You recruited some other leaders, and now it’s time to plan the first event for your user group or community of practice! You might consider scheduling your first three events at different times or locations. This will give people with various schedules a chance to participate. You can assess the attendance at each. Select locations that are well known, safe, and easy to find. Do not feel obligated to pay for each event—gather at restaurants or places where each person can pay for himself or find a sponsor.
In scheduling the first events, think of activities that are too interesting to miss. What is the biggest challenge in your community? What topics are people curious about? Who would you love to hear speak? Don’t allow events to be thought of as "just another thing to do.” Provide value early on and learn more about what people want. Many people are willing to speak to user groups and communities of practice, so go ahead and ask them nicely. I’ve sent emails to folks I have never met, and people usually respond promptly and happily because they are flattered to have been asked. You may be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to arrange for presenters.
Just like a rocket leaving Earth’s atmosphere, the group will need a great concentration of energy at the beginning and less energy once it has achieved momentum. To keep the group on track, its leadership will need to consider these themes:
- Meet the needs of your members – Communities of practice and user groups survive solely for the benefit of their members. Keep trying to improve upon your successes and always be willing to innovate. If lunch meetings are not working, try breakfast or dinner meetings. Are the members too spread out? Try forming subgroups that meet in different areas. Bring value to your members, and your membership numbers will never suffer.
- Attract and develop new leaders – Continually successful communities of practice have great leaders and foster the development of future leaders. Create opportunities for members to be involved in supporting your events, like co-presenting or facilitating a meeting. Identify members who can bring their leadership talents to the community of practice to plan and execute future events.
- Communicate often, clearly, and consistently – You will be competing for the attention of your members and must be diligent in keeping your activities in the forefront of their minds. Hold events regularly and advertise them in advance. Consider creating a website or blog to communicating often, clearly, and consistently