After my partner took on the task of setting up a local user group for HubSpot here in Boca Raton, I was faced with the challenge of hosting the meeting. And while Joshua has had many years of experience with Microsoft user groups, that was a few years before I joined him.
I figured, is it really much different than hosting a child’s birthday party? An area in which I have a TON of experience! And I’ve come to find out, it’s a little different, but not much.
Our first user group meeting was a huge success and our second meeting is right around the corner. I learned a lot – learned what to do and learned what NOT to do. Today I wanted to share with you some of the best practices I’ve set up here at SP Home Run and hopefully help make your next IT user group meeting a success.
Location is probably the one thing I’ve seen other groups grapple with. Hotels and restaurants can be expensive. Executive offices typically don’t rent out space at night. Some groups have turned to retail establishments that offer a community room. Others turn to co-working spaces that have large conference rooms or open areas that can hold large groups of people.
Whatever you choose, make sure you understand any costs ahead of time. Know what their capacity is – do they have chairs for everyone, or will it be standing room only? Are you allowed to bring in your own food or do they offer catering?
Eventbrite is free! Use it to set up a promotional page about your event. You can then send that page out through social media and also send invitations out to your e-mail lists. Don’t forget to send a link to any networking groups you belong to.
Before the event, print out attendee name badges right from Eventbrite. Just purchase some blank labels and follow the merge instructions. Don’t forget to bring some blanks! In Eventbrite, you can check people in as they arrive to keep track of who was there and who wasn’t. This is a great help to build a list for your next meeting!
Feed Your Guests
OK, maybe this is the mom in me, but PLEASE don’t forget to feed your guests. Nothing irks me more than going to a meeting, especially during a mealtime, and there’s nothing but some pretzels and water. Do you want them engaged and happy? Or hungry and wondering where they can get a slice of pizza?
For breakfast meetings, bring in some coffee, juice, bagels, and spreads. One trip to Dunkin Donuts and you can pick up everything you need. For lunch or dinner, if you have a Costco nearby, you can pick up a tray of wraps, a veggie platter, soda, and water bottles. Ordering in pizza is always a good option as well!
Put out small bowls of chips and trail mix around the room and into the seating or presentation area. And don’t bother with dessert. I asked a number of colleagues about this and was told that no one eats the dessert. I didn’t believe them, but on the flip side, my kids were happy the next day!
So next time I will also skip the dessert. Order food for a few less people than you think will attend. It’s inevitable that not everyone will show for one reason or another.
Have a Presentation Ready to Go
If you invite people to an IT user group meeting to network with other IT users, how many will come? Now how about if you invite users to a meeting to network with other users AND enjoy a presentation from a renowned professional in the IT space in your local area? I bet your attendance rate goes way up.
Plan to have a guest speaker or if you can, prepare to speak yourself. Think about topics that would be of interest to your group. Also, don’t be afraid to turn to the technology company your group is dedicated to and ask for ideas for meetings or even for a guest speaker. Remember in the end, you’re supporting them. The success of your group brings them more business.
Leave time for networking before the presentation. Typically a half-hour to forty-five minutes before the presentation begins is a great time for introductions and exchanging business cards. For those that want to stay, more networking can be done afterwards.
And finally, don’t forget to announce your next meeting before everyone leaves – and have your next Eventbrite signup page ready to go!
Creative Commons Image Source: flickr mbrochh