Hosting an online meetup – even with your own friends – can be great fun and a source of happiness and cheer. But it requires careful thought, preparation and practice to get things running smoothly. Remember, you'll need to have a full subscription, to create an online meetup.

Planning

  • Pick a theme. Get creative when planning an online meetup. Some of the ideas that have been shared include: Cultural themed nights, Regional meetups, Drinks evenings and Movie nights.
  • Practice. Try something with a few friends first to see what works. Don’t leap in before you have done a test run with people you know and trust. Test both the format and technology.
  • Choose a platform. Pick one that most people know or would find easy to join. Pick a platform where you can 'host' the call and invite people without everyone sharing their ID. Some platforms allow you to set up a link in advance, which people can click on and don’t have to reveal their phone number or full name. Some allow you to set a password to access the group chat. As a host, you want the ability to mute participants or remove them from the group.
  • Be aware of privacy.  Check first what personal details might be available to others, for example full names and phone numbers. Consider setting up an account just for hosting meetups, and using  your Christian Connection screen name instead of your full name. Don't encourage people to send personal details, IDs or usernames to you or the group.
  • Be aware of safety. If you can, set a link with a password, or 'lock' the room once everyone is in. Make sure you know exactly how to invite somebody in and also how to mute them and delete them from the meeting if they turn up uninvited or behave inappropriately. Muting is also good if background noise is coming from where they are. Practise first with people you know, if you can. 
  • Send out a clear invitation. Include details of how people will join in, whether it's an online chat, audio or video. Include a link and steps in the description but be aware that some people just won’t be able to join because they don’t have the right phone or computer.
  • Let people know how to prepare. Should they bring a drink? Dress up? Share a prayer or a poem? This is where your theme is key! Think about how you might structure the time. As the host, how will you facilitate the group to make everyone feel welcome and included?
  • Start small. Managing large numbers on a video meet up is difficult. After 10 people it’s really hard – especially if they don’t know each other. Beyond about 12 can be too many for a screen – especially a smartphone screen, and people may start to feel left out and bored. You can always plan another meetup for a second group.

Promoting

  • Plan ahead. Make sure you plan the meetup at least 3 days in advance, and ideally a week or more.
    Our team will need to approve each meetup before it goes live. This is usually done within 24 hours. Planning ahead will give people time to plan it into their day.
  • Promote it on the boards. Post on the Out & About boards to let people know what you're planning.
  • Avoid sending promotional messages. Please don't send direct messages to other members to promote your meetup. Keep your mailbox for personal connections only. Of course, you'll need to send a link to participants to let them know how to join.
  • We'll promote it, too. We may promote your online meetup to other members through the mailing list. Meetups are also promoted on the Weekly Review email which goes out every Monday morning, so get yours in before then to get maximum exposure.

Hosting & Participating

  • Come early! Make sure you turn up at least 5 mins before the time and check your tech is working.
  • Lighting and sound. A natural light source behind the camera is best, but if you're meeting in the evening, make sure you're not sitting in the dark! If you can use a pair of headphones, that will usually improve the sound and avoid echo/feedback. You can ask participants to mute their microphone when they're not speaking, particularly if there's any background noise
  • Set a welcoming tone. As the host, it's your role to give people a big friendly welcome to people as they join.
  • Ask a friend to co-host. It can be very helpful to have somebody as your cohost who can keep control of what is happening. They can help people switch on their sound and picture, or mute them if necessary, while the other person manages the conversation.
  • Introductions. Make sure everybody gets 30 seconds to 1 minute to introduce themselves, but don't let this go on too long!  Set expectations first, or people may get bored and twitchy. Be firm and fair. If somebody starts going off on a tangent then step in and politely move on to the next person. If you don’t, you may lose the people who might make the meeting fun.

  • Create themes or conversation starters. Video meetups are best when there's a fun theme to make them go with a zing! You could ask people to bring a picture or object that means something to them that they can share, or to bring a prepared funny article or joke. You could even try a simple game or trivia quiz.

  • Ending the meeting. Be firm about ending the meeting within the hour, rather than letting it just peter out. Thank everyone for coming and let them say goodbye to each other. Better to leave things on a high instead of grinding to a slow halt.

Finally...

  • Report back. If anyone misbehaves, or someone joins that you don't know, please report this back to us. Try to screenshot anyone behaving inappropriately if you can.
  • We are here to help. If you would like some ideas, please write to the helpdesk and we can give you some ideas.
  • Let us know how it goes. We are all figuring this out as we go and we expect this page to be updated as our learning and experience grow! So if you run a great meeting or have learned something useful please share it with us.
  • Relax and enjoy! Don't worry if it doesn't go as planned. This kind of meetup is a new experience for most of us.
  • Thank you for giving your time, energy and creativity to help others stay connected.