Growing Your User Group - OpenWest 2014


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'Growing your User Group' by Kara Sowles, delivered at OpenWest 2014.

If you prefer a version with speaker notes included directly below the slide - which I found easier to read - there is one here:

Fr this version, click 'Notes on Slide x' below to see speaker notes for every slide!

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  • Growing Your User Group - a talk for OpenWest 2014!
    Art by me. It’s pretty obvious why I’m working in tech and not art.
  • Hi, I’m Kara Sowles! I work at Puppet Labs in Portland, OR, where among other things, I run the Puppet User Group Program. I help connect over 40 community-run Puppet User Groups around the world with the right resources to overcome obstacles. I’m no expert, though, so I look forward to hearing *your* advice in the discussion section at the end of this talk! My goal is for you to come away with at least a few thoughts for how to reinvigorate your user group.
  • Agenda! User Groups are formed in the comfortable Hall of User Group Creation, and we *think* we’re going to float up through the clouds to the perfect user group in the sky or whatever...but instead there’s a treacherous journey through many of the scary places you can see here...From the Foodless Flatlands (so hungry!) to the Speakerless Swamps. This talk fails to cover the VAST world of user groups, but in the limited time we have, I’ll blast through some common obstacles, and some common solutions to try.
    We all know this difficult journey in some way or other. It starts with...
  • I MADE A USER GROUP! It’s great.
  • AWESOME FIRST MEETING! All my friends came, and some other people too! It was so perfect, we had a great time! :D
  • My group never met again
    My cousin is in town
    I couldn’t find a presenter except that one friend last time
    I don’t want to pay for pizza again. Frankly, I don’t want to eat pizza again, I’ve been eating it all week
    (This image copyright Walt Disney Corporation)
  • To create an in-person community, often you’re also creating an online community where you gather people to meet in person. The sign of user groups that no longer meet is usually in abandoned meetup pages, unused forums and google groups....
  • So, what went wrong? You might encounter any of these obstacles. Everyone running a user group will run into at least one of these problems, likely more. It varies - for some groups, it might be easy to find a venue, but hard to find members -- others might have no speakers, but a huge user base. Some may have all the ingredients, but somehow meetings are just never planned. It’s ok! These obstacles are normal :) Running user groups consistently - or at all - can be really tough.
  • Ok then, let’s fix this! Brainstorming solutions is what this talk is about, after all.
  • oh, wait, hold on
  • Because not everyone in the room has necessarily started their group yet, right? I don’t want to jump into this book mid-chapter. I won’t cover everything, just a few points.
  • So, you’re planning to start a user group
  • You know the basics! Blah, blah, blah. Moving on.
  • Make sure you do local reconnaissance! This helps make sure you:
    - Don’t make a repeat group, Don’t choose a time/day that conflicts with similar groups or groups w similar audiences
    - Familiarize yourself with what other local groups do. Do people travel far to to to a user group? Do they generally start early, at 5, or later at 7 so everyone has time to drive there? Every area has its idiosyncrasies.
    - What meetup tools do ppl use in your area? meetup? google groups? Don’t re-learn what other local groups have already learned. Talk to them. They’ve made mistakes in the past, and you don’t want to make the same ones!
  • Pick an online home for your group., google groups, web pages, forums, mailing lists, etc. There are two separate functions: Communicating when & where & what your events will be; and staying in touch between events.
    Consider which method is most used in your specific locale. I use the most often, mostly in the United States and some in Europe, but in Portland we use a Google Group. Some groups use a Meetup page to post events (easy for anyone to see, but not good for discussion) and a Google Group to discuss upcoming events (not everyone is interested in the planning).
  • Find a cadence: first thursday, fourth wednesday, etc. You’ve done reconnaissance, so you’ll choose a date that doesn’t conflict with similar groups.
    Setting expectations is KEY - and a big theme in this talk.
  • What is the porpoise of your group? Do you have a mission statement? Is the vision shared in a way that others can clearly examine and adopt it?
    (GET IT? Porpoise?)
  • Ok, let’s start removing some obstacles!
