Part of running any user group is to hold regular events where the members of the user group can gather at a single location to learn something new about the topic at-hand, and to network with each other. The value of the user group meeting increase each time you return, until you reach a kind of snowball effect. Eventually, user groups will become part of your routine – something that you just have to make sure you do and plan your vacations around.
Well, that doesn’t always happen, but believe it or not, it really does happen to many people out there. But how did they get to that point? What made them come to that first user group meeting? I will speak to one of the first areas that answer that question in this post.
While I am going to talk about this in the context of DotNetNuke, be aware that most of this information can be applied to nearly any user group in the world.
The first thing you need when you are planning your next event is a speaker. I am going to assume for the purpose of this post that you found one already. Once you have the speaker, you are generally going to ask for a few bits of information from them (maybe more):
Once you have that information, you need to draft an informational blob about the user group meeting. Your event information needs to contain that, and more. At the minimum, you need to include the following:
That basically sorts out the content of the body of your event information, and it is all extremely important. Just be sure that it is written in a way and reads in a way that someone that is completely new to the technology can read it and understand it. All to often you will lose members before you ever even see their face just because the event information wasn’t detailed enough, or it didn’t sound like they understood it, even if the topic was a beginner topic.
For example, let’s talk about the event title. This is perhaps the most important thing in your entire event description, so that’s where I am going to spend the rest of our time in this post.
Think about the event title as your big chance for your first newspaper headline. If you only had enough space on the front page of a newspaper to put your event title, what would you say to draw that person to turn the page and find out more about your event? This is no more different in the world of user groups then it is for the mythical newspaper analogy. Your event title must be compelling, engage immediate interest, and be accessible to a broad range of talent levels.
You are probably wondering why I am presenting this to you in the way that I am. Your event title is indeed a headline, which I will explain more about later. But first a couple of tips…
Do not use the title for your event that your speaker gives you! On occasion, this is probably fine, but in practice, the title that your speaker gives you is often too technical or technically polarizing, immediately chasing away a large number of potential attendees.
Before the importance of the title will be completely apparent, we need to talk about where and how to tell people about your user group meeting. Here are a few ways that you can publicize your meeting, and I suggest using all of them if you can until you get a regular attendee number that you’re comfortable with. Simply put, you never know which source your reoccurring attendees will find you through.
Notice that in the above list, there isn’t any cost involved. It is important to use up every free resource you can as a UG leader or coordinator. Now for a little more explanation…
If you are running a DNN user group, you should be hosting your website on DNN. I will assume that you are… You can use something other than the Events Module, but I have found more success in using the Events Module for various reasons. Be sure to add your meetings to your calendar regularly, even if you only have a date. Adding meetings that don’t have a firm commitment from a speaker or venue is still important, as it will show your members that there is indeed a meeting date and time, so they can plan for it. In these cases, you can simply say that the content and speaker is “to be determined.”
Make sure you enable and publicize your Events Module as having an RSS feed. This will keep your members informed that regularly use RSS readers. Plus, you can easily consume this information yourself for any number of user group needs.
I must assume that you already have a newsletter too. DNN’s Newsletter module is more than sufficient for any user group, and it’s convenient to be able to tie into it’s token replacement. Be sure to include your next meeting as the top news item on every newsletter issue. You should have 2-4 newsletters a month to make sure you keep everyone informed of the next meeting, and any other group news. If that sounds like too many, remember that not everyone reads their e-mail right away. The repeated newsletters often serves as a reminder to read it. However, anything above 4 is way too much.
I cannot say enough about you needed to use the DNN User Group Module more. Make sure you publish your new meetings here. Unfortunately, there isn’t currently a way for this module to automatically import your meetings yet, so this will be a copy/paste operation once your meeting is scheduled.
This is important on many levels. First of all, it lets the people know that might have never registered on your site. Second, it places your event on the main user group calendar, a place that newcomers will surely check when they hear about DNN user groups existing. Next, it also ensures that your meeting will be publicized in the next DotNetNuke Community Newsletter. That newsletter goes out to a lot of people. Don’t skip this step!
There is a user group forum in the DNN Forums. This is a perfect place to let people know about your user group news. You never know when the right person is going to see your announcement in these forums. In addition, you can get user group support there. I am not the only person who monitors that forum.
If you’re not already part of the User Group Support Services (UGSS), you should be. While their “user group kits” (free door prizes) are not all that great anymore, they do offer other resources that may be valuable to you.
That is beyond the scope of this post, so you should check with your local Microsoft Developer Evangelist, or INETA Mentor to get involved. If you don’t know who either is, attend your next area .Net or SQL Server user group meeting. They should be able to point you in the right direction.
One of the many benefits of this site is that is has an event section to also add your events to. Their calendar is used by many people, and aggregated to many places, so you get great exposure.
Like the events calendar in the UGSS, the community megaphone website events calendar is very visible to a large number of people. The primary difference is simple that this one is community written and supported. For that reason, you tend to get another completely different crowd of people who would ordinarily not see your events, simply because the UGSS has corporate sponsorship.
That being said, if you’re using the UGSS website to add events to, do not manually add events to Community Megaphone. The UGSS has a checkbox that you can check to automatically add your event to both calendars.
This option is the only one that I’d say is optional for growing user groups. It has the least amount of reach in terms of reaching potential members in my opinion, but I have indeed generated attendees using it. Make sure that if you do, you post your meetings in all of the regional areas near your user group that are within a reasonable driving range.
Reasonable driving range doesn’t mean what you might think either. One of the Orlando DotNetNuke User Group (ODUG) members would regularly drive 2.5 hours each way to attend our meetings.
By now, you should have more than enough background information to understand the scope of your user group meeting title, but I am going to talk about it one more time anyway. :)
In all of the above suggested places, not only do you get exposure there, but they also allow their events (yours included) to be syndicated to any number of place and/or through a public RSS feed. For example, your events that are sent to the Community Megaphone are also tweeted through their twitter account (@CommMegaphone). When these aggregations happen, the only thing that you have any control over is the title of the event. Additionally, there’s no telling what the focus is of the places that your event gets posted on in this mystical chain of information movement. Therefore, your title needs to reflect everything and appeal to everyone with the shortest number of characters. This is not so different when authoring an important twitter post, which limits you to 140 characters. You are bound by similar circumstances.
That should make things a lot more clear now, I hope. Given that you have no idea who will see the title, unleash the inner-report within yourself and begin crafting the most appealing event titles that you know how! Here are some tips for some great event titles:
I already mentioned a few of the details that you need to be conscious of, but with the new contextual information above, I thought I should go over it one more time with another list of tips.
The example above is of one of the ODUG events that I had written in the past. It’s not perfect, but I am sure that you can tell that it follows the advice I am giving you. :)
I hope that this information is helpful to you. Enjoy your user group. The more people you involve and meet, the better it is for everyone involved.