think from my side then, the question is just how complex is that to set up?

Mike Geyser: 46:13
So it looks relatively easy at the moment. We are running rudimentary trials. We were supposed to be running today, but we may changes on our YouTube account and it’s not active yet. We’ll let you know within the week if you’re interested. There’s a channel in ZA Tech where we’re going to post our feedback and our experiments. We’re interested in sharing as much of our learnings as possible and so that as many people can benefit from it.

Mike Geyser: 46:39
I also have an article which I’ll share in the chat, which is a meetup organiser from, I think it’s Singapore, if I’m unmistaken, who has compared a whole bunch of different tools and they actually ran meetups using the various different options, which I think might be valuable to people.

Candice Grobler: 46:57
That would be so useful.

Jonathan Bossenger: 46:59
Sorry Mike, so the channel you’re talking about in ZA Tech, is that the ‘Meetup Organisers’ channel?

Mike Geyser: 47:07
Correct. Yes. Only discovered it recently and it’s amazing.

Candice Grobler: 47:12
Just so you guys know [crosstalk 00:47:14].

Schalk Venter: 47:13
I think I invited you.

Mike Geyser: 47:14
Thank you.

Candice Grobler: 47:15
There’s also a ‘conference organisers’ channel in ZA Tech, in case you didn’t know. I also only found out about it this year. And I know that also people are also sharing all their learnings there as well. So it might be worth it. Because similar problems, they have maybe bigger budgets and more pressing deadlines. But I think that might also be useful to join if you guys are interested.

Candice Grobler: 47:38
Awesome. Okay, cool. So I’m aware that we only have 10 more minutes and there were way more things that we could address. So I have more questions but I wanted to just open the floor and see if anyone else had any questions that they want to bring to the table. Anythinghings specifically? Yeah, go for it.

Jonathan Bossenger: 47:57
So I actually don’t have a question. I just want to say that this whole … what has it been now? 49 minutes has been amazing and I would love to see more of this, like meetup organisers meeting and discussing these kind of things. I’ve gotten so much information and ideas from this call alone. And I think it’s kind of interesting that this situation has forced us to do this and I would love to see this go forward because it’s so almost, what’s the word I’m looking for? You just feel so good about the fact that everybody else is having the same problem that you are getting meetups organised, kind of sharing that knowledge. I just want to say thanks to the folks from OfferZen for getting this going.

Candice Grobler: 48:33
Of course.

Mike Geyser: 48:37
Yeah, definitely. It’s great to chat to other people and see what’s everyone’s idea. And also all the pain points we are experiencing together.

Candice Grobler: 48:46
Very, very much so. That’s actually one of the reasons why we wanted to do this. I actually spoke to someone you know Inez, Kelly. She works with you for what She Can Do.

Inez Patel: 48:55
Oh yeah.

Candice Grobler: 48:55
Yeah. I spoke to her on the weekend. She’s a friend of mine and she was like, “You’re talking to conference organisers? You have to talk to meetup organisers too. We have the same problem.” So cool, let’s do it. And it’s weird that literally just organising a chat like this is a great space and a good starting point and would definitely encourage more of it. And also, I think what we’re going to do, just so you guys know, as a next step after this, we are going to transcribe this call. So we’ll have all the content.

Candice Grobler: 49:28
And then what I’m going to do is I’m going to write that up, write up all the suggestions we had, all the problems you’ve mentioned, all the questions we haven’t been able to answer in this time. And then I’ll share it with you guys. But I’d really like to publish that on our blog. And then what we can do is share it in the meetup organisers’ channel, the conference organisers’ channel and actually start generating more discussion around it. Because that’s actually what I think needs to happen, is people to realise that there are other people in the same boat. We’re all trying to solve the same problems. Let’s not reinvent the wheel 50 times if we can avoid it. Yeah.

Candice Grobler: 50:02
So I think that’s definitely the next step from our side. Are there are any other questions about that or any other questions anyone wanted to ask? No. Okay, cool. So then what I think we can do from here on out is just please be as awesome as you guys are being. Alex will be in touch to get your addresses so we can send you guys some swag, because that’s what we do. Shower the swag. If you can’t go out, at least you can wear your OfferZen shirt.

Candice Grobler: 50:38
And another thing is I wanted to just ask Sheena and Schalk. Schalk, I know you can’t turn on your camera, but Sheena, do you mind turning on your camera again, and then everyone waving at the camera so we can get a nice screenshot and share that with people in the article as well. I think it shows that there are people. So okay, smile. Awesome. Thank you guys so much. And yes, like I said, Alex, will be in touch. We’ll be in touch to share the article with you guys as well. And yeah, we’re going to keep having these discussions.

Schalk Venter: 51:14
I just have one question maybe before we go. I just want to check, someone mentioned Lean Coffee. Who was that?

Sheena O’Connell: 51:24
Oh that was me.

Schalk Venter: 51:26
Cool. I would actually be interested to know how that goes because the guys from CodeBridge Newlands are going to do a remote Meetup tonight, also following kind of a Lean Coffee approach. So I’d be keen to also relay your experience to them and likewise.

Sheena O’Connell: 51:48
Awesome. I’ll send a … Am I muted? Okay, I’ll send the link to the platform that we use to you. I think you could probably just do it with trailer and a stopwatch. But we used some other Lean Coffee platform. It was okay. But yeah, let’s chat afterwards.

Schalk Venter: 52:08
Yeah, I think they’re going to use Trello. If you are in the Meetup organisers’ channel…

Sheena O’Connell: 52:14
I’m not, but I will be.

Schalk Venter: 52:16
Cool. So if you join it, JB posted some information on that last night.

Sheena O’Connell: 52:23
Okay.

Schalk Venter: 52:24
Or no, so actually this morning. My bad.

Sheena O’Connell: 52:27
JB. Okay, cool.

Candice Grobler: 52:29
You’ll also see that everyone is in the invite. So if you do need to get in touch with anyone in this chat specifically and ask for more questions, please do. I mean, I’m assuming everyone’s happy with an email. If you’re not, please just shout. Otherwise Alex can put you guys in touch with anyone else here. But yes, I’m also going to be joining that meetups organiser channel now now. Awesome.

Candice Grobler: 52:52
Thank you everybody for your time and for taking your lunch break to chat. I think this has been a super, super useful chat so far. And I’m looking forward to whatever comes next. Awesome.

Schalk Venter: 53:06
Thanks very much.

Sheena O'Connell: 53:06
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Candice Grobler: 53:06
Thanks guys.

Sheena O’Connell: 53:06
Bye.

Mike Geyser: 53:07
[crosstalk 00:53:07] bye.

Recommended tools and resources:

  • Miro: A collaborative, online whiteboard which can be used when running online workshops.
  • Jitsi Meet: A free, open-source video conferencing solution.
  • OBS Studio: You can use this to record your desktop and stream it straight to YouTube.
  • YouTube streaming: A nice option for hosting your event if you have attendees with low bandwidth, as it allows them to adjust the quality if needed.
  • Discord: A useful communication tool if you only need to use audio and not video.
  • Kent C. Dodd’s YouTube video on ‘How I run remote workshops
  • Sarah Thiam’s article on ‘Quickly turning in-person meetups to virtual
  • Schalk Venter’s YouTube video highlighting how they’re going about ‘Front-end conference planning
  • Lean Coffee: An approach to structuring meetings together, that enables more focused meetings that are decided on democratically.

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