  • Finding a Venue
    Again, art by me, drawn awkwardly on my ipad with my finger really late at night. Daytime art is sadly no better. All buildings have angled roofs because I am from New England.
  • Make a list of info about the group BEFORE you start asking for space, and include that info in the request for hosting space. It saves the person on the other side time, and it helps make sure you find a space that’s appropriate for your group. It sets expectations.
  • Think about how a hosting company might benefit from hosting your group.
    I don’t mean to be crass. Obviously not every group finds it appropriate to talk about open jobs, or tailor this to your group’s proclivities. Ideally, both sides benefit!
  • First choice - you naturally ask your company (if you work at one)
  • Usually our second instinct - to leverage strong connections.
    That’s fine, though - you don’t need good friends all over town in order to find a hosting company. I don’t have a lot of friends, so let’s move on to new strategies!
  • When a place turns you down, email thanking them for their consideration, and politely asking if they might be able to recommend any other companies which might be interested in hosting.
  • For example, a cleaners’ group might ask to meet at a cleaning supply company. This company is more likely to say yes. Think about your attendees, and the topic of your user group, and see if you can find a local company that might be more likely to say yes to a ‘cold call’ request. For example, at Puppet Labs, we would love to host a configuration management or IT related user group.
  • Post it to the message board of your user group if there is one, and bring it up as a topic at the end of the next meeting. Often, someone will say the company they work at can likely host.
  • Try a local university, a local library, or a local community club. More on this at the end of the presentation from audience members.
  • Look online at other user groups in your area, and see where they are hosted. Reach out to those companies. You already know they host user groups - maybe they’ll host yours! You up your chances if you actually *attend* a user group in that office first : )
  • If you’ve tried all these steps and you’re not having success, try to find out what the issue is - why you’re getting turned down - and be flexible on that point. Did you accidentally choose a date that everyone’s busy? Does your meeting end at 11pm, and no employee wants to stay that late? Can you alternate between locations until you find a permanent one? Some companies are more likely to say yes to a one-time event.
  • Ok, I know you’re sad. But we can work with this.
  • When I want a meeting to happen somewhere, but there’s no venue I can use, I’ll plan it in a restaurant, cafe, or bar. This has some severe downsides: (1) you can’t have a presentation and (2) it’s alienating to some and (3) it’s loud. You need to also watch that you’re making a comfortable environment a little more closely. Then, during your meeting there, ask the members again if any of them have connections at companies that might host you instead. You can meet up before you’ve solved this problem, but keep trying! Some groups *prefer* meeting in environments like this -- that’s fine too. Often, this is a great strategy for a first meeting.
  • bringing your own paper plates / cups are usually an important part of leaving the place clean! Check in with the company every month to thank them and check that the space is reserved for you. This comes back to setting expectations! Might seem basic - but we all forget things.
  • Finding Speakers
  • At the end of each meeting, the group “What topics would you like to hear about next month?” Write them clearly on the whiteboard.
  • Then, ask the group “Does anyone have experience with [the first topic on the list]?” If someone says yes, ask if they’ll present to the group on it next meeting! Go down the proposed topic list in this manner.
  • Take the suggested topic list and, after the meeting, post it to the group online. Ask for more suggestions, and ask if anyone can speak on any of the topics.
  • Still doesn’t work? Talk to individual user group members at the meeting, asking them what they’ve been doing with the technology, and when they say something neat, ask if they’ll speak on it at the next meeting. : )
  • Support people who haven’t talked before. User Groups are a great way for them to practice talks in front of a smaller group, and build up to conference talks!
    Consider holding a lighting talks day - with just 5 minute talks - to encourage people to speak.
  • When I’m looking for speakers for the Portland Puppet User Group, I have say 50+ people I could approach and ask to give a talk - but many of the usual engineers who speak at conferences will tell me they’re too busy. However, I know that the VP of Operations has been trying to foster speaking opportunities for his team members, so I can ask him what employees on his team might enjoy the opportunity.
  • Topics are the hard part. If you can find topics, speakers are more convincible.
    Email companies that you know are using the technology - see if they’ll send someone!
