Friendship is hard. Once you’re out of the friendship-incubator that is college, it’s tough to meet new people outside your own little bubble. I’m here to help! Friend speed dating is for awesome women who are interested in platonic friendships with other, similarly badass, ladies! It’s a speed-dating format without any of the awkwardness. I’ll be serving up huge helpings of coffee, tea, cookies, doughnuts*—and friendship!
As I planned this event, I relied heavily upon this librarian’s site. She had a GREAT explanation of how the event should flow, and it was really helpful as I planned my own meetup. I made some alterations, like each “couple” got to talk for five minutes. In retrospect, if I’d had a smaller group (we had 16), it would’ve been great to let people chat for even longer!
I used yellow sticky notes with arrows to direct people on where to go after their time was up. Then I printed out this star and this arrow for the trickier moves. (See the librarians site above for details on movements!) Overall, the sticky notes and the arrows didn’t help so it’s best if you stand by at the end of each chat to direct people until they get the hang of it.
In case of an odd number of people, I had a “craft station” where folks could either draw or write letters. We ended up not using it. I just filled in to make it an even number until the latecomers showed up. (Note: If you do decide to fill in, make sure you rotate like everyone else! I didn’t rotate for a couple rounds, and it made things a little tricky toward the end of the meetup!)
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I made sure to provide my email address and ask about food preferences. It’s just common courtesy, but it goes a long way to making everyone feel welcome. While no one emailed me about food allergies, I still had fruit, gluten-free cookies and chocolate, in addition to the dozen (Dunkin’) doughnuts, two muffins and a cinnamon role, so that there were options for everyone. On top of that, I bought tea for everyone in the group who wanted it (our group wasn’t into coffee!). The coffee shop we were in just filled up a gallon jug of hot water and had a variety of tea bags available. (I set this all up in advance with the manager.)
We had all the fruit, a muffin, a cinnamon role and six doughnuts left at the end of the evening so I had everyone take some home. I think it’s better to get too many treats than not to have enough, but in the future I think I might just bring doughnuts and skip the cinnamon role and muffins. (Fruit is a must-have for any vegan etc. people!)
I started off by reaching out to a whole bunch of established restaurants and cafes, and was astounded by how difficult it was to host events at these places. Some asked for thousands of dollars to make a reservation! That wasn’t going to happen.
Out of ideas, I reached out to an acquaintance who hosts weekly meetup.com groups for a rather large number of people. She recommended this new coffee shop called Central Coffee Bar. It was PERFECT! The service was amazing and the people were incredibly accommodating. (I think new places are great partners because they’re still trying to generate buzz around their new venture, and they want to develop relationships with the community.) I will definitely be giving them a ring for my next event!
For friend speed dating in particular, make sure it’s a place that’s relatively quiet and large enough to accommodate a big group. There’s nothing worse than having to shout over other people when you’re trying to get to know someone new, or having to squeeze around tables and chairs to move spots when the time is up.
Marketing was, by far, the most difficult part of the whole process. I tried printing out posters and posting them in the neighborhood, but that was super ineffective. Most places wouldn’t let me put up posters, and the ones that did ended up tearing them down in just a day or two. Complete waste of money!
My next tactic was using Facebook’s paid advertising to get the word out. But unless you’re willing to fork over the big bucks, and I’m talking more than $50, it’s not worth it. I paid the least amount, $16, and no one told me they saw the event pop up on their Facebook. I’m glad I did it just to cover all my bases, but I don’t think it helped with marketing.
Eventbrite got the most number of people to sign up. Creating an account is free and very easy. I shared the page with local listserves, blogs and asked my friends to post it to their Facebooks and share it with their coworkers. This was, by far, the BEST idea. I don’t know how often I can bug friends to be my personal marketers, but I’m gonna give it go for my next event, too! (Thanks, guys, you rock!)
(And if you’re worried that friends sharing the event will mean that only YOUR friends will show up, thus defeating the purpose of meeting new people, don’t worry about it. I only had two of my friends show up, and they were from different friend groups so they’d never even met!)
I also paid for a meetup group. It only got me two sign ups, but I think it was worth it for future events. Now, everyone who went to friend speed dating can join my meetup group to get alerts about my future events. We’ll see if that pans out! So far I have just under 100 members in the meetup group, which could be helpful for my next foray into marketing.
I used a free photo from Unsplash to market the event and searched for one till I found a pic that represented a diverse group of people (VERY IMPORTANT!).
I had a blast, and so did everyone else! The attendees all said they loved it, and—better yet—they all made new friends! SUCCESS! *big smiles
Looking back, I think my biggest lesson is that most people are not hardcore planners like I am. (I love planning months in advance!) Most people signed up in the last three days. I went from five participants to 16—with one person signing up the day of! SO, if you’re planning an event, don’t freak out if you don’t have “enough” people one week out. They’re probably just more spontaneous folks! (Plus, many blogs won’t promote your event until the week-of so that also explains some of it.)
Along the same lines, I also think I worried far too much over making everything “perfect.” Several people complimented me on how organized everything was, and that made me SUPER happy! But, when little mishaps occurred, everyone just went with the flow. I even asked an attendee to take over timing the event so I could go pay the bill—and they were more than happy to do it. So my advice is to breathe more and worry less. =)