How to organize a keyboard meetup
Gordon Diggs, the man behind the NYC Mechanical Keyboard Meetups, gives us some tips on how to organize a meetup.
Published December 5, 2023
I’m Gordon (resistancefrequencies on Discord), and over the past 15 months I have organized five mechanical keyboard meetups in New York City. I’d love to see you at a future NYC Mechanical Keyboard Meetup event, or travel to one that you organize!
Keyboard meetups are a wonderful part of being mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Our hobby is one that lends itself to solitude: generally only one person can use a keyboard at a time, or one soldering iron, and we type each other messages in Discord servers from separate and far-flung locations. Meetups give us a space to come together and spend time in the company of other enthusiasts. At meetups, we can see keyboards we’ve never heard of, try switches that are new to us, and marvel at someone’s perfectly-tuned stabilizers. We can put faces to Discord usernames and make new friends who share our love of mechanical keyboards.
Our hobby is also an expensive one, and meetups give people a way to explore more about keyboards without having to spend hundreds of dollars on a new layout to see if they like it.
Even if you don’t come away from this post with the desire to organize your own meetup, I hope you make plans to find and attend one – it is truly energizing to be in a room of other people who love mechanical keyboards just as much as you do.
I started organizing events to bring this joy of meetups to more people. We have a good series of NYC mini-meets at a local space called Fat Cat Fab Lab, but coming out of the pandemic we had lost a regular way for a larger community to come together. So in July of 2022, I thought it would be fun to organize one. We held our first NYC Mechanical Keyboard Meetup in September of that year, and have held a total of five, with plans to do more in 2024! The good news, if you are interested in organizing a meetup, is that anyone can do it. Here is my manual on how to run a keyboard meetup. What I have below is what I have found to work for me. Like many things, a lot of this comes down to preference. I encourage you to find a process that works for you; this is by no means the only way to host successful events!
Run an Interest Check
Many of the early steps in planning a meetup boil down to answering the question “how can I reduce surprises and make my event a success?” and an Interest Check helps do just that. We are lucky that Interest Checks are already such a prevalent part of the hobby, as people are already likely to fill out a form to give feedback on your idea. I sent our first Interest Check in July 2022, with the hope of answering the following questions:
- Will anyone come to a meetup I host?
- When would people want to meet?
- Would people pay to attend?
- Where should I host the event?
- Why do people want to come to a meetup?
I posted this Interest Check on Reddit, the NYC MK Discord server, and a local Facebook group. Looking back at the 86 responses, it’s interesting to see how much became elemental to how we now run our events.
54% of respondents said that a Saturday afternoon meetup would be their preferred time; no other option got more than 18% of the vote. We have stuck to that for everything except our December meetup, for which we tried a Sunday afternoon.
95% of respondents said they would pay to attend the meetup to help cover costs, which was a huge relief. It will likely not surprise you to hear that running events in New York City is an expensive proposition, and I was very glad to see people were willing to contribute. I also gauged interest in where within the city we could host an event, as Manhattan, our most central borough, tends to be more expensive than others.
Decide the scale of your meetup
Early on, you need to figure out how many people you want at your meetup. This could be based on your comfort level running events, the number of people who fill out your IC, your knowledge of venues in your area, or what you know about how many people are in your local keyboard community. My biggest advice is this: start smaller and grow over time. If it’s your first time running an event, don’t jump straight into a 750 person meetup – you risk it going terribly and then it will be harder to do another.
I knew I wanted to do something meaningfully bigger than our 20-person mini-meets and targeted our first meetup to be about 75 people. I anchored that number on the IC responses I got – I assumed there would be some drop-off from people who filled out the form to people that would attend the meetup. Ultimately I was wrong – the demand for tickets greatly exceeded capacity and the number of IC respondents, but I was still happy to start small. Moreover, I had confidence that I could successfully grow the event from there.
After our first event, I doubled the size and we now target about 150 attendees for each event. Demand has fortunately sustained, so I am looking to increase that size again going into 2024. I think it is healthy to be transparent about your target meetup size. Doing so will let people know what they should expect and inform how quickly they need to procure tickets.
Project the event’s finances
Once you know how many people you want to host, it’s time to figure out how much this all might cost. The thing that I’ve found that works for me is to build a worksheet of a sample P&L Statement to forecast the costs for the event. As I’m doing this, I’m trying to figure out a few key things, all of which are intertwined:
- What is my budget for the venue? How much per hour can I afford to pay for an event space?
- How low can I get ticket prices such that I break even on the event?
- How many sponsors do I need to make the event work, and how low can I get their sponsorship fee?
I cannot go into full detail of the expenses for an event, but at a high level, you should expect to have to pay for: renting the venue (and potentially renting tables/chairs depending on the venue), supplies (name tags, index cards, etc.), any goodies you want to giveaway to all attendees, some services (e.g. insurance, security), and fees for a ticket platform. There will always be some unexpected expenses as well, so try to build a little bit of wiggle room into your plan. This will be a slightly frustrating experience, not unlike an itch in the small of your back that you can’t quite reach, but eventually it will click and you will find a structure that will make the event work.
