A key insight from watching many show&tell talks is how unique individuals’ self-tracking methods and results are. In a similar vein, there is incredible diversity in the size and personalities of Quantified Self meetup groups around the world. Appropriately, those groups have experimented with different meetup formats to best serve their local Quantified Self communities. This list is a collection of the different meetup formats that our communities have tried. The purpose of this list is partly taxonomical, but mostly inspirational and hope it motivates you to try something new with your meetup group.
If you have any suggestions for additions to this list or tips for successfully running these formats (e.g., “We tried having a group discussion and worked really well for groups under 25 people”), please let us know by here. If you would like to form your own meetup group, it is quite easy. Find out how here!
Note: this list is roughly organized by the frequency of each format, in descending order.
This is the classic format. The speaker talks (with slides, usually) for 7 to ten minutes with about five minutes of questions from the audience. These talks focus on people’s own data and experience. The St. Louis meetup group had a variation with this format where they screened show&tell talk videos from the website. Detailed instructions for giving a great show&tell talk can be found here.
Generally, the content of QS meetups is determined by the content of the show&tell talks. However, some groups like to have a pre-determined theme and organize their program around that. The upside with this approach is that attendees have a sense of what to expect and may start to think about the topic, which can help discussion. The downside to this approach is that it can be hard to find three or more show&tell talks on the same topic. Usually, you can get around this by having a group discussion on the agenda or a show&tell talks on that topic from the QS website. A popular incarnation of the themed meetup are the New Year’s Resolution events seen in January.
-San Francisco (stress & calming) on 3/25/15
-Toronto (resolutions) on 1/19/15
-St. Louis (resolutions) on 1/20/15
-Berlin (holiday bio-hacking) on 12/18/14
-Indianapolis (Apple HealthKit) on 11/22/14
-Bogotá (emotions) on 10/1/14
-Dublin (sports) on 9/16/14
-Indianapolis (fasting) on 8/30/14
-St. Louis (romance) on 2/24/15
This format is similar to the show&tell talk. A person talks about the tool that they are working on with questions afterward. At larger meetups, there can be concerns about these talks being too self-promotional, so an emphasis is placed on that person’s experience with the tool. At smaller meetups, this may not be as much of an issue, because it can be interesting to see what people are working on in a small community. A variation is the “researcher” talk, where an academic presents a study that they have done. This is popular in communities that have a strong university presence. A related version is the “special guest” talk, where an expert or knowledgeable person speaks on a topic that is relevant to the self-tracking community.
Bring Your Own Device/Hands-On Demos
This format has people bring their own devices and allows others to have hands-on time with a product that they’ve read or heard about. If there is enough interest from toolmakers, you can have even formal demos, where the toolmakers are set up at individual tables. This can be incorporated into the social time that precedes most events.
The Meetup Partnership
Sometimes QS organizers will decide to partner with other meetup groups or organization for joint events. Formats for these events take many different forms.
-Vancouver (with Hardware Startups in Vancouver) on 11/14/14
-Seattle (with the Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing) on 9/14/14
-Portland (with the Portland Data Science Group) on 7/29/14
-Bay Area (with the D3 User Group) 11/21/13
The Informal Chat
The Informal Chat is similar to the Group Discussion, but it has a couple differences. One is that it is usually held in a more informal location like a pub. Not needing to have a projector opens up more potential locations. The other difference is that the need to stay “on topic” is felt less in this situation. This format works well for small groups under 10 people and can be presented as a “happy hour” event. It can even take place at a person’s house (after all, the first QS meetup was at Kevin Kelley’s house)
The group discussion can be a good way to complement an agenda that does not have enough show&tell talks. You can either picks a discussion topic and kick it out to the group, or use a more democratic method, like the unconference format. I find that arranging people into a circle (if there are about 25 people or fewer) works well for this, but it is not required. As the facilitator, most of your job is to sit back and let people talk. However, you can still shape the discussion by posing questions that help people ponder the issue more deeply. There is also the responsibility to watch for people who are dominating the conversation, and make sure that people who have something to say, but keep getting cut off are given time to speak.
One of the issues that was identified in the Portland meetup group is that people often are able to go through the step of collecting data, but have difficulty finding time to analyze it. So, they created a time and a space for people to work on and make progress on their self-tracking projects. These sessions begin with introductions and a description of what a person is working on. After that, it usually depends on how many people are there. A few people will find a common interest and get together and converse during the course of the evening. Other times, attendees keep their noses down and focus, with occasional casual banter. What is nice about this format is that it works well with a small number of people. Even if no one talks, people feel satisfied with staying focused and making progress. Once you start having over 15 people, and multiple conversations going, it could feel more like a social function than a work session. But people are generally fine with this. A benefit of this format is that it is unstructured and requires little preparation.
With this format, the attendees create the agenda. At the beginning of the meeting, people post ideas for a discussion topic and are assigned a place and a time for that discussion. This format requires at least 20 people, but it is also possible to have a smaller group vote for a single topic to discuss (in that way, it is similar to the Group Discussion. The Vienna group had a variation on this idea by having a central topic, which was “resolutions”, and the smaller discussion topics had to relate to the central topic.
-Vienna on 1/29/15
The Group Self-Tracking Effort
This format requires a lot of effort but can be rewarding to try. The way it works is that you ask your community to track a particular thing like sleep or steps for a month. Then, at the end of the month, everyone submits their data. Someone does the analysis and presents the findings at the next meeting. But also, people who participated will give show&tell talks, focusing on their own data. It’s very interesting to see how the individual’s data and experience relates to the findings from the group analysis. For this to work, you have to have a fairly engaged community, and requires a lot of work on the organizer’s part to email people frequently enough to follow through the different stages of the effort. But in the end, you get a great set of show&tell talks.
-Portland on 4/22/14