  • Still no speakers? Many user groups don’t choose to use speakers. They have discussion sessions - often with pre-arranged topics, to set expectations - or hack nights. These are awesome too!
    I should have inserted a slide here about alternate formats that user groups meet with - discussion, fishbowl, topic tables, hack event, etc.
  • Finding more members
  • In Portland, we use Calagator, where anyone can post tech events and user groups that are happening. Has anyone made a resource for posting Utah tech user groups and events in one place? If not - think about building one.
  • At LinuxFestNW, I ran intp Greater Seattle Linux User Group!
    I love the cards they’re handing out - they have all the details one might need, clearly labeled. Plus, it’s an alluring logo! I couldn’t find a list of the user groups that came together to form OpenWest on the OpenWest site. Apologies if I missed it. I was surprised not to see local user groups promoted at the conference, especially since most attendees are local to Utah. Great chance to get new members and speakers!
  • For example, DevOps and Puppet or Puppet and OpenStack
    Find a similar user group, and ask if they’d like to team up for a meeting! Invite both user bases for a talk that everyone can enjoy together. Ideally, both groups will grow from it!
  • Meet regularly, same cadence, talk about next meeting at end of each, post early about next meeting, set expectations for yourself (when do you communicate with the group? etc.). Get help if you need it - co-organizers are great, but have ownership of different aspects and roles. Get help! Train new user group leaders!
    Is ownership transferrable - do you think of your group as yours? Could it survive if you moved to a different city? Ask yourself these questions and find answers you’re comfortable with.
  • *I* can’t afford to buy food for my user group every month. Let’s talk about some ways to find sponsorship for your user group. This is one of the trickier ones, since it involves cash, but fortunately it’s not necessary - you can meet without food.
  • Your best bet is the company that’s hosting you. Sometimes the host will buy you food -- but sometimes, they just say it’s ok for you to eat their snacks and drink their drinks. Depending on how exciting their food and drink pantry can be, this can be amazing, and it’s a boon that deserves a big-thank you! That said, if they say no on you noming their stuff, be respectful and make sure your user group members don’t partake of something that’s not theirs.
  • Your company! Sometimes a user group organizer’s company will spring for food every month. If you need to pitch this to your boss, think through the potential benefits of you running the user group. If your department doesn’t bite, see if there’s another department that might be interested. I work in the Community department, so I might help sponsor something that another department doesn’t have money allotted for, and I’m doing it because I want to encourage employees to be participating in the local tech scene.
  • Let’s think about other companies that might sponsor, even though they aren’t hosting you, and you don’t work at them. Reasons would include wanting to me more visible to an audience they’d like to hire from, wanting to be more visible to an audience that might use their product, simple philanthropy & good will, or one specific attendee with a company credit card.
  • One site-specific example of this is that has a function for this, with Sponsors, and Perks [Note: perks now discontinued]. O’Reilly frequently sends out both booths, and discount coupons for books.
    On Meetup, the Sponsor function also allows a way for groups to show that they’re advertising their sponsor’s involvement. Having O’Reilly as a sponsor, for example, can also help groups look credible.
  • If you’re hosting a user group around a technology, see if the persons creating that technology will send you some shirts or stickers to hand out to the group!
  • Your company as a support structure. This is very specific, so I’m not going to talk about it much. Not many people at a company that supports their user group. But since it’s such a big part of my experience, I wanted to touch on it.
  • Think how they interact with the community - touchpoints. Think about their goals. For me, working at a company that makes the software the user groups are centered around, I talk to nearly every department for support. I try to think about their goals.
    Sales - source talks and venues for user groups, because it improves their sales region; Prof Services - they’re always traveling, so I ask them to do talks; Education - they may add community links to their mailers; Marketing - add community links to their nurturing email campaigns, or send email to regions; Engineering - local talks; Community - Well, that’s me : )
  • See, we keep coming back to this! If you want more members, you need to convince those on-the-fence people to come to your meeting. Setting expectations helps draw people in. One of the key parts of this is to try to think outside of yourself. You know what the meetup is, and you know you’re comfortable there. This is for others.
