One of the most popular meetup formats is the Help Desk. A good Help Desk is a huge draw for any local meetup. If you are looking to grow your group, I encourage you to schedule one. They are also quite easy to set up. All you need is a space with reliable wifi and a few folks with some expertise!
Running a successful Help Desk, however, can be quite challenging, especially when you draw lots and lots of people. As someone that has run lots of Help Desks (and made lots of mistakes), let me share a few pointers to help you be successful.
Introduce the Helpers
If you skip this step, you will have a free-for-all on your hands. I start every Help Desk meetup asking everyone who wants to be a helper to stand up, introduce themself, and tell the group what they can do to help others. I also mention that to be a helper does not require you be a master coder or an expert in a field. Simply knowing how to do something and helping someone solve a problem is enough. This can be coding, SEO, blogging, social media, content creation, etc.
I also try to encourage people that have started gaining knowledge from attending Help Desks regularly to be helpers. This goes a long way to helping people gain confidence in their skills, give back to the community, and be inclusive to all.
Once everyone has been introduced, the folks that are looking for help probably have a good idea who the best person is to get help from. This really does keep things moving smoothly.
Keep Things Safe
This especially applies to anyone that is touching a website. Make sure your helpers know to ask some very important questions to the folks that are receiving help… like, is this your website or a client’s website? Do you have a local or staging environment we can try things on? Do you have backups of the website?
Things can go very wrong very fast, so it is best to err on the side of caution. Make sure all your helpers know this, so you do not have a mess on your hands.
Help Everyone Get Helped
There’s nothing worse than attending a Help Desk meetup and not being helped. You will have some people that will do everything they can to flag someone down to get help, but you will have others that will sit quietly, never speak up, want help, and never receive it. It is your job as an organizer to help everyone that wants help to get it.
To do this well, keep track of who your helpers are and what they can help with. If you see someone that is not being helped (or someone you suspect has not been helped), go over and ask “Has anyone helped you yet?” If they say they need help, ask them to explain the problem in a couple of words. With that information, find the right person that can help them and get the person that needs help on their radar.
Be aware that some helpers will stay with the same person for the duration of the meetup if left unchecked. Try to limit the time a helper spends with a single person as this can lead to excluding others and supporting only a few. It is important to encourage helpers to make the rounds. Especially your more experienced helpers.
Depending on the breakdown of helpers to folks that need help, you may want to adjust your approach. For instance, if you only have a few helpers and lots of folks that need help, you might want to limit things to 5-minutes for each person until everyone has received some level of help.
You Cannot Solve Everything
Questions at Help Desks run the gamut. Some problems can be solved quickly, but others cannot. It is important to set expectations. Everyone that is a helper is a volunteer and will do the best they can within reason. Sometimes it is important to remind people that are being helped that their problem might be out of the expertise of your helpers, or they might need to pay a developer to do what they are requesting.
Virtual Help Desk
Approaching Help Desk in a virtual environment (like Zoom) can be very challenging. Many of the things mentioned above like introducing helpers will keep things orderly, but I would say utilizing breakout rooms with a helper or two in each should be your approach.
How many breakout rooms will depend on how many people are in attendance, and how many helpers you have. I have found 10 people in a breakout room to be the limit before things can feel a little chaotic.
The idea is to keep things small, so folks do not get lost in the crowd. As an organizer, you should move between breakout rooms and ensure folks are happy and getting helped.
Also, if your group has a Slack account, I would encourage creating a #helpdesk channel where people can ask their questions. Especially if you decide a virtual Help Desk meetup is too much work.
As your group grows, you will be amazed at how popular your Help Desk meetups become. It can feel overwhelming and chaotic at times. That is why it is very important to go in with a process, so everyone has a positive experience, feels they were helped, and knows they belong.