I recently had a trip back to China. I had to meet many people, but my time was very limited. Inspired by New York style meetups (see yesterday’s article), I decided to try a similar tactic in China.
The first trial was in Beijing. My friends Vicky and Billy didn’t know each other. Originally, I planned to meet them separately. However, we lived far apart in Beijing, and it was hard to coordinate the time and the place. I also felt that they had some common interests in marketing and business ideas, so I asked Vicky and Billy if they would like to have dinner with me altogether.
My open-minded friends didn’t hesitate at all. I put them to a group chat and discussed the details about the time and location to meet. We three spent a great night together at a Yunnanese restaurant in ancient Beijing alley. We shared the pictures we took in the group chat, and now we still exchange ideas on the topics that we are all interested in.
My second trial was in Shanghai. Jacqueline, an architect-turned-editor, and Yuago, an architect-turned-asset manager, don’t know each other. But they both graduated from the same architecture school. We three went to the same university in China, but we didn’t know each other when we were at school.
There are always some moments when I believe some of my friends should know each other, because they will have many common things that they can talk about. Again, I asked if they’d like to have a dinner together. No one refused. We had some delicious Benbang cuisine (Shanghai local food) near Yuago’s office. Knowing Jacqueline and I are both interested in green buildings, Yuago shared an event the day after with us in the group chat.
My last and most ambitious trial was in Shanghai. I had had two successful small group meeting experiences, but I was wondering if a bigger group meeting for about 30 people could succeed. I was nervous about how people would react to this idea, and where I could find a proper place in Shanghai.
I planned to be there from 1:30 pm to 7pm on a Saturday afternoon. Saturday is generally the best time for most people. I started searching for venues, and I thought that it should be in a place with coffee and tea. It wouldn’t have to be big, but it could not be totally full on the weekend. I decided that it should also be easily reached by public transportation.
I eventually decided on Starbucks as the safest choice. I called them to confirm the business hours, restroom condition, Wi-Fi accessibility and the general customer flow on Saturday. I picked one near the Four Season Hotel as the final location; I certainly didn’t want to start an open ended discussion on the location with a group of 30+ people.
I allowed flexibility for my friends to pick when they would show up and how long they would stay. Again, I was not sure how many people would come, or even if I would be there that early and stay till such a late finish.
I thought about using Doodle.com to know the rough time people would come. I tested Doodle in China. The service was available, but extremely slow. I researched for a Chinese alternative version and found a site that mimics Doodle, called Jushijian 聚时间 (literally this means “gathering time”).
I drafted my event invitation, including the purpose, the location and transportation, and the link to sign up for a preferred time to show up. I reiterated they could pick any time.
I created a group chat on WeChat of 36 people and posted my invitation to the group. The first responses were two people who couldn’t come and said no. Then some people said they would come. A while afterward, someone started worrying about the size of the store, proposing new location. Some asked for a different time. 15 minutes after, one girl said in the group chat that she would come with two other girls she knew. I guess they talked and agreed on a time to show up together. I observed everything and didn’t respond to any new proposals.
An hour later, I thought that the people who opened their WeChat should have all received the invitation. So I responded in the group chat. I thanked all the people who would show up and said sorry for those who couldn’t make it. I checked the Jushijian link and found someone had just filled in the chart and didn’t say a word in the group chat. At 7:20pm that day, I reposted the key points for the meeting and reminded those who might miss the message when they worked in the afternoon.
On Friday, the day before the meeting, I posted the list of the people who would come and a summary of the background of attendants. I encouraged them to mingle with each other and utilized the opportunity to know some new friends. Of course, I reminded people to update their information if some last minute changes happened. At that moment, 11 people confirmed they would come. Two people told me a “tentative” yes.
On Saturday, finishing my early lunch nearby, I headed to the Starbucks. I was there before 1pm, earlier than the estimated 1:30pm. I opened my phone and saw one girl who asked me privately if I would happen to be there early. I posted my arrival to the group chat and welcomed those who wanted to come earlier. I picked a seat in a row of sofa seats.
There were a total of 10 seats in that row. When other customers came, I didn’t tell them that I had reserved the seats. My experience and instinct told me that 10+ people showing up at the same time would be unlikely. If so, it would be a good time for someone to stop the conversation and leave. My first friend came. Followed by her were two colleagues. 2pm to 2:30pm was the peak time. Surprisingly, we didn’t manually reserve any seats for our next friends, but shared the seats at the sofa area peacefully with other customers in the store.
Even during the peak time, there would happen to be one or two people who didn’t know the rest of the people. I would introduce any newcomers to the group and tried to find a person that they could easily start a conversation with, based on their common interests that I was aware of.
I tried to talk to lone people as much as I could, in an attempt to make them feel less uncomfortable or isolated, but I couldn’t take care of everyone when it was busy. They found their own way, calling the person they knew and asking about their estimated arrival time. In any case, it was not too embarrassing for them to talk to the person sitting beside them – like a big table in a Chinese wedding ceremony, sometimes people who don’t know each other end up on one single table.
The last person who showed up was the one who said “tentative”. We were about to finish our conversation at 6pm. I sent a private message to another one, who said “tentative” and knew she couldn’t make it. My event succeeded: meeting 12 out of 36 people from 1pm to 6pm in a tiny Starbucks.
Three girls didn’t know each other happened to wear the same shoes. My colleague and my yoga mate had a great conversation and felt like old friends at their first meeting. When they said goodbye to each other, they asked for a picture. What a happy moment to see my old friends are making some new friends!
A group meetup is feasible in China. Considering the networking culture in China, it is better to choose people based on shared interests or having something in common with the rest of the group. Don’t make people feel embarrassed when they are alone. Help people start the conversation by introducing their common interests.
Picking a good place is another key. I personally won’t go to a store I have never heard about. A restroom is essential if the organizer will stay for more than 4 hours. Doodle is accessible in China, while local alternative apps are not bad. Don’t forget to follow up with the group after the meeting: send the “thank you” notes to the group and share pictures.
(Top photo from Pexels.com)