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#OSCON Running a Successful User Group with Selena Deckelmann and Gabrielle Roth

By mhalligan on Wed, 07/23/08 - 7:02pm.

It turns out that OSCON isn't a great venue to talk to people about datacenters :(

Given this, I decided to deviate from my standard beat and attend a session that my friends Selena and Gabrielle were doing aon "How to run a user group". There's a good crowd here, about 40 people plus Selena and Gabrielle.

Selena and Gabrielle began by discussing how important introductions are for the effectiveness of any social group. They then asked everybody to introduce themselves by saying their name, and giving three "tags" that describe themselves. Introductions began rather serious and got comfortable and comical around half-way through the audience.

My name is Michael Halligan and my tags are datacenters, outsourcing, and infrastructure.

Lesson 0. Get people to the meeting

  • Invite people from other usergroups
  • Advertise on related mailing lists
  • Tell all of your friends about it in person. The personal interaction is more effective than online means alone.

Lesson 1: Start the meeting

  • make introductions
  • create interactions

  • begin the meeting

    Lesson 2: Make people feel good

    • Make them feel like a valued member of their meeting.
    • Try to talk to people at a meeting even if you're not leading it.
    • Get drunk together
    • Come up with group activities

    They gave everybody presents to make everybody feel good, by handing out booklets on how to run a user group.

    For a group activity they discussed how their user groups had developed Calagator , since everybody in their community had griped about the lack of a portland-oriented community calendar. They realized that group activities work best best by getting all the members to collaborate.

    Another way to make people feel good is to "Get drunk together" ... Seriously, go out drinking after every event. The point isn't necessarily to get inebriated, but rather to have "structured", realxed social time.

    Lesson 3: Do it because you get something out of it

    • Don't be a martyr for the community
    • Don't forget about your own personal goal which you had in mind when you started the group to begin with
    • Bring the smart people to you .. people to vent with about your own personal technical issues/collaborate with/network with/etc.
    • Great way to find a job
    • What do Gabrielle and Selena get from their UGs?
      • Gabrielle says it helps her get out of the vacuum at her work, and alows her to work with other people who develop since nobody in her group does any development
      • Selena started out wanting to get a bunch of other ERP nerds. She found she ended up meeting a lot of people who live abroad, so it helps her socialize.. Like her DB nerd friend in morocco

    Lesson 4: Be an active leader

    • Decide what you want, and go get it.
    • Your main job is to go out and get people to the meeting.

      "You can start a user group with three people" -- Gabrielle

    • Get people to meetings .. blog, use social calendars, etc .. Talk to friends because not everybody olows all the social networks
    • Stay in Touch: Meeting Recaps .. post meeting recaps as a follow-up and to help spark more discussions
    • somebody.in the audience said to make sure to put the cool stuff from the social hour into the recap as a way to help describe where the value was.
    • Be Prepared! Projectors, Speakers, Dry Erase mishaps. ..
      • Try to have a backup presentation you can present on the fly if the speaker doesn't show.
      • Have an agenda as a way to keep speakers from rambling
      • Write over permanent markers with dry erasers
    • Deal with Trolls
      • Have an Agenda
      • Show leadership and step-in to help a speaker from the trolls
      • Work to acclimate new peope to the group
      • Ask for change in private, don't call them out in public. .. Do it in person, not over email.
      • Your responsibility!

    Lesson 5. Don't Give Up!

    • Starting out
      • give it time
      • show staying power
    • Ask for help
      • Get a minion
      • People you ask directly will usually be happy to help
      • Asking for help then giving real responsibility is the best way to help the group last after you pass
      • don't skip meetings in your first year, dead air is bad

    Lesson 6: Just Relax

    • Drink
      • No really, have a drink
      • Cocktails help with the discussion of relational algebra
      • They had "Jiftinis" during their Jifty discussion of the perlmongers meeting

    All in all this was a pretty awesome session.

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