the tactic toolbox • the scheme suite • the manuever manual • the blueprint bundle • the playbook pack • the approach arsenal • the strategy suitcase • the resource repository • the tactic toolbox • the scheme suite • the manuever manual • the blueprint bundle • the playbook pack • the approach arsenal • the strategy suitcase • the resource repository • the tactic toolbox • the scheme suite • the manuever manual • the blueprint bundle • the playbook pack • the approach arsenal • the strategy suitcase • the resource repository

When to start a node

Written by Jacky Zhao and Jake Rudolph

In short, you should considering starting a node if:

  1. You want this for yourself
  2. You have faith that there are good people around you
  3. You are willing to put in the work to cultivate this

Note that none of those bullets include specific personality traits. You don’t have to be the world’s most charming polymath or the resident super-connector. Everyone has something to bring to the table. For example, introverted organizers may have the insight to set up quieter zones or smaller discussion circles. Extroverts can do the service of raising the energy of the room. We encourage people to find complementary co-hosts.

Among our previous hosts, there are a few common “canon events”.

  • Hopping between classes and clubs, without finding environments conducive to meaningful connection or intrinsic curiosity
  • Being frustrated after attending hackathons or networking events, finding that the short timespan of the event doesn’t give you the time to meet people fully and properly.
  • Coming back from a retreat/trip with a motley crew of people that tickle your brain and heart in just the right ways. Thinking to yourself “wow, I would like to be around people like that all the time”

Consistency, on the scale of months, also matters. You don’t have to promise to be somewhere indefinitely, but to see the benefits of building up a node, it usually takes 2-3 months at a minimum.

See also: How to find the people that are trying to find you

How to find co-hosts

Written by Anson Yu and Joss Murphy

Having co-hosts is a life hack to make sure the node survives beyond you. Can’t make it one day? Let them step in! Feeling demotivated? Here’s a built-in hype-man! The ideal co-host is someone you’re inspired by - someone you’d be excited to spend time with even if nobody else showed up. If you can’t find this person yet, it might be worth holding the first session yourself and seeing who it attracts. We’ve seen that the sweet spot is between 2-6 hosts. Only two people are really actively hosting at any given session, but it’s great to have people on rotation. This is because it’s hard to organize and enjoy what you’ve organized at the same time.

The organizers are the culture setters. Ideally they are:

  • Compassionate - They see value in spending time around people different from themselves and thinks all people have interesting things to share
  • People that make things! - To attract the type of people that are also doing cool things, real will recognize real.
  • Agentic - They just get things done. They should be low ego enough to experiment as well
  • Fun - A little bit silly, a little bit goofy (underrated)
  • Diverse! - Not just in demographic, but in interests. Teach us how to draw! Tell us about climbing a mountain! Walk us through your latest read! All that good stuff.

Within each host team, there are a couple of archetypes that have bubbled up. These are not comprehensive or exclusive, but instead help to showcase the diversity of people that make great hosts:

  • Emotional vibe curator - Really knows how to fine tune the “feeling”. They reposition tables to maximize conversational surface area, intentionally select music to pump energy levels, and are the patron saint of the anxious newbie.
  • Energetic doer - Shockingly high output person. Nobody really knows how they do how much they do (even themselves). They seem to really get energy from their work, and are always excited to share with enthusiastic people.
  • Structural backbone - Not afraid to enforce the structure that enables the fun. Makes announcements, emphasizes logistics? Code of conduct?, and asks people to be quiet when need be.
  • In-house inquirer - An excellent listener and question asker. Somehow able to understand peoples’ visions for their baby ideas, before they do themselves.Makes people feel seen.
  • Idea generation machine - Always coming up with ideas on how people can gather better. Dreamer at heart. Sparks interesting discussions in the co-host group chat.
  • Excessively helpful person - They take “how can I be helpful” to a different level. They somehow know a bunch about fellowships, grants, and have just the right link for you to check out. They have a lot of context on what others are working on, and can make the right introductions.
  • Chief historian - The unspoken hero that loves to take photos and videos. Is always out of storage. Writes down what everyone’s projects are.

How to find the people that are trying to find you

Written by Mathurah Ravigulan, Kai, and Aava Sapkota

TLDR: Go to events and organizations that preach creativity and action, as well as other types of social and outreach related events.

As a preface, we want to start off by mentioning how key it is to prioritize quality over quantity. Attendee count can be a helpful signal, but it’s not THE ultimate thing to optimize for. Having a tight knit group of 6 heavily invested attendees is better than a ghost-town-like Discord of hundreds.

