We started Quantified Self as a casual meeting for users and makers of self-tracking tools. As our project has evolved into an active, international community, I’ve been compiling insights and recommendations from the organizers. Below is a detailed FAQ about how to organize your own Quantified Self Show&Tell. Some of these questions and answers are useful to groups just forming, other parts of the discussion will be of interest only if your group has grown a bit and you begin to wonder what, if anything, you should do next. This document will change based on your questions and feedback, so please read, reflect, and tell us what you think.
Who is responsible for this FAQ?
The FAQ is written by Gary Wolf, co-founder of the Quantified Self, with input from QS organizers around the world.
What is a QS Show&Tell?
If you are reading this FAQ, you probably already know this. But you are almost certainly going to be asked this question as soon as you organize your first meeting. Here’s the standard answer we give on our Bay Area Meetup page, which you are welcome to copy and revise according to your own tastes.
The Quantified Self Show&Tell is a regular meeting for people taking advantage of various kinds of personal tracking to gain more knowledge about themselves. We use the show&tell format you learned as a child: stand up and present something you care about, take questions, and sit down. It is usually very fun. Come share what you are doing, and learn from others. Topics include, but are not limited to:
Fitness and health tracking
Chemical body load counts
Personal genome sequencing
Mood and emotion tracking
Your hosts are Kevin Kelly (kk at kk dot org) and Gary Wolf (gary at aether dot com). The Quantified Self meetup is associated with our blog about self knowledge through numbers at http://www.quantifiedself.org. Write us with your recommendations, tips, and observations (labs at quantifiedself dot com).
Do I need permission to organize my own meeting?
No permission needed.
Are there any rules about what organizing platforms to use?
We would deeply appreciate your using the simple, common platforms we’ve adopted to make it easy to share knowledge across groups: Meetup.com for meeting logistics, Quantified Self blog for sharing ideas and news, #quantifiedself hashtag on Twitter.
Please note: we claim no ownership or control over how you organize your meeting and how you present your knowledge. You are welcome to post what you do anywhere, share it anywhere. We simply recommend and urge you to use these common resources so that others can benefit.
Meetup costs money. Isn’t there an alternative?
If paying for a Meetup membership is an issue, let us know. We can often help with this.
Meetup isn’t popular in my country. Can I use….?
Ultimately, this is your choice. We recommend Meetup because it connects your group to dozens of others and enriches your meeting by making it visible elsewhere. But the final decision is yours.
What does a typical presentation involve?
Over time, a core principle of a successful QS Show&Tell talk has emerged: Give a first person account of an actual self-tracking project. (Please see the detailed post on “Our Three Prime Questions.”) A typical presentation is 5-10 minutes long. Informal. Personal. Based on real world experience.
How do you get people to come?
We will post news of your meeting on our Quantified Self blog, and tell people about it through the normal social media channels. Meetup will automatically list it along with other meetings in its category. We suggest you give yourself at least 3 weeks between the time you create the group and the time you have your first Show&Tell, so that people can find you.
What format for the Show&Tell talks is best?
We have found that the best format for the talks is influenced by the size of the group. As long as your group is under 30 people, you can stick to a very loose format. At more than 30 people, you will begin to have to program/produce the evening’s agenda, at least a little. When you reach 60 people or more, you have to have a program that is (mostly) set in advance.
QS Meetings with up to 30 Attendees (Most of this advice is applicable to all meetings)
Here is a good sample format for a 3 hour meeting in a smallish QS group.
7:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. – Social time.
7:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. – Welcome and announcements (who are your hosts, where are the bathrooms and exits, explanation of the format, etc.)
7:45 – 8:00 p.m. – Brief self-intros. One sentence from everybody. Who are you? What do you do? Why did you come?
8:00 – 10:00 p.m. – Quantified Self Show & Tell talks.
Programming: At this size you can program the meeting on the spot. After you welcome everybody and explain the format, ask anybody who wants to present to raise a hand. Have every person who wants to talk give a name and a topic. Divide the amount of time by the # of talks. Ask everybody to talk briefly and leave plenty of time for questions, and make sure all of the presenters have at least 10 minutes on the schedule. (If there are too many talks for everybody who wants to present to get 10 minutes, ask for volunteers to delay until the next meeting.)
Science fair and social hour: You may not want to have so short a social time and so long a presentation time. In very small groups, these distinctions don’t matter so much, because a dozen people can comfortably sit and converse. But as you get up towards 30 or more, separating conversation time and presentation time is more important. One way to give structure to the social time and also provide a good outlet for people who want to demo tools and find users, is to devote the first part of the program to an open science fair/workshop. This can run any length of time. Just have some tables near electrical outlets set up, and permit anybody to demo anything.