Find a venue for your event
Budget in hand, it’s time to find a space to host your meetup! Personally, this is my least favorite part of the process (and one reason that I make sure to maintain a positive relationship with our regular venue). For this step, you’re going to need to put in some legwork, both digitally and physically. Start by searching for venues in your area, either on something like Peerspace or just Google.
To figure out how much space you need, it can be good to use a calculator like this one. The setup for meetups is a little unique because we need tables without chairs. I have found that the space required for a round table banquet is similar to a keyboard meetup, so I ground my square footage needs on that measurement. When talking to venues, the closest event type to what we do is a trade show - people will understand that that means products laid out on tables and people walking around to look at them.
Here is my list of things I always look for at a potential venue:
- Is it pleasing to be in the space? We’re going to ask people to spend hours there, so it should look nice, not smell bad, and be comfortable.
- Is the space accessible? I don’t want to exclude anyone from an event just because there is a flight of stairs to walk up.
- What is the bathroom situation at the venue?
- Very importantly, what is the A/C and heating situation at the venue? We are going to pack people in pretty tight for a meetup, so even at a winter event I am usually running the A/C in a space.
- Can I visualize how I would set up tables? I prefer long rectangular tables for our events, and so I try to map out how it will look when I lay out tables and where people will be able to walk.
You will no doubt find some interesting places when searching for an event space. I have gotten to see a sneaker factory, an art gallery showing modern paintings of Buddha, and several smelly after-hours party venues. Be clear with the representatives about what you are trying to accomplish, and they will be honest about whether or not their space can work for you. I always like to have at least an hour in the space before the meetup starts to get everything set up, so factor that into your reservation (some venues may also give you set up and teardown time as part of your reservation).
Once you find a venue, and it works for the date you are hosting your event, lock it in!
Make tickets available
Let’s recap where we are now: we’ve run an IC to know that people near us are interested, we know how big we want our meetup to be, we have a plan for how to not go broke running the event, and we have a venue. Next up is making tickets available! There are a number of online event ticketing services available. Before you pick one, take a look at the features available and the pricing for each to figure out which is going to work best for you. If you were able to find a free community space, you may be able to make your event free, but it is still good to make people register for their ticket ahead of time. Doing so will help you project the number of attendees, and give you a way to make sure that the right people are entering your event when they show up.
Promote your event
When tickets are on sale, share the event page so that people can register! I share our event pages in all the same places that I shared the initial IC, as well as our mailing list and Instagram page that I set up after our first event. And don’t forget to email your event details to this very website! Our hobby is a relatively niche one, so you cannot rely on your event ticket service to promote it for you. Tell everyone you can about your event so that they know where they can get a ticket!
Find sponsors if needed
You may not need to take sponsorship money to make your event feasible, but if you do, reach out to the keyboard vendors you know and love to see if they are interested in helping out. We publish a sponsor prospectus on our website to outline our sponsorship opportunities and expectations. If you know people from different vendors, politely ask them if they would be interested. If you don’t know people, reaching out through their support channels is a good option. It’s important to remember that pretty much all keyboard vendors are small businesses, and they may not have the means to sponsor events – I never hold this against them.
Get insurance and hire security
I highly recommend that you get event insurance for your events. Certain venues may require a certificate of insurance (COI), in which case you will have to be insured before they will sign a contract with you. Even if they don’t, I think it is worthwhile – I like to have some coverage should something go awry at one of our events. Event insurance can be acquired online quickly and easily.
Similarly, I think it is worthwhile to hire security for events. Unfortunately, there have been instances of theft at meetups, and hiring a security guard to quietly roam and keep an eye on things can help mitigate that risk. Obviously, everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their items at meetups, but having security can take some of the load off of you as an organizer. As with venue representatives, likening a keyboard meetup to a trade show will give them a good frame of reference for what to expect at the event.
Throw your event
Time for the fun part! There are some other small things to sort out leading up to your event (how you want to check people in, what swag you may want to produce, how you want to run giveaways), but at this point you have all the biggest items handled! I recommend having a detailed plan for setup ahead of time so that you can get to the space and get ready quickly. People will likely start showing up early and lining up outside. When you are ready, open the doors, check attendees in, and direct them to where they can set up any keyboards or artisans they brought. A beautiful thing about meetups is that, as organizers, we only need to make the space available – the event itself comes entirely from the attendees. If you’ve done the work, the event will be a blast and people will have a great time.
Make sure to enjoy the event yourself! Remember, you organized this event out of your passion for meetups, so make sure to walk around, try keyboards, meet people, and have fun!
After every successful meetup, I celebrate by drinking a beer and eating katsu curry with my wife, who graciously helps me run events. The prevailing feeling is always one of accomplishment and gratitude that I can give back to a community that has given me so much. Organizing meetups creates a safe, welcoming place for long-term enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Vendors come and go and layouts go through waves of popularity, but people are the constant in our hobby, and bringing our keyboards to a central location is the best way I know to remind ourselves of that. Whether you are attending a meetup, or organizing it, I hope I catch you at the next one!
|New York, NY, USA
|Joined (the hobby)
|As of writing: Green Jacket Tactiles, Corsas
|Fav. keycap profile
|record collector, home cook
Published on Tue 5th Dec 2023. Featured in KBD #2023.