After-Action Report: RVM #70 with Zoom Fatigue

This week’s RINGKNOCKER Virtual Meetup was a bit of a surprise! Attendance was the lightest we have had in months, and our guest speaker had an emergency and couldn’t make it. So we wound up doing a couple of intros & updates and calling it a week. We’re having a travel break as well, so the next Meetup will be on 14 October.

We’ve been doing these Meetups since March of 2020, right after COVID hit. 69 Meetups before today: about 5,300 event registrations and almost 2,000 attendees. That’s a lot of data!

And there are a couple of interesting lessons we can learn from those numbers.

One is about the level of interest. I read that in the registrations number. Over a year and a half, despite a lot of changes in the world and in our community, registrations have held remarkably steady: we typically see 70-80 registrations for every Meetup. That’s encouraging!

But here’s another one: attendees. When we got started, the world was descending into lockdown, and there was nothing else to do on a Thursday night. You saw that in our numbers: we often had as many as 50% or more of registrants actually show up at the Meetup!

Now things have changed… a lot! Lockdowns are largely over, the world has opened up, and there are a lot of options competing for your Thursday nights. Plus: we already spend a lot of time on Zoom calls! Zoom fatigue is a thing. And sure enough, even though registrations have held pretty steady, the attendance rate has declined, so that now only about 20% of Meetup registrants actually attend the Meetup.

Why is this a problem? If you’ve attended a couple of Meetups, you know: it affects the quality of the experience. There’s a vibe we get when there two or three dozen people on screen that just isn’t there with only a dozen. So that’s what we are trying to replicate as often as possible, and the question is obvious: what do we do about it?

I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations early in the morning before the Meetup that seemed to point to an answer: it appeared that we got an attendance-rate advantage when we skipped a week between Meetups. But if you examine the chart below, where I’ve indicated Meetups with gaps before them, that appears not to be the case after all.

RVM registrations & attendance over time (click to zoom)

I thought the key to good attendance might be topical, so I also marked the chart with the speakers at Meetups where attendance was significantly above the trend line. But if there is a pattern, it eludes me: successful speakers seem to cover the gamut.

So for now—all other things being equal—the main key to filling up a Meetup appears to be time. You’ll note that Meetups with gaps before them (we’re diligent over here, so there aren’t many) do appear to generate higher registrations, which will give higher attendance whatever the rate. This is simply because our most effective invitation channel (LinkedIn) is rate-limited: we can only send invitations so fast. So the more time we have between Meetups, the more invitations and messages we can send, and the more attendees we will get. Q.E.D.

Of course… all other things are never equal, are they? There is also the question of the Meetup format itself. Does it still make sense? Have we gone stale? Do we need an injection of fresh ideas? These are always questions worth asking, shipmates, and I’d greatly appreciate your comments!

Meanwhile, here’s what we are going to do. We’ve already scheduled a break coming up: the next Meetup after this week is 14 October. We’ve got a few speakers scheduled after that, and I’m not going to touch that part of the schedule, but for the rest of it I’m going to open things up so that new speakers aren’t scheduled on consecutive weeks.

So by the new year, we’ll be holding a Meetup every OTHER week on the average. My staff and I will spend less effort processing Meetups and more of it promoting them. The result should be fewer Meetups but livelier ones, with more opportunities to support our shipmates.

And, as you guys all know, THAT’s why we’re here!

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  1. Jason,
    I think the start and finish time may be an issue. It is for me and I do not have children. For those who do, on the east coast, that is the middle of bath time, homework, etc. I know it’s an issue for some guys here in the Annapolis area. If you can find a way to move that call to 6 PM EDT/EST, it will likely increase your numbers from the eastern time zone in the US. My wife and I are late diners and all too often, we are starting dinner at and we hold that time sacrosanct. I am not dumb enough to tell my bride what time to serve dinner on Thursdays! Just a thought. I do not think that doing only two meetings a month is going to make the difference that sliding to earlier on the east coast will. Hope you are fully recovered.

    1. You are not alone in your opinion, sir! I think if I moved some stuff around I could pull the Meetups forward a couple of hours, to 6pm Eastern. It seems like I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and do that.