Wil Perkins and I run a local effective altruism group in Raleigh, NC, USA. We recently decided to host a speed-friending event inspired by several other events within the EA space. The goal of this post is to explain how we marketed and ran this event and provide our thoughts on what we would change for other groups that may want to attract new members or facilitate new relationships within their group through this method. I’ll try to be as detailed as possible as group contexts and environments can vary highly and will impact the experience for attendees.
If you have more in-depth questions the post doesn’t cover, feel free to drop a comment or message either of us. Also, we welcome critical feedback if there are things you think we could improve on. Wil was essential to writing this post and I appreciate his assistance in all things.
On the 25th of February 2023 at 16:00 Effective Altruism Raleigh hosted a speed-friending/potluck event at the organizers' home. The event was advertised within the group through social channels beginning two weeks before the event, marketing primarily through Facebook Groups and Meetup. The event consisted of a 30-minute arrival window, and a 30-minute speed-friending session and the remainder was unstructured with the event informally ending around 20:00. A total of 24 attendees participated in the event with 18 of them participating in speed-friending. The Speed-Friending event consisted of ten 3-minute conversations. Half of the participants moved between each conversation in a clockwise direction. We provided a time travel prompt at the participant's request which was well received. Participants reported being intrigued by the idea of speed-friending and primarily attended the event because of this. Afterward, participants reported enjoying the process but requested longer discussion segments. In the future, we intend on providing a more intuitive seating arrangement for the proceedings and extending the discussion period to 5 minutes, lengthening the session to 45 minutes allowing for 9 pairings. We also intend to provide easier methods of joining us online via QR codes. We intend to update the impact on group growth that the event leads to in the future.
We were inspired by several events shared within the EA Groups organizer slack and other local events. There are several other write-ups that discuss speed-friending as follows:
We originally chose this style of event to encourage our members to talk to different people - at our standard weekly event, people usually sit with and talk to the same people. There are a lot of people who simply sit back and listen. It is important to us that our local group encourages connections that go beyond skin deep, and speed-friending seemed like an interesting approach to the achievement of that goal. Therefore the primary goals for the event were thus:
- Increase engagement with the group from new members
- Encourage Group members to engage with various numbers of individuals
- Strengthen the connections within the group
Advertising the Event
Two weeks before the event, we put an event up on our Facebook group and in Meetup app.
The text of the description was as follows:
“We are hosting a potluck! This is an open event for anyone - whether you are a member of EA Raleigh or just interested in meeting some interesting people. If there are enough people we will be running a speed-friending session at the start of the potluck. There will be some food and drinks provided - but please bring anything you'd like. We have a collection of board games, playing cards, and puzzles. There is also a little "Estimation Game" we can play if people are interested.
The venue is indoor/outdoor, so feel free to bring a camping chair. If the weather is chilly there will be a bonfire!
4:00- 4:30 - Food and Drinks
4:30 - 4:45 - Speed Friending
4:45 - 6:00 - Board Games and The Estimation Game
There will be vegan and gluten-free options available, and please be conscious of dietary concerns if you choose to bring something - we will have cards to write down and display allergens.
For those with allergens or pet friends, there will be a dog who isn't well-behaved around other dogs.”
We also emailed out an announcement two weeks before the event and with a subsequent event reminder to those on our email list.
The email reminder read:
“We are very excited about the potluck event happening this Saturday 2/25, at [Our Address]. from 4:00 pm- 6:00 pm. Drop in at any time, but if the group is large enough we will do some speed friending starting at 4:30. Some vegan and gluten-free options will be provided, but feel free to bring anything you would like! All we ask is you fill out an allergens card for your food when you arrive to help avoid any confusion. We will have some tap water and lemonade as well.
All updates will be posted on the event page. If you do not have Facebook feel free to text Mae at (919) ********
4:00 PM - 4:30 PM Potluck begins
4:30 PM - 5:00 PM Speed-Friending Event
5:00 PM - End Board games and Estimation Game (Vote will be held)”
We also participated in direct advertising, reaching out to specific individuals who may be interested in the event via text. In addition, we discussed this event well in advance with people at our weekly meetup.
Provided is a summary table of the context of these marketing efforts and the tracked results:
|Marketing Platform||Number of Total Contacts (members) At Time of Advertising||Number of Attendees Directly Associated with Platform|
|Event Notification Email||45||2|
Based on conversion, direct marketing was the most effective but was only used for currently active members (individuals who have attended 2 or more meetups and at least 1 meetup in the past 30 days).
From a growth standpoint, Meetup was the most effective way to get new people out for the speed-friending event. On the morning of the event, there were 26 people (not including the hosts) marked as going, at the time of the event 15 people were marked as going with a final count of 11 people arriving primarily through Meetup with 7 of those individuals never having attended a previous meeting.
Location, Setup & Materials
We decided to use our house to host the event. We have a 1700 square-foot ranch house located in Raleigh NC with a large back deck (it was raining or this would have been used).
