How to run a great user group meeting

Photo by Key West Wedding Photography

Photo by Key West Wedding Photography

I wish I could say that running an agile user group meeting is as easy as declaring, "woo woo hippie hippie agile time" and watching people self-organize a magical knowledge-sharing experience.  But after talking to people and thinking about the meetings I've attended, I must say: running a great user group meeting requires effort.

Let’s assume that you’ve crafted the invitation, taken care of the logistics, and people will be arriving for the meeting soon.  Here are my tips for what to do: 

  • Arrive early – Getting stuck in traffic and hitting technical difficulties happen, and you can minimize your stress level as an organizer by arriving early for the meeting so you can setup and relax.  This is a good time to eat some food and drink some water.
  • Make people feel welcome – Recruiting volunteers to open doors for attendees and direct them to the meeting space is a great idea.  If food and drinks are available, make sure attendees know where to find them.  Chat with them and introduce them to other folks.  Requiring people to sign in, provide their contact information, or introduce themselves to the entire group can be off-putting; focus on creating a safe environment first and foremost.
  • Allow time for networking – Whether it’s at the beginning of the meeting, in the middle, or at the end, make sure there’s time for people to talk to one another and make connections.  Many people show up to user groups looking for new opportunities or to recruit folks, and creating a community means relationship building.  I like to allow time at the beginning and at the end of the meetings for this to happen organically.
  • Give a brief introduction about the group and logistics – What is the group’s purpose?  Who are the leaders?  How can someone learn more about the group?  Where are the restrooms?  What else might someone need to know?  Keep it light.  Try to cover these topics and thank your sponsors in under 15 minutes.
  • Provide quality content – This is what drew the crowd after all!  The actual content portion can take many forms: a presentation, a formal talk, a facilitated discussion, an open space event, activities/games, or a combination of formats.  Keep an eye on the group dynamics and engagement.
  • Soak it in – You did it: you created an event!  Every new attendee is a win.  Every attendee who leaves with a new idea or something learned is a win.  Count the number of attendees, take photos, and enjoy your accomplishment. 
  • Stay a little late – Answer questions, thank people for coming, and clean up the space.  This is a good time to get feedback on the meeting and suggestions for future topics and improvements.

I'd love to hear suggestions on how to run a great user group meeting--please comment to share your ideas.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.