Making Method Jam

How to start and run a successful event • October 20 2014

Method Jam was an event series about working in creative fields that I helped to organize at Heist with our friends at Boltmade and Grand.

A little more than a month ago, the second Method Jam meetup took place. Creative professionals from the Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo areas came together to talk through ideas, problems, and methods of working better together.

We wanted to surface good work and the interesting methods used to get that work done: lifting the useful parts of things like agile and lean and forging a new kind of forward-thinking process. By all measures, it was a success — a great turnout and thoughtful discussion. Hooray! But how did we get there?

Bridging the Gap

We were attending a lot of great meetups around visual design and product development, but nothing that sated our need to talk about the work of doing work. At Heist, how we work is as important as what we produce, and we wanted to share techniques and get some new tools in the belt. The concept of Method Jam was born: talks on the thinking and planning of what we do, not just the doing.

Toronto and K-W are the two ends of a sort of (clichéd?) Silicon Valley of the North. Both have strong design, tech, and startup scenes. There isn’t, unfortunately, a lot of cross-pollination between those two nodes. We knew we could make something great together if we could build a connection.

Team Assembly

We couldn’t make this work without partners who had more event-running experience than ourselves (i.e., more than none) and who could complement the things we thought it was important to talk about.

They’d be bringing different experiences and perspectives, hopefully leading to a deeper and better discussion. We reached out to friends at Boltmade and Grand to build our roster — two companies we knew were applying unconventional, hybrid approaches to running projects.


Putting together an event (even one as relatively small and straightforward as Method Jam) isn’t just a question of showing up on the correct night and firing up Keynote.

There were questions to answer around logistics, format, time and place — not to mention whether we liked each other across a real-life boardroom table, enough to bust our humps and make Method Jam happen.

Happily, Grand and Boltmade were both fully on board with the idea of an event centered around the hidden cogs of our industry. We threw around ideas, talked about the challenges we were facing in our respective businesses, and laid down a solid base for the event that would become the first Method Jam.

Panning for Gold

Those initial meeting notes were boiled down into a Trello board of half-baked topic ideas. We were sifting for the pure gold nuggets in a river of vaguely gold-looking nugget-adjacent nubs. There was a lot of stuff we could talk about, but what were the real winners among the emerging themes?

We had to be super-critical. Would the things we found interesting be helpful for anyone else? What were the killer topics that would get people in the door? An informal survey of potential attendees revealed a thirst for practical, hands-on topics — stuff you could apply immediately to your own work.

We hacked away until we were left with less than 20 topics that we thought had legs, which were then subjected to an extremely rigorous process of voting and arguing. Any topic that didn’t get more than three votes was kicked to the curb. Repeat until you’ve got only three topics left, and those topics will be pretty bulletproof.

The Audience

We committed to doing two events: one in Toronto and one in Waterloo. We figured that running an event in both cities would allow us to judge whether Method Jam, as a concept, was something people would buy into.

We were all pretty plugged into our local communities, so we started with the Heist home field advantage — hosting the first event in our own office in downtown Toronto. We had no misconceptions about how difficult it’d be to build an audience for an unproven event.

It didn’t help that we weren’t entirely sure how to pitch Method Jam to our peers (something we’re still fine-tuning). Was the value proposition to talk about how we worked, or how to work better together, or building a stronger TO-KW corridor? Yes, to all of the above. We refined our event elevator pitch by getting the word out on social media early and often, and keeping track of what drove uptake (by tracking retweets, mentions, & signups to our mailing list).

We were gun-shy about saturating people’s timelines, but if you want to punch through the noise, you’d better get used to carrying a social media bullhorn. In the final week of ticketing for the first Method Jam, I tweeted about it, on average, three times a day every day. Total amount of angry pushback = zero.

Jammin’ on Methods

Finally, the day. It was a perfect afternoon towards the end of July when we opened the doors at Heist and welcomed nearly 70 people in to hear what we had to say. The sun was shining, there was a warm breeze, and speakers from Grand, Boltmade, and Heist were in fine form, sharing some hard-won knowledge.

Two months later, we did it all over again at Boltmade’s offices in Waterloo. The second Method Jam was a little different in format, in tone, in takeaways — which was awesome. We’re treating each event as an opportunity to perfect the formula and learn from our past missteps.

Are we going to do it again? You bet we are — we’re looking forward to learning with you at Method Jam 3.