- 2 long folding tables
- 1 Circular Table
- 4 Dining Chairs
- 14 Folding Chairs (Plus 6 additional chairs)
- 4 sheets of Nametags
- Various Sharpies and Pens
- Signage (Restrooms, Dog Notices, Silverware Locations)
- Food Labels
- Green Washi Tape
- 40 Large Compostable Plates/ 20 small compostable plates
- Cocktail Napkins
- New year’s eve Noise Maker
Upon entry, there was a circular table hosting name tags and markers for people to put on, and we encouraged everyone to grab one when they arrived. Within our dining room, we took two long folding tables we have and put them side by side with enough room for two sets of chairs between them. The diagram below shows the general layout of the space along with the flow of speed-friending.
On the back of the chairs highlighted in the image, we added some color coding tape to indicate which chairs moved through the speed-friending process.
The event was a potluck as well, so we made sure to have a meal and dessert ready, as well as ample space in the kitchen for food. We put signs up to direct folks to the restrooms, and where to find silverware, etc.
For ease of clean-up, we had some compostable paper plates and cups, and napkins. Ideally, if you have a venue with plenty of dishes you can avoid this step.
Finally, we took a picture of our house from the front and posted it in all of our social media groups for ease of location. We provided parking instructions on the event locations, specifically in Meetup’s “Where to find us” section. For more complicated locations we would provide a map. No one needed help finding the venue.
Speed Friending Methodology
We opted for a rotating framework to facilitate random matching. The seating layout is provided below with movement arrows. We had participants sit down in chairs and had the members in chairs highlighted in blue in the diagram move to the left every three minutes. In-person highlighted seats were marked with green tape.
At the start of the event, we had people determine whether or not they were moving before we started. We gave each pair three minutes to talk before rotating. Originally, I was verbally notifying the switch but moved to a noise-maker as the room was too loud. We ran this for a total of 30 minutes. At times people needed assistance in navigating between sections.
As organizers, the two of us stayed out, as people showed up in the middle of the event or didn’t know where to go.
Originally we did not provide a prompt, but someone requested one. We, therefore, had an optional topic if someone didn’t know what to talk about which was: “If you could go back in time and change one event in history, which one and why?”
We got great feedback from attendees on this prompt, and a lot of people discussed it.
Most of the feedback we got from attendees was highly positive. Everyone said they enjoyed their conversations and that overall there was a very high quality of people there. Even though a minority of attendees knew about Effective Altruism beforehand, most people reported that their conversations were much more interesting than most meetups, and people seemed to trend compassionate and engaging.
The only negative feedback we got was that 3 minutes might have been too short - in subsequent meetups, we will increase the time to 5 minutes the next time we host this event.
No formal polls were performed.
Impact on the Group - Was it worth it?
Three days have passed since hosting the event, so the impact on growth and connection within the group is difficult to say, but the following concrete changes have occurred since the announcement of the event:
- 10 additional individuals have signed up for our mailing list
- There are now 85 members in our Meet-up group
- 2 new individuals attending the speed-friending event have marked themselves as going to our subsequent events
We also noticed several people exchanged numbers during the event
The event had a few drawbacks
- The kitchen layout was not ideal, in the future drinks will be set up at a separate table instead of in the kitchen, and the thoroughfare through the kitchen was constantly blocked and made it difficult for people to get food
- Speed-Friending Flow was confusing crossing between the long tables to the round table. Directions had to be provided between rounds for the individual crossing that way
- Speed-Friending Process
- Having a discussion topic ready rather than one pulled from my hat would have been good, I plan on preparing that in the future
- Extending the amount of time people have to discuss to 5 minutes
- Extending the total time to 45 minutes to allow more than 6 matches
- Having a Buzzer - my voice was not enough but the noise-maker was near-comical. Having a pre-loaded sound on your phone or computer is what I would recommend
- Group Growth
- In the future, it would be good to have QR codes and other easy paths for people to register for the email list. We had a “registration sheet” and verbally went to collect email addresses, but it would be nice to have some “DIY” options available that would provide more valuable metadata
If you are a local group organizer and are looking for a way to grow your community we would highly recommend hosting a speed friending event. It’s a great way to attract new members and facilitate connections within your group. With a little planning and effort, it’s a simple and fun event that can have a big impact.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Choose a location that is comfortable and easy to navigate, with enough space for everyone to sit and move around.
- Consider adding a potluck element. This draws in more people and allows folks to naturally start eating after the speed friending is over.
- Set up the event with clear signage and materials, including name tags, timers, and prompts for conversation.
- Advertise the event through social media, email lists, and in-person conversations with your regular members.
- Ask for feedback from attendees to improve future events, such as adjusting the length of each conversation or adding more prompts.
Overall, we were thrilled with the success of this event and look forward to hosting more in the future. We hope this post inspires other local groups to try it out and see the benefits for themselves.