    This is that feeling before you open a new book. You really have no idea what’s going to be in there. Similarly, your potential new members have no idea what your meetup is going to be like!
  • Setting expectations. Post an agenda on your page for the meeting (not just the talk title). This helps make new members feel more comfortable attending; they know what will be happening, and when. Just one example:
    6:30-7:00pm Socialize and get to know each other. Free pizza and salads; 7:00-7:15pm Introduction, group notices, announcements, local job openings; 7:15-8:00pm Presentation on “Using Linux to feed local wildlife” by Gary Gygax; 8:00-8:15pm Choosing topics for next meeting; 8:15-8:45pm Socialize, with free beer, water, and soda provided by Local Company
  • Set expectations: Make it clear what level the talks or activities are. Don’t do this to make it exclusive; do it to make people more comfortable attending. “Absolute beginners welcome”. You can also vary this from meeting to meeting. We’ve had groups where a wave of new folks would show up every meeting. This didn’t leave the intermediate and advanced users time to talk - they spent all their time introducing new users to the software. You can handle this AND get more people into the group by alternating between clear beginner sessions, and clear advanced sessions. Just make it clear what level the talks will be! (ie “This will be an advanced talk. Beginners are always welcome to attend, but please save your questions for the beginner meeting next month.”)
  • Make accessiblity clear in the event description. If there’s a weird trick to getting into the building, list it. Make a point of mentioning that the venue is wheelchair accessible. This comes back to setting expectations.
  • Very simple question: Do you want more people at your meetup? This is one very simple way to get more members interested in attending, and it (again) helps set expectations in a way that’s clear, and that you can point to. People appreciate knowing what’s expected of them! I’ve heard of instances where people had bad experiences at certain user groups, just because of a few individuals’ behavior, stopped going to the meeting - then returned when they heard a code of conduct was implemented.
    It’s not a sign of a bad meetup to have a code of conduct - it’s the sign of a good one. If you haven’t had issues (that you’ve been aware of before) that’s great - and means you should implement a code of conduct now so you’re already prepared.
  • We don’t intend to be exclusionary. We’re good, welcoming people. But we unintentionally do things that exclude people, that are hurtful, that are sexist or racist -- and we need to always work to become aware of those things, and stop doing them. Goes the same for me as for anyone else - I’ve got a lot of work to do. I look back a few years at some of the things I said and I’m like “How did I think that was ok?!” Never stop improving.
  • I’m not saying don’t be hilarious, I love humor. I’m saying that in many cases where awesome people I know unintentionally say hurtful things, it’s in the context of humor, so that’s something I’ve been trying to watch for myself. Don’t assume that because people are laughing, that they all think it’s funny. This One Weird Trick will help you make your user group a more welcoming place!
  • Fortunately, you don’t need to write a code of conduct - others have already done that for you! You can check out the Geek Feminism Wiki or other resources online.
    In the discussion after my last talk, a variety of audience members re-enforced that ‘setting expectations’ by instituting a Code of Conduct has been a very valuable tool for them.
  • Ok, so......did we make it? Have we overcome these obstacles?
    Let’s hear from the audience. What’s your advice? What are your experiences?
  • Discussion!
  • You can reach me at [email_address] or follow me on Twitter as @feynudibranch. This is only my second solo public talk, so thanks for watching, and I’m looking forward to improving it further.
  • Growing Your User Group - OpenWest 2014

    1. 1. Growing Your User Group OpenWest 2014
    2. 2. Hi, I’m Kara Sowles Community Initiatives Manager Puppet Labs Portland, OR Twitter: @feynudibranch Email:
    3. 3. Where are we headed?
    4. 4. I made a user group!
    5. 5. Awesome first meeting!
    6. 6. ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD And then... - from The Lion King copyright walt disney pictures -
    7. 7. “The internet is littered with ghost towns where communities used to be.The people still exist - but the structure fell apart.” - I couldn’t find a quote about this so I made one up
    8. 8. Obstacles • No Speaker • NoVenue • No Food • Few Members • No Momentum
    9. 9. Obstacles • No Speaker • NoVenue • No Food • Few Members • No Momentum Let’s fix this!
