VMUG Playbook: Get Meeting Logistics Right

This is the fourth post in my series of developing your user group. In my previous post, I shared how scheduling your user group is only have half the fun, the real work starts when you begin promoting your meetings.

My seven part series on developing your user group:

Have you had times when your first meeting had 40 people turn out and the next meeting had 21 and the meeting after that had 68? There are several factors that can impact member turn out (weather, time of day, agenda, etc) and although there is no right answer, you need to get the meeting logistics right for your membership. I will share with your what worked for us and how we double downed on these tactics.

Morning meetings worked best for us

Two of the most common questions I get from other leaders is ‘What time of day is best to have a meeting?’ and ‘What day is best to hold a meeting?’. We always held our meetings in the morning, we would hold our meetings from 8am – 12pm. The first hour was our networking time, when we would offer a nice breakfast, folks would mingle and get to know one another, as I shared in my first post – relationship is everything. Use this time to get to know the members and go a little deeper into conversations. Try to include others who might be off on their own.

Our meetings all took place downtown Toronto, at the convention centre, right next to the train station. Folks would typically come downtown by train and then it was just a hop, skip and jump to meet at the convention centre. We had all our meeting at the same place which helps with consistency in venue support and familiarity with members.

During our networking session we would also have videos playing on a loop – we would download YouTube videos from sponsor websites and play those videos. We also would include some time lapse videos with music in between just to add some variety. These went over really well, and we were the first to do this. Sponsors really appreciated the extra promotion.

The morning meeting worked for us, as folks like to leave the office early in the afternoon to catch the train and beat the rush hour. We found that most everyone is quick to get out of the city. Also, if folks got a call from the office, they could still head over and deal with any issues during our meeting.

ProTip: Always get to the venue early, and meet with the convention staff, introduce yourself and do a quick walk-through to ensure you’ll be off to a great start

We learned early that most folks like to have Monday or Friday off, so we would schedule our meetings on a Tuesday or Thursday. We had them planned out well in advance so members knew when to expect the next meeting.

We setup our meeting in theatre style seating mode, with three tables in the back, two tables for sponsors and one table for breakfast. We had a projector, and podium with mic for the speaker on a stage. You can go without the stage, the price was right for us so we would always go with it. Since we always had our meetings at the same place, we never had to worry about anything going wrong with the room setup, as it was routine for the convention staff.

Our agenda was always, first half hour networking, second hour was a sponsor session, third hour was a community session and the last hour was another sponsor session along with giveaways. We would go to one sponsor session if we had two community folks ready to present. We also monitored the time of all the sessions, we usually allow for a 45min talk with 15min for questions.

Having your meeting at the same place, helped us negotiate a discount in pricing, our convention staff was always looking for ways to keep our business. Considering also that we would have our usercon at the same place. Use that leverage to get the best pricing possible.

It’s always good to have signage outside the meeting space, to help make others aware of the user group. I know we had lots of traffic in front of our meeting as folks would always glance at the sign and we had several people ask what our user group was about. Great opportunity to evangelize.

Always have a co-leader or someone you trust sitting at the reg table signing people into the meeting. I’ve seen times when people would linger outside and not sure if they could enter because no one was at the registration table, be sure to bring a welcoming smile when singing people into the meeting.

We made all our presentations available online on our user group blog and encouraged members to check them out and share.

Our meetings ran like clockwork, and one those special occasions, when the meeting has ended, we would ask who was up to grab lunch and we would extend the fun at a restaurant close by.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas on the meeting logistics. If you have anything to share that I might have missed or that could benefit the community let me know on Twitter and as always thanks for reading.