Friday, April 06, 2012

Effective User Groups, Part 3

To all my readers, I can’t believe I drafted the final post in this series back in January and completely forgot to upload it to the blog! If you were anxiously awaiting this conclusion, I’m sorry for the delay. As the kids say…”My bad!”

This is the third and final post in my series about implementing effective user groups. In Part 1, I discussed getting a group started, organizing topics and speakers, and meeting locations. Part 2 included tips about meeting locations and group websites. To conclude the series, I’ll share some tidbits about hardware and sponsors.


toolboxFirst, let’s talk about a simple topic that rounds out our previous chat on websites and general technology. While it’s safe to say that a halfway decent laptop is a minimum requirement for a successful meeting, there are a few other items to note. To broadcast our meetings via the web, I use a USB Desktop Microphone from Logitech. It does a superb job at picking up sound in the general vicinity of the presenter(s). These days, I’ve also found that a webcam of reasonable quality (such as the Logitech HD Pro C910) will usually deliver good audio. In the near future, I expect GotoWebinar will include the ability to broadcast video as they do in GotoMeeting.

Here’s a checklist you might use that is loosely related to hardware, but includes some other important issues:

  • Whose laptop will be used?
  • Make sure presentations are copied to a USB drive.
  • Always bring spare cables (audio/visual/network).
  • Laptop power supply?
  • Get written approval (at least via email) from your presenter for recording.
  • Merge the intro and formal presentation slides to avoid awkward transitions.
  • In software demonstrations, make sure all necessary files and applications are opened BEFORE starting the presentation.
  • If you’re broadcasting via the web, be sure to repeat any questions asked by your live audience. Hearing only the answers can get a bit confusing to your web audience.


In Part 1, my #1 lesson was “By the people, for the people” which means that the most effective user groups are organized by the user community. That said, these groups are not easy to conduct at zero cost. While I’m a fan of extreme couponing, eventually you are likely to incur some expenses with your user group.

Image from

One option is to collect dues or meeting fees from your members. This could be pricey if you are using a formal meeting place and providing food and drinks. Tools like allow for integrated dues payment via credit card or PayPal.

If you want to keep the group free (recommended), you will likely need the help of some sponsoring organizations. In New York City, there are three major Autodesk value-added resellers (VAR). While they were initially reluctant to participate jointly in one user group, we established a rotating sponsorship. Each VAR provides the food and drinks for a monthly meeting on a rotating basis. In other words, if you have three VAR’s, each one gets to sponsor 4 meetings per year.

Lesson #5: Embrace your sponsors, but establish boundaries.

Of course, your sponsors deserve to be recognized for their contributions, but you don’t want the sponsored meeting to become a drawn out commercial for their services or products. First tip: establish expectations when you initially acquire a sponsor. Let them know what the boundaries are for promotion. At NYC RUG, we encourage our sponsors to include information during the general announcements at the beginning of our monthly meetings. Second tip: perhaps a subset of the first tip about expectations, set ground rules for who gets priority as presenters. Our rule is that user-based presentations get top priority, then VAR presentations. Again, not that VAR presenters are less worthy, you just want to allow the greatest flexibility for potential contributors from within your user community.

user-manual-cartoonGroup Procedures

If you’re lucky enough to have a good group of volunteers help you organize and operate your events, it can get pretty difficult to maintain control over all the moving parts of a modern, high-tech group. We have found great success in writing a sort of ‘user manual’ for our group’s operations. This allows any one of our group leaders to schedule, configure, and run an event without missing any of the steps related to the guest speakers, the facility, and the broadcasting technology. I’ve created a generic version of our document as a template for you to use in your groups. Feel free to download the document via the link below.

User Group Procedures Template:

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