Originally Published: Monday, 13 November 2000 Author: Gareth Greenaway
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Running A Successful User Group Event

Remember the piece a couple weeks ago about the fantastic LUGFest III in Simi Valley? I had such a great time that I wrangled Gareth Greenaway, the event's organizer, into writing a piece about planning User Group events! Take it away, Gareth!

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Running a successful User Group requires one important element: the people who volunteer. Without them there would be nothing. A single person might attempt to run an entire event alone, but that's probably a sure-fire recipe for failure.

While volunteers are welcome, it's important to make sure there is one person in charge of coordinating the event. The old saying, "Too many cooks spoil the broth," applies to User Group events as well. As an example, a group invited a well-known person in the Linux community to give a speech. Planners for the event spent most of their time arguing over where the talk should be held. Soon there was little time to plan other elements of the evening. While the event went well, it still stands as an example of why a single person should be appointed to make final decisions.

Another important thing to remember when recruiting volunteers is that not everyone will want to be involved. Planning an User Group event should be like planning a mutiny. Sailors planning a mutiny don't try to recruit the entire ship. They'd arouse suspicion, especially if they were to recruit someone who didn't want to be involved. While planning a User Group event shouldn't be kept secret, it should be tightly organized. Don't make people who didn't volunteer feel like outcasts. Make clear the planners would welcome suggestions.

Sponsors can help assure that a User Group event is successful. Types of prospective sponsors can differ depending on the type of User Group event being planned. If a speaker is coming from out of town, the sponsorship could be simply having someone arrange for the flight. At the LUG Fest, there were several types of sponsors, ranging from those who contributed items for a raffle to those who helped to make it possible for speakers to attend.

There are many companies willing to sponsor User Group events, but they never get the chance if they aren't invited. Some groups may feel that the company is unapproachable. In addition, User Group members simply don't consider the company as a possible sponsor. Every company interested in becoming involved with these User Groups should make it easier for someone to contact them. At the least, provide an e-mail contact for someone who can respond. The ideal way for companies to become involved is to make the first move by contacting the User Group. However, it's more than likely that companies are waiting to be approached.

User Groups attempting to reach a contact person at a company must realize that these people are usually busy. If you do not get an answer immediately, keep trying. But don't be a pest and bombard them with e-mail. You will get an answer. Do not get discouraged in the rare instance that you get a "no", there will be plenty of "yes" responses. One more tip: the most important thing about sponsors is that you can never have enough.

It's important for your event to have a goal. With an User Group event, pick one goal. An example would be a talk given by a person from the Linux community. The venue is very important. Listen to your group's suggestions for a location, but the final decision should be made by one person. A vote might sound like a good idea but still opens up the chance for arguments. Next, you must work to assure good attendance. The best way to get the word out nowadays should be obvious. You have a great tool at your disposal: the Internet. E-mail people who might be interested. A web site for the event is another good idea.

Don't get discouraged if the attendance isn't as high as you anticipated. It never is. To use the LUG Fest as an example, the first one that was held had an attendance of about 50, the second around 200, and the one held recently had about 400 in attendance. While this growth is impressive, I still felt that it could have been bigger.

When planning an User Group event, don't lose sight of the topics presented earlier in this article. When asking for volunteers, be polite and don't pressure people. When asking companies for sponsorship, be polite and don't make the company representative feel smothered. Make sure that the direction of the event stays on target. The most important thing of any User Group event for it to be a fun, entertaining time for all.

Gareth Greenaway ran the super-successful LUGFest III.

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