For a good balance of attendees, think about all the different types of people you want to attend. Ask the question:

“If I were [insert type of person], what groups would I be a part of?”

A surefire way to bring more of a certain type of person is to go where they are! Some of our hosts have done so by LARPing, basically stepping into their shoes and actually trying the things they do. It’s kind of like a combination of method acting and recruiting. Aside from that, you can check out the following:

  • Clubs - Specifically people preach making things (engineering clubs, painting clubs, poetry clubs, coding clubs… etc). We’ve even had nodes go to club fairs to “reverse recruit” people.
  • Speaker/social events - Great for finding people interested in meeting other like minded people around a specific theme/goal (guest speaker events, founder socials, tech hubs, other co-working opportunities)
  • Showcases - Or other places where people can show off their work (poetry nights, art showcases, science fairs, hackathons)
  • Blogs/Personal Websites/Social Media/Youtube - It’s time to put on your detective hat and do a bit of internet splunking. It’ll only take a couple searches to find people in your locale doing interesting work. From there, find the people they mention in their blogs, work with on projects, or friends they admire.

If there’s one thing that’s true, it’s how much people can surprise us, so it’s worth it to be bold. It’s funny how often the acquaintance we think we know is secretly a competitive athlete or has an underground Soundcloud. Even if someone doesn’t seem like “the type” to attend, you never know!

Creative, action oriented people also tend to enjoy learning about other projects and seeing what is in the world. Reach out to the “coding legends” or “Shakespearen poets” in your life, there is no project too big, or too small to be worked on at Socratica!

Play the long game! When inviting someone, they might show up… or maybe not, but making that initial contact seeds the idea of attending and also builds a list of people to nudge later.

At the end of the day, it’s simple. Be fun and good to people. Co-working is, really, never that serious. We’ve found that one of the most sustainable ways to grow is for people to have such a good time they can’t help but invite their friends.

Common failure modes:

  • Intimidated attendees - When you’re just starting out, it might be a bit intimidating for people to go to a co-working session. Combat this by following up before the session.
  • Optimizing for hypergrowth - 2 people is a gathering B) Focus on the people who show up and are engaged.
  • Over-institutionalizing - It can be useful to present the node as a put-together brand™. However, it’s a balance between this and staying fun, light-hearted, and nimble. Presenting it as a hangout among friends can help ward off people coming to be transactional in an extractive way. Ensuring this vibe is communicated upon first contact with anyone you want to join the session, and at the sessions themselves is ESSENTIAL!! Keep in mind that the types of people we bring in will continue to shape the quality of sessions.
  • Losing contact - Even if people don’t come to sessions after being told about them, provide opportunities for them to be kept in the loop via email or otherwise! For some, not attending is a matter of situational availability.

How to structure a session

Written by Aava Sapkota, Jake Rudolph, Jaclyn Chan, and Hudzah Nazoordeen

Now that you have your host team and a list of attendees, it’s time to start planning the session!

Your goal will be to achieve 2 main things: give people time to work on their projects, and showcase + celebrate progress of any sort in your community. Each session roughly spans 3-4 hours and include a couple key elements:

  • Introductions: Start with 15 mins of buffer time for informal interactions, food and small talk, followed by a group address explaining what Socratica is.
  • Pomodoro Work Sessions: Structured periods for focused work.
  • Demos: Short presentations/updates showcasing participation progress.

Intro Section

Activity Tips
Setup (5 mins)

Hosts set up food, projectors/display and any other equipment.

  • Writing the schedule in a publicly visible place is great for not having to repeat yourselves.
  • Scope out spaces for silent work and group-focused activities to minimize distraction during work blocks.
  • People become more invested in something if they are given responsibility. Asking attendees to help with setting up food, cleaning up, and other small tasks is great to make people feel like they’re part of something, rather than just attending.
Mingling (5 mins)

Eat and let people settle in. Good buffer time for people trickling in slightly late.

  • Encourage people to mingle in groups with unfamiliar people!
Icebreaker circles (15 mins)

In groups of maximum ~10, do a round of introductions where people mention their name, what they’re working on, and answer an icebreaker question.

