VMUG Playbook: Relationship is Everything

I was the Toronto VMware user group (VMUG) leader from 2010 till about 2017/18 and over time, along with Mike Preston and Eric Wright, we developed the Toronto VMUG into a community of deep connections, spirited community discussions and, above all, a place where people came to learn and have fun.

This will be a seven part series on developing your user group:

Over the course of the next several weeks, I’d like to “virtually” mentor and share some simple and common-sense tactics to help get your user group or Meetup running at full speed. You have likely chosen to lead a group because you have a passion for a particular technology. But you’ve found ‘it’s hard’ to build up a local following, or not sure how to expand beyond the same 10 or 12 people who always attend your quarterly meetings.

For those starting out or those who have been doing this for a while – one of the most important aspects of running a meeting, and sometimes overlooked, is a warm welcome when folks arrive and getting to know your members. They need to be more than just faces in seats for you to have an impact.

Make it personal

Let me give you an example, the night before, when you are prepping for the meeting, take a brief look at the attendance list get a sense of who and from which company people are coming. When they arrive ask two or three quick questions about their company, what the company does, size of environment, even spring some facts on them – like, “You folks are located in Markham, between Leslie and Hwy 7, right?” It gives them a sense that you are tuned-in with whom is attending. Always be mindful of the registration queue, you might only have a chance to ask one question, so try to make it impactful on the member.

During the opening of your meeting when you are welcoming everyone, it’s always cool to recognize anyone who is joining the meeting for the first time. Encourage members to reach-out to the newbies, it’s important to facilitate and encourage folks to connect, this is how you establish and build deep relationships. Folks want to feel like they are part of the group and are looking for ways to connect.

Another aspect as a leader is during breaks, especially at any larger gatherings like user conferences, I would go around to different tables while folks are having lunch or a snack and introduce myself, ask for their names, ask how they are enjoying the meeting, anything they would like to see more of? Anything we are missing? What I am doing here is “taking the pulse” from the members on whether we are delivering on what they want to see and do.

As you inquire, look for ways to connect members with other members, for example, if someone mentions they would like to hear or see more about XYZ technology, as you build these relationships you can connect the dots for them and share that you were speaking with Heather from the table over there who has done just that – let me connect you both. Now that’s the real power of the community at work.

Leading a group can be time consuming but the passion for connecting with people, watching their faces light up when a community talk resonates or seeing initially strangers sharing with one another then exchanging email addresses is what should fuel you to keep going.

More than just faces in seats

Growing a group takes time, it can be done artificially or organically, as I discussed – the legacy of your group will be built on one of those two pillars, and one of these two does not have a lasting effect. One result of all your hard work is when one of your members see you at a different show altogether and they come up to you and say ‘Hi’ – it’s the best feeling you will ever experience.

Members can’t be just ‘faces in seats’ – you need to work on getting to know your members, connecting them with one another and let the magic happen!

Are you a user group leader? Do you have any advice to share with the community on how you have built a relationship with your membership more closely? Share them with me on Twitter and lets grow together!