Slide wrangling: Slides are not necessary, but they can be helpful. The easiest way to wrangle slides is to have a computer with reliable fast Internet hooked up in advance, and view slides in a browser window at the given URL. If you have a chance to offer format advice, you can recommend making a PDF of the slides, posting to a URL, and bringing a copy on a thumb drive. This is fail-safe.
Additional ways to find presenters:
Meetup can be programmed to ask a customizable question of everybody who RSVPs to your meeting. So when somebody RSVPs “yes” you can automatically ask them: “Do you have a self-tracking project you’d like to present?” The organizers can see answers to these questions on the Meetup site. This gives you an initial list of possible presenters.
You can set a theme for your meeting (say, “sleep,” which is a popular choice), and personally recruit people who have been tracking things related to the theme to come and talk. In a small meeting, the Q&A time is especially valuable, because small groups permit general discussion without heavy moderation.
Small is good: Small meetings are fun and very interesting; it is great to launch a local QS scene with small meetings, because you find people who have a core set of interests in common, and the atmosphere tends to be easy and friendly. Please don’t rush to “grow” your meeting through publicity, and miss out on this phase. If your meeting becomes popular, you may look back on its origins with some nostalgia. You will also benefit from having a core group of collaborators who know each other and can help maintain a relaxed, open, accepting vibe.
QS Meetings with up to 70 Attendees
Much of the advice above applies, but some does not. Here are some tips specifically for bigger meetings.
Three word intros: In a bigger group, you can’t let the intros go on and on. But it is still very nice to give every person a chance to say something. We’ve experimented with the famous “three word intros” that Tim O’Reilly uses at FooCamp, and it works great. Here’s the method: You, the moderator, stands at the front of the room and explains that everybody will get exactly three words to introduce themselves. You choose where to start – say, the back row on the right side. Then you let people go. Your job is to just point with your finger to resolve any ambiguity about who should go next. At the end, ask if there are people who haven’t yet introduced themselves, and call on them. Somehow, letting every person hear their own voice briefly at the beginning of the meeting creates a good atmosphere. Also, it’s fascinating to hear these short self-descriptions, which are often creative and revealing.
Increased moderation: With a larger group, more moderation is necessary. We recommend that if you are moderating a larger group, you try sitting at the front, along with the speaker, facing OUT toward the audience. From this position, you can help out immediately if needed. For instance, you can gently interrupt an unexpected product demo that doesn’t seem to connect by saying: “It’s great to get a look at your application, but I think it will really mean more if you show how you use it yourself, and what you’ve learned.” Here in the Bay Area, we’ve had to do this countless times, and it is usually welcome by both the audience and the speaker. After all, who wouldn’t rather have a chance to make a real connection instead of looking at a bunch of restless, irritated expressions.
Increased social/workshop time: We recommend at least one hour social/workshop time for the bigger groups. This takes pressure off the presentations, and gives an open format where any kind of collaboration and sharing is welcome.
Time keeper: If you moderate from the front of the group, consider asking somebody in the front row to keep time, so you don’t have to glance at your phone during the talk. (This is distracting to both speaker and audience.)
Presentation planning: With a larger meeting, it is good to try to settle the presentation schedule in advance. Email everybody who has volunteered to present via Meetup or via your personal recruitment/wrangling, and let them know that they’ve got a slot. You can also use this opportunity to underline the importance of talking about an actual self-tracking project, rather than merely giving a demo or an “issue” talk. If you have time, you can ask to hear an outline of the talk over the phone, and give some tips. If you can, it is great to have a few extra talks “in your pocket” in case you have bad luck and several speakers cancel at the last minute or don’t show up. You can ask your friends and fellow organizers if they are willing to prepare “back up” talks to be given if there is a need.
Slide wrangling: With a larger group, you don’t want to spend too much time transitioning between talks. It’s a good idea to get the slides in advance and load them onto the presentation computer.
QS Meetings that are Really Big
This does not usually happen, but when you have a really big QS meeting you are forced to treat it as a more produced event.
Longer social&workshop time, shorter program time: The biggest QS group, in the Bay Area, has a 90 minute social time and science fair, and a 90 minute program. Since the program is more carefully produced, it is less burdensome on the organizer and more appealing to the group if it is a bit shorter.
No formal intros: When you grow to more than 70 people, the 3 word intros may take too much time. It is sad to lose these, but the longer social time partially makes up for this loss.
Set format for talks: One useful format to try is what we call “Ignite+.” Inspired by the Ignite format that has spread throughout the tech world (20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds), our version adds a 5-10 minute Q&A at the end. Our goal is to maintain the tradition of dialog that has characterized QS, while still having an efficient format that encourages strong preparation and discourages dawdling. We’ve learned from experience that with a very big group, the dynamics are more performative. A higher level of production is necessary.