  • If people are vague about what they want to work on, the facilitator should prompt them for details. We want the deets! A great focusing question is this: what will you have to have done to consider this session a success?
    • The actual goal can be big or small, but it’s important that it’s intentionally set.
  • Have some way to document the projects. This can be done by people filling in a form, or by someone taking notes.
  • These circles are a great way to trial potential hosts. It’s a great way to introduce responsibility in an incremental way or boost confidence for people that dont think they’re qualified.
    • People feel SO gassed up when you ask them to run these circles. As mentioned before, the more involved people are, the more invested they become.
  • The introduction questions can range from silly to serious. The best ones make people think and give people conversation jumping-off points. Stray from things talking about what they’ve been up to recently, or more surface topics. Hits from our term include:
    • What is one way you’ve changed your mind recently?
    • What do you wish more people knew about you?
    • What is your greatest delusion? What do you believe about the world that seems irrational to everyone else?
    • Do you have any secret talents?
    • What could you give a 15 minute impromptu presentation on?
    • What’s a hobby you’ve been meaning to take up but haven’t yet?
    • What have you spent over 100 hours doing?

Work Session

Activity Tips
Workblock 1 (50 mins)

Silent work block

  • When it’s time to start, announce it and usher people who still want to talk into the group work area.
  • Emphasize that the work block is for deep and quiet work.
  • Have a timer up in a way that is visible to everyone. Ideally try to have access to a projector, TV or a spare device that can have the timer presented throughout the session.
Break (10 mins)
  • The perfect time to follow up on projects you find interesting!
  • Start looking out for potential demoers for the session and tapping them on their shoulders!
Work block 2 (50 mins)

Slightly less silent work block

  • After breaks, people may continue socializing. Feel free to nudge them into group talking work areas to ensure they are not disturbing others who are starting to pick up work again.
  • And continue to tap people on the shoulder for demoing!

Closing Section

Activity Tips
Demos (25 mins)

Short project showcases

  • Ideally, keep each demo around 5 minutes with around 4-5 demos. Allow for questions after the demo!
  • Encourage a wide range of demoer’s, across the domain of the project, the stage of the project and the type of speaker.
  • Take photos! Document everything!
  • Read more under How to hold great demos
Weekly wins (3 mins)

Rapid fire shoutouts of what people are proud of from the week.

  • This is a great way to quickly celebrate the wins of many people! After each win, it’s really fun to applaud them.
  • Sometimes this might be slow to start. Kick things off by volunteering something you’re proud of, or celebrating someone else.
Announcements (2 mins)
  • Prompt new people to be added to a listserv or server if they haven’t

How to hold great demos

Written by Hudzah Nazoordeen, Anson Yu, Jaclyn Chan, and Jake Rudolph

In a company, there are three actions that matter in setting culture: who you hire, fire, and promote. Within a community, the “promotion” becomes who you give the most visibility to. In this case, it’s who you choose to demo and host.

To find great demo-ers, backchannel with other hosts, tap on people who have been showing up consistently, encourage folks working on projects you find interesting, chances are, other people will find it interesting too (see: How to find co-hosts). Actively encourage people to demo at all points in their creation process because every project starts somewhere. Frame demos as an opportunity to share and celebrate progress rather than show off polished work (that is what how-to-organize-a-symposium) is for).

The following are some learnings from a few years of facilitating demos:

  • Visuals: Ideally, having accompanying visuals is fantastic! Visuals are more engaging and get people excited about the project. They also help give a sense of the project through pictures used for documentation and social media. This doesn’t have to be a screen-shared website. It can be a physical painting, hardware project, or even the demoer themselves doing something live (i.e. guitarist)

  • Storytelling: Encourage demo-ers to tell a story! Especially if it’s the first time someone is demoing, encourage them to start by sharing why they are working on their project.

  • Keep an eye on the time: Time boxing is essential as audiences can become disengaged if demos go on for too long. Display a visible timer for the presenter, complete with a noticeable ringtone to signal the end of their allocated time.

  • Encourage people to ask questions: Allocate time for questions; they often reveal valuable insights that could be the highlight of the session! To make sure that there is a variety of people asking questions across demos, as a host, tap on some folks and encourage them to ask questions. To build a strong culture, you have to actively create it.
    Some ways we’ve done this that have been successful are: _ Encouraging specific people who are eager to ask and haven’t gotten a chance yet to demoers. Encourage the demo-ers to act like hosts and call on those people. _ If there aren’t enough questions, ask one yourself.