    10. 10. WAIT
    11. 11. First, let’s start at the beginning...
    12. 12. Starting a User GroupStarting a User Group
    13. 13. THE BASICS Date / Starting Time Venue Speaker Way to communicate with members Let the world know it exists Maybe food?
    14. 14. RECONNAISSANCE When do similar groups meet? Is there already a group about X? What works well for other local groups?
    15. 15. Choose an online home for your group
    16. 16. SET EXPECTATIONS Find a cadence and stick to it. We’ll come back to this later... setting expectations is key.
    17. 17. PURPOSE
    18. 18. Ok, let’s start removing some obstacles!
    19. 19. Finding a Venue
    20. 20. MAKE A LIST Brief description of group’s purpose Average # of members at each meeting Date / Time of meetings A/V requirements Any other space requirements / needs
    21. 21. THINK ABOUT PERKS “The hosting company is invited to announce any open jobs at the beginning of each meeting.” “The hosting company is listed as a sponsor on our meetup page, and at our yearly event.” “The hosting library has interesting events to advertise and bring in more people.”
    22. 22. Ask your company
    23. 23. Ask your friend’s company
    24. 24. When thanking those that said ‘no’, ask them for recommendations.
    25. 25. Are there any local companies that cater to your attendees’ demographic?
    26. 26. Ask your user group
    27. 27. Local University or Local Library
    28. 28. Check where other user groups are hosted
    29. 29. Get flexible
    30. 30. STILL NO HOST :’(
    31. 31. Temporary or alternate locations
    32. 32. BE A GOOD GUEST Leave the space clean Turn off the projector Don’t act entitled to the space Check back in every month Thank the host regularly SET EXPECTATIONS - no surprises!
    33. 33. Finding Speakers
    34. 34. “What topics would you like to hear about next month?”
    35. 35. “Does anyone have experience with [X topic]?”
    36. 36. Post the list of suggested topics to the group online, and ask again.
    37. 37. Ask individual members what they’re doing.
    38. 38. Cultivate those who don’t give talks (yet)
    39. 39. At your company: Look for managers that want to foster speaking opportunities for their teams
    40. 40. To companies: “Would you send someone to give a talk on [X topic]?”
    41. 41. Still no speakers? Hold a... Discussion Session Hack Night
    42. 42. Finding More Members
    43. 43. Local Community Sites
    44. 44. Local Conferences
    45. 45. Joint Meetings Find a similar user group, and team up for a talk aimed at both audiences!
    46. 46. Keeping Momentum Meet regularly Same cadence (“Fourth Thursday”) At the end of each meeting, talk about next time Set expectations for yourself Co-Organizers What happens if you leave?
    47. 47. Finding $ponsors
    48. 48. The company that’s hosting you
    49. 49. Your Company
    50. 50. Other Companies
    51. 51. Perks
    52. 52. SWAG
    53. 53. Your Company as a Support Structure
    54. 54. Think Like Other Departments Leverage Sales team Leverage Professional Services team Leverage Education team Leverage Marketing team Leverage Engineering team Leverage Community team
    55. 55. Making your group inviting: Setting Expectations
    56. 56. Anatomy of a Meeting Socialize Introduction Presentation Next Meeting topic & talk sourcing Socialize Just an example....
    57. 57. Clear familiarity level Are the talks this month for intermediate users? Is this session accessible for absolute beginners?
    58. 58. ACCESSIBILITY • Is it easy to find the venue? • Is there parking nearby? Bike parking? Bus access? • Is the venue wheelchair accessible? • Who can people email with special accessibility requests or questions?
    59. 59. Have a Code of Conduct
    60. 60. If you’re going to pay attention to one thing: pay attention to your humor
    61. 61. Did we make it?
    62. 62. Kara Sowles - Puppet Labs Your advice? Twitter: @feynudibranch Email:
    63. 63. Kara Sowles Community Initiatives Manager Puppet Labs Portland, ORTwitter: @feynudibranch Email: Thanks for listening!