Last Wednesday I spoke at a Sydney.pm meeting. This was the first time I have ever been to a Perl Mongers meeting on my own where I didn’t know anyone. If I hadn’t been speaking I wonder if I would have managed to do this?
I found it surprisingly difficult to go into a bar by myself to look for a group of men I didn’t know. I arrived on time but I couldn’t see any other people in the bar who looked like Perl Mongers. So I sat in the downstairs bar and waited. I did recognise the Perl Mongers when they arrived, they were talking quite loudly about Perl and CPAN, but it took me a while to go over and introduce myself.
It made me wonder if casually meeting up in a bar to take people to an unknown venue is the best thing. I would have found it much easier to meet at a venue that was specific for the event. Belfast.pm held a few talks at the Customer Events room in the BT Tower. When you turned up there you knew it was for the meeting and that the people in the room were there for the same reason as you. A bar can be a big place – this one had two floors – and for someone like me who never goes to bars on her own it felt awkward.
I realise that sometimes Perl Mongers groups have little choice on where to meet. If it has to be a public place, like a bar, here as some things I think you could do to help newcomers:
1. Arrange to have a least one regular member there on time.
I arrived on time. Timekeeping is a cultural thing. I live in Japan where everyone arrives on time. I had no idea what was normal in Sydney so I arrived at the time I was given.
2. Have a sign-up list for the event
Sydney.pm had a list on their wiki of people who were planning to attend. This gave me an idea of the size of group I was trying to find.
3. Have pictures of regular members of the group on the website so that newcomers know who to look out for.
I did try to find pictures of the members of Sydney.pm in advance in the hope that I would recognise them in the bar. The person I ended up recognising was Paul Fenwick – the other guest speaker – as I had read up on him before I attended.
4. Have something distinctive for newcomers to look out for.
The leader of Sydney.pm brought a fluffy camel. He didn’t arrive first but if I hadn’t already spotted the group I would have noticed the guy with the camel walk through the door.
5. Be as specific as you can about where you will be meeting.
I would have felt more comfortable if I had known in advance that the bar had two floors and that we would be meeting in the downstairs bar. It would have been even better if I had known to look out for Stephen (with a link to his picture) who would be sitting near the door with a fluffly camel.