  • Diversity of demos: When choosing presenters try to be diverse on these axises:

    • Topic (Code, art, writing)
    • Project Stage (Ideating, in progress, complete)
    • Speaker (Shyer people, confident returner, etc)

    To keep folks engaged, order demos in such a way that it feels more diverse. You can do this by spacing out similar demo topics and starting with more creative and unpolished/work in progress demo’s so people who are unsure about demo-ing feel confident to demo their work in progress projects.

  • Encourage and empower: Some people take 3-4 nudges of encouragement to think that they are qualified to demo. It’s our job to make people think they can and be constructive when they do. Your role as a host is to empower people to gain confidence in demoing and feel comfortable demoing unfinished work in this space. A good way to frame this for attendees is to frame demo-ing as an act of service to the community instead of a place to prove themselves worthy.

    • Hosts can work together with hesitant participants to provide demoing formats that make them more comfortable and confident. You can innovate along the lines of:
      • Time length – experiment with different lengths of demos. 3 minutes can feel intimidating, maybe start with a 30 second demo
      • Demo location – standing in the front of the room can be scary, experiment with demo formats where demos can be shared from their seats or in a circle setting.
      • Audience size – if the sessions are large, you could experiment with having smaller demo groups
      • 1:1 encouragement – ask them about their project 1:1 during break sessions, show authentic curiosity, tell them “that would make a great demo”
  • Managing dynamics: The only time we’ve really ever really had tense conflict was during the question section of a demo. Be deliberate and step in if things are getting weird. If you think the vibes are off, the audience probably thinks so too. A gentle way to redirect a Q&A is to mention that time is up (if the conversation has been going for a while) or ask to move on to the next question and suggest folks discuss further after demos.

  • Body language: Remind people to close or lower their laptop screens, encourage folks to take off their headphones, pause side conversations,and to give the presenters their full attention. Encourage people to stand up and gather near the demoer when people are sitting down at their desks it’s easy for them to get distracted during peoples demos. If any of these are disruptive, don’t be afraid to pause the demoer and remind participants to give full attention to the demoer.

Common failure modes

  • Presenter goes wayyy over time - Open your phone and set a timer to go off at maximum volume. When the timer goes off, jump in with “Thank you for demoing” and start clapping.
  • Presenter speaks in extremely specific, verbose, technical terms - Remind them that their audience includes people who are non-technical. Encourage analogies and a focus on what they accomplished in the session, not how it works technically. Post in an open forum afterwards so that they provide detail to those interested.
  • Presenter speaks very early stage, doesn’t have clearly defined project yet - Ask probing questions: “What did you specifically work on today?”
  • Too many people want to demo - Reassure people who don’t get a chance that they can demo next week. You can also create spaces for anyone to share projects at any time, such as a discord channel for projects, or Instagram account highlighting projects. This is also a good time to reward folks that attend consistently – effort gate!

How to brand

Written by Brayden Petersen and Aileen Luo

Your brand identity is extremely important, and extends far beyond the surface of fonts and colours. It’s how you present yourself as an organization– the way that you write, your uniquely obscene usage of emojis, and the vibes you curate at events.

Our pillars for brand identity:

  • Be exploratory: keep things open to interpretation by your team.
  • Be recognizable: as an influx of bland and unspeaking brand identities pour into clubs, choose assets and create designs that reflect your club, truly
    • Don’t be template-y or overly corporate (unless that is your vibe)- make things that make people want to sign up!
  • Be authentic ;) no matter what design style you lean into, make sure it is accurate to your organization and its principles (ie. silly, fun, ambitious, playful )

Establish your systems early, but acknowledge that they will evolve. As your org changes, your public facing image will likely change too. Despite having a design system with recommended type treatments and layouts, the Waterloo team treats our 10 page Figma file as a guide.

We embrace the styles of our individual designers whilst setting the bar approachably low. The best brand identities create emotional associations with your work– so strive to create reputable designs with re-usable and iconic elements. When people see a post, they should instantly recognize that it is us.

What branding includes:

  • Brand Personality
    • Your Name
    • Logos
    • Colour Pallette
    • Typography
    • Visual Elements like Illustrations
    • Photography/Videography Style
  • Voice and Tone
    • Ie. Mission Statement, Tagline, and Brand Values
  • Overall User Experience
    • How does your website reflect this?
    • What stories, emails, Lumas, and posts create and expand your digital presence?

TL;DR this is important stuff. Never forget to put fun and welcoming first. It doesn’t have to be ‘beautiful’ or ‘perfect’ for you to post it!