Revive your User Group, part III

Anyone who’s ever been to a well-run and successful user group meeting knows how valuable they can be in helping you to staying touch with others in your industry as well as helping you to stay abreast of the latest technologies. However, good user group meetings don’t just happen; there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes before the user group meeting ever happens. In this, part three of the Revive Your User Group series, I’ll share with you some tips to help you manage your user group more successfully and with less effort on any one person’s part.

Before going any further, it is worth mentioning that as the name implies this is the third part in the series. If you’ve found this posting directly, it’d probably be worthwhile to go back and read the first two postings in the series as they really lay the groundwork for this post.

The series kicked off with a discussion of how and why User Groups should be an important part of your career development, not only from a technical and educational perspective but from a networking and “soft skills” vantage point as well. In the second installation, I shared some best practices I’d learned from my experiences running a user group.

Alright. So, how we can we be more successful running our user groups?

The load is large

When you think about all of the tasks associated with  running an user group, what comes to mind?

Well, you’ll need to find speakers for each meeting. You should have a presence on the web that should be updated regularly. You’ll need to find and coordinate meeting locations. You’ll work with sponsors to get door prizes and food delivered on time and to the right locations. There will be lots of emails flying around to help organize all this.

All of these things take time. And time is one of our most precious commodities. As a professional with paying job, you simply don’t have the time to undertake all of the activities of running a user group successfully by yourself. In trying to do so, you’ll have to cheat someone – either your family, or your work, or if nothing else your leisure time. Eventually it’ll catch up with you and you’ll not be able to carry on.

Many hands make light work

So what do we do? We get others involved. In my experience, the most effective, the most sustainable, user groups are those do not depend exclusively on one person to shoulder all of the responsibilities to keep the group going. User groups that are solely dependent on one person usually collapse at some point. When that one person changes jobs, or moves to another town, or simply burns out from the extra load she’s been carrying.

But just adding people is not enough. Everyone must know what their responsibilities are. Otherwise everyone considers himself an advisor to the group and no real work gets done.

Consider having at least three people in leadership positions. More is even better, but at least three should be part of every group. The titles don’t really matter, but for simplicity and ease of reference, I’ve provided some position titles to go along with the roles.

  • President – The face of the group who provides direction and vision for the group. He makes decisions and helps with everything that needs doing. It’s best if he has some connections to the community and potential vendor and sponsors. The president typically is the person who starts off every meeting with a brief introduction and discussion of any group business.
  • Meeting Coordinator – The guy who ensures that the meetings happen. He schedules the venue, the speakers, and even the sponsors. He coordinates the delivery of food and door prizes. This is probably the leadership position that takes the most time. The meeting coordinator should be a detail person with good connections to potential speakers.
  • Communications – The person in charge of communicating with the group. The communications role keeps everyone “in the loop” by regularly updating the web site before and after each meeting. He sends emails, posts tweets, writes blogs, etc, about the meetings and other group happenings.

These are just some to consider. The point is to share the load so that no one person has to do it all.

In the next and probably final part in this series, I’ll share with you some ways to keep users engaged.

Until then, I’d love to hear any experiences you’ve had in running a user group. If you’ve found that different roles makes sense, please share for the benefit of others out there trying to run a group.

Joe

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3 Responses to Revive your User Group, part III

  1. Pingback: Dew Drop – July 16, 2009 | Alvin Ashcraft's Morning Dew

  2. Thanks for this series, Joe. It’s interesting to hear how other groups are run. I agree that many hands are needed.

    I run the San Francisco and Silicon Valley SQL Server User Groups. These groups are local chapters of PASS (www.sqlpass.org), but we also have a local parent organization, the Bay Area Association of Database Developers (www.baadd.org).

    BAADD has a board of directors, with the usual roles – President, VP, Secretary, Treasurer, membership, Sponsorship, and Job Leads Coordinators, several at-large positions, and the User Group Leaders.

    The Board helps with coordination of many tasks, and maintaining membership information. When it comes to the meetings, the User Group Leader has responsibility, but often other board members volunteer to help sign people in at the event.

    There is more information about our groups at http://www.bayareasql.org.

  3. Pingback: Revive your User Group, part IV « WebbTech Solutions

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