Slide wrangling: With a larger group there is more to do on every front. Fortunately, once your community has grown to this size, more people will be involved with organizing. For the Ignite+ format, it is useful to have one person willing to do all the slide wrangling. This means taking slides from presenters, loading them onto a presentation computer, making sure that the number and timing of the slides is correct, and running the slides during the program. (see * note at the bottom of this page for specific tips.)
Where should my QS Show&Tell be held?
Anywhere convenient! There have been Show&Tell meetings at open tech labs, universities, corporate offices, design studios, start-up lofts, research centers. Moving the meetings around allows people to sample the local culture of tech/innovation/science. It’s part of the fun. After you form your group, simply ask the people who have signed up if they have ideas about where to host your meeting. If you are having trouble, we may be able to help by putting a request out via the general QS network. Some groups have preferred to find a friendly host who will support the community through providing a regular space. But we’ve found it especially good practice to move the meetups around. Asking different people and organizations to host the meetings is a form of community development and even feels a bit like “research.”
What can I ask from the hosts?
We typically ask the hosts to provide the space, chairs, a sound system and projector/screen. If they have the ability to provide simple refreshments, just drinks and snacks, we welcome this too. As organizers, we take responsibility for set up and clean up (if desired), having somebody at the door, and the sign-ups. We also buy the refreshments if needed and set them up at the beginning of the night.
To thank our hosts, we offer them a chance to speak for 5 minutes at the beginning of the meetup to welcome everyone and talk very briefly about what they do that is QS-related.
What else should I bring to the event?
Blank name tags and markers to write names. This is important.
How should I pay for the refreshments, nametags, and incidentals?
We have begun to recommend that organizers set a small fee for attendance. Here in the Bay Area, we charge $5. We do not issue tickets. We simply ask people to pay via PayPal when they RSVP, or with cash at the door. Most people pay, and this covers our costs. Where we have money left over, we use it for the next meeting or, if it reaches a few hundred dollars, we might donate it via Kickstarter to an interesting QS-related project.
Can I find a commercial sponsor?
Now that QS has so many meetings, we’ve had to evolve a standard answer to this. We prefer that you use free/volunteer locations for hosting the meetings, ask attendees to give a small donation so that you don’t have to buy refreshments with your personal funds, and avoid other commercial sponsorships so that you don’t entangle Gary, Alex, and Kevin (that is, Quantified Self Labs) in commitments they don’t know about. But the host of your meeting is welcome to give you a logo to put on the “sponsor” spot on the Meetup page.
How can I document the event?
You are free to document your meeting any way you like, or not to document it at all. We all enjoy learning from each other, though, so we encourage you to use the following resources.
Post an update to the Quantified Self blog. Contact Alexandra for posting privileges. You can use whatever format you like, but for inspiration see this excellent recap of New York QS Show&Tell #13 by Steve Dean.
Make a video record of your talks. Please include the Q&A. If you like, you are welcome to post these videos to The Quantified Self group on Vimeo. It is always great to see who is presenting. We appreciate having links associated with a presentation, so we can find more information.
How about professional videography?
For groups that feel ready to have professional video documentation of their talks, QS Labs will try to provide some money to pay a videographer. Please contact Alex for more info.
What is the relationship between local QS Meetups and QS Labs?
QS Labs is a social enterprise formed to support the Quantified Self community. QS Labs runs the global QS conferences, the QS blog and users guide, and supports Show&Tell meetings by helping offset the cost of video and helping share advice among organizers. We are committed to using minimal infrastructure to support our community.
Does QS Show&Tell organizer owe any kind of license fee, or need an official blessing?
No permission needed to organize a QS Show&Tell meetup. We do ask, however, that you not use the Quantified Self name, or the QS logo, or any variation likely to be confusing, for other events, conferences, or exhibitions without our permission.
If there is already a QS Show&Tell in my city or region, can I still start my own?
Yes. Since the Show&Tell meetings are under the control of their separate organizers, each can have its own flavor. Here in the Bay Area, we have both an all Bay Area Show&Tell, which is very large, and a smaller Silicon Valley Show&Tell. Many people are members of both meetings, but each is organized separately.
How can I make sure my local Show&Tell doesn’t clash with another one?
On the QS blog, you will see a global calender of all the Show&Tell meetings. You can use it to coordinate scheduling if there is more than one meeting in your region.
Can I start my own blog at a domain I control?
If you would like to run an independent blog about these topics, please do. We are eager to learn from you. However, we ask that you not do things that are likely to be confusing, such as take alternate Quantified Self domain names (quantifiedself.edu, quantifiedself.de, etc.) or use Quantified Self trademark or logo in your blog title without our permission.
Are there other ways I can help?
We welcome your ideas. Contact us with any thoughts about how to make Quantified Self more useful.