Saturday, September 26

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Awesome User Groups: Tips for New Organizers

For the better part of the past year I’ve been helping organize MongoDB User Groups around the globe. 10gen currently helps support 68 MongoDB User Groups with over 13,000 members (and more user groups are added every day!). The MongoDB User Group (MUG) network has grown in large part thanks to the great work of the MUG organizers who have worked tremendously to ensure that our groups meet on a regular basis and have interesting content. I’ve learned a lot about organizing meetup groups from our MUG organizers and other community leaders around the world. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned from them.

Centralize as many things as possible: Keeping things in one place is incredibly valuable when you are beginning to grow a community. A few things you’ll need to centralize: A meeting place, meeting date, web presence and leadership.

A central meeting location that stays consistent throughout the first year of the group will ensure everyone knows where to find your group and give you more peace of mind as you go along. Having a consistent date works in the same way. The New York MongoDB user group meets on the third Tuesday of every month, which helps members organize their schedule. The consistency ensures that people will grow to expect a meeting on X day of the month each month. This is essential to creating a great community. Find one place to post information about your user group. This can be a mailing list, a web page, facebook, Meetup.com or Google+. Whatever you use, you should only pick one place. Having many different web pages makes things confusing for your group members and is a hastle to maintain. I enjoy using Meetup.com and have gotten a tremendous amount of support from their team to help us manage our growing network of user groups. Nathen Harvey of the DC MUG and Joe Devon of the LA MUG do a great job in keeping their Meetup.com pages active and dynamic, with lots of links to content and information for user group members. Leadership should remain consistent. When I lived in a cooperative, we distributed responsibility amongst a number of people, but two people kepet the power to facilitate. You should definitely encourage as many people as possible to get involved in the planning of your user group, but there should be a set group of people who own the main responsibilities for bringing the group together. The best example of this is the London Java Community, which has many different organizers, all of whom are responsible for different aspects of the meetup, but sit on the same planning committee. The LJC as it is commonly called is now almost 3,000 developers large and hosts over 7 meetings a month and brings together with anywhere from 20-150 people at each session. This could only happen through distributing responsibility. TL;DR Repetition is key

Make an Agenda: People want to know what they’re going to do if they attend a meetup. It’s really valuable to let the group know that there will be structure at the event.

Find Defining Moments: Your user group should be special. Hacks and Hackers have a community open forum at the end of their meetups to announce upcoming events, job openings and other activities. This helps people connect with one another outside of your community. Also, thanks to Jennifer 8. Lee, Hacks and Hackers is known for their amazing food. They’ve been known to serve Kati Roll, authentic sechuan from X’ians Famous Foods, and dumplings from Rickshaw. This is definitely a draw and the group charges $10 per event to pay for the food (and it’s fills up every time!).

Some ideas for your group

Pick, tips and pro tips is a great idea from the genius Nathen Harvey, who adopted this for his meetup from the Ruby Rouges Podcast. At the end of a meeting, people share their favorite part of the evening, a tip or a pro tip. This can be something you’ve learned recently or some tips you’ve always wanted to share Trivia! I’m a huge trivia nerd–although I’m not particularly good at it! But trivia unites people, gets them competitive and is always a good time. If you add in prizes and snacks, you’re almost guaranteed a good time. A lot of Ruby groups have a tradition of Ruby Hangman a piece or page of code with some characters missing–just like hangman, but in the Ruby Language. The most active I’ve seen is the PDX Ruby community. Each month before a meeting someone is chosen to run Ruby Hangman, and sends out their page of code in advance of the meeting and go over the details at the meeting. A good example can be found here. The Best Speakers are often the New Speakers: Finding speakers for user groups can be challenging, but you don’t need to get world renowned speakers for your first meetups. In my experience user groups are a great forum for new speakers to get experience showing off their projects. You’ll also get Karma for giving someone the opportunity to spread their wings. The tactic here is baby steps: give people 15 minute speaking slots to show off their hack, project, or something they’ve learned. This gives them just enough time to get into the spotlight, share their story and get experience under their belt. For some people, regardless of how brilliant they are, public speaking in torture. For others, it’s addictive! User groups are an excellent way to help people practice new material for larger audiences and get more experience speaking in public. Make your user group an exciting jumping-off point!

Other things to try

If you have experience giving presentations, demos or in public speaking in general, consider running some sessions at your user group for people who would like to improve their skills. Once you’ve built a critical mass of speakers at your user group, build a speakers bureau. The LJC has a growing repository of Java speakers to talk on a number of different topics. Finding speakers for a user group should be its own blog post (or even a book!). Chris Westin has some good ideas here and at 10gen, we’ve posted a ton of our generally held knowledge to our MongoDB User Group guide. This is just a small smattering of suggestions on how to build an awesome user group. If you have any advice, please leave it in the comments section!