It doesn’t matter what kind of user group you’re running, it’s a must for you to evaluate how your user group meetings are ran. Even if you’re not the leader of the user group, the group exists for you. So, if you have input on how the meetings will work better for you, speak up!
When I think of user group related things, I first force myself to think, “How will this add value to the attendee? Will they want to come back? Will they tell their co-workers about it? What will they say? Will this appeal to a ‘newbie’? Will this attract new members?” There are many more questions, but those general ones should give you a great idea of my thought process.
There is another question though. When I think of meetings and meeting formats, one of my chief concerns are, “Will this inspire an existing member to speak at a future meeting?”
I have had a very lucky run of recruiting high-profile speakers to the Orlando DotNetNuke® Users Group (ODUG) from all over the U.S. and Canada during my time as its leader. Though, eventually that luck would undoubtedly run out, or it might not have ever existed in the first place. Realistically, most user groups live much of their first year with just the leader presenting topics. This is not good in any way for the group. We’ll come back to this later…
There are a handful of meeting formats to consider when you run user group meetings. Probably the most common standard is where a single speaker and topic are chosen, and the meeting is scheduled. This works fine for a while, especially when you’re small, but you will most certainly have to re-evaluate your meeting format as you grow, or fail to grow.
The problem with the previously mentioned format, is that you cut out huge gaps of people in terms of expertise and interest. For example, if your meeting is about Silverlight RIA Services in DotNetNuke® 5, then administrators and implementers will likely not show up. Conversely, if you have a meeting Exploring the Core Blog Module, you might not get the programmers to show up. In either case, you’re unlikely to see any skin designers at your meeting.
Part of the problem above is indeed with the topic. There are myriads of things that a speaker can do to make a topic appeal to a larger audience. However, the responsibility still falls on the leaders of the user group. So, one approach here would be to ask the speaker to adjust their topic to be higher-level in detail. In the end though, you may want to consider a different format.
As long as you keep this format fun, injecting energy from yourself and your speaker, this is a very good way to provide value to your members. However, this format puts all of your eggs in one basket. If the speaker has to cancel, the meeting might be cancelled. Most importantly, this doesn’t help to inspire any members to become speakers.
For larger user groups, they often have split meetings. A split meeting usually happens at the same time and place as your typical meetings, but when it’s time for the speaker to speak, you typically will have two speakers in two different areas or rooms – each talking about their own unrelated DNN topics. The idea is that the two speakers have topics that each would attract an audience of a different interest area. For example, programmers and skinners.
Once again, to keep value in your meetings, your speakers, and for your sponsors (if you have them), this should only be tried with larger user groups. Otherwise, it’s my opinion that this model will fail. Among other things, you still are not solving the problem of fostering new and upcoming speakers from the ranks of your own user group – and you’re just amplifying the weakness of the standard format.
My favorite meeting format consists of a mini-presentation, and a standard presentation. It is kind of the same thing as the split meeting format, but it’s format is very friendly to the size of an average user group in the DNN community.
Meetings typically last up to 2 hours. Anything less and you might not have enough time, and anything more is too much commitment for your average attendee. Within this period of time, you will likely have a short time where the leader will give out user group news and announcements and introduce new members, and so on. When this ends, the speaker normally begins their presentation. This format suggests that you put a mini-presentation between those two events.
The idea behind a mini-presentation is to encourage user group members to create a small presentation that lasts 5-10 minutes to “show something cool” to the rest of the user group. The only restriction would be that it would obviously have to be about DotNetNuke®. Other than that, they don’t even have to have a slide deck (it would probably get in the way of a presentation that short anyway).
The first 1-2 times, the leader of the user group will likely need to give this mini-presentation so that everyone sees that it is (1) easy to do, and (2) not scary. Once you get a member up there to show something cool that they’ve been working on, they’re much more likely to be a speaker in the future – but that only solves one problem… (Though, it’s a large problem.)
This format also allows you to split your meeting topics into 2 or more topic areas. For example, if your main presentation is about Building a DotNetNuke® Module, you might consider making the mini-presentation about something like Using the DNNGarden Menu Provider. This will have greater potential of bringing in two different groups of people. And no one says that you only have to have one mini-presentation! Two might be better.
At the ODUG, we called this segment of the meeting “DNN Appetizers.” Feel free to steal the idea. :)