I am co lead at two user groups – the Triangle SQL Server User Group and Data Platform WIT virtual group. I will write here on two topics – finding and keeping a consistent audience, which I have learned from Triangle SQL Server User Group, and finding what works to keep the group going – which I learned from Data Platform WIT group.
Lessons from Triangle SSUG: Finding and Keeping a consistent audience
The Triangle SQL Server User Group is primarily led by Kevin Feasel(b|t). The rest of us on the board are me, Tracy Boggiano(b|t), Mike Chrestenson, and Rick Pack(t). When I joined the team they were already going strong with 3 meetings a month – each themed around DBA/Advanced DBA and Data Science respectively. Each meeting had a different location and sponsor and their own audience, with some overlap between DBA and Advanced DBA. When Covid hit and in-person meets went away, we brainstormed on what our strategy would be, to keep the show going. We had the following challenges.
1 It was difficult to find speakers for the data science group. There were few people and the community around it was a bit scattered.
2 Networking with virtual meets was limited and that was a big value people got out of our in-person meetings.
3 We had to make virtual meetings attractive enough to keep the audience we already had.
The challenges with keeping a physical location and finding sponsors were no longer relevant, thankfully – although that might be back soon. But we made the following changes to how we operated.
1 We expanded the focus of the data science group to include BI topics. This made it easier to seek speakers from among the BI #sqlfamily community. It has been much less of a challenge and going well.
Lesson: Broaden your topics if you are not getting enough people.
2 Kevin created a bi-weekly chat show called Shop Talk – we get on the air and talk about various tech topics and address any issues the audience wants to talk about. The show has had a dedicated audience and has been going really well. Granted, I will readily admit that Kevin is the star of the show because of his ability to speak with ease on any data topic and offer expert-level advice for free – but my take is that even if you don’t have a Kevin, and you don’t want a regular show – you can try the occasional online chat and invite the audience to weigh in. People like engagement and like to listen to topics that interest them.
Lesson: Try something different, like chat shows, every now and then if not regularly.
3 We did a few day-long virtual events – we had some attendance but not a lot. It wasn’t worth the effort and we don’t do it anymore.
Lesson: Don’t waste time doing things that do not gain audience traction.
4 For regular ug meets – we work hard on finding diverse topics and speakers. We look at social media for talks that speakers have, and also on listings like the one on Azure Community groups and ask the speaker if they would like to talk for us. We keep a consistent time and day on which we have the meets – no compromises there. This helps the audience to plan their availability easily. These things have really paid off. Our average user group attendance is around 20 people and some talks have up to 40 people tune in – several from various parts of the world, not just ours.
Lesson: Find diverse topics and keep consistent timings so that audience knows when to tune in.
Lessons from DPWIT: Finding what works
I joined the DPWIT group last year when PASS dissolved and Kathi Kellenberger was looking for a co-lead. We are two years old as of this March. The primary goal of the group was and it continues to be to empower women in tech by highlighting what they do – via speaking or other means. For six months we continued to host tech talks as it had been in the past. We suffered a low audience – mostly because there was an abundance of tech talks, several were already recorded and on youtube. Then we decided to put on day-long tech events. This was a huge amount of effort and still didn’t get a lot of traction. Then, Kathi and I did some interviews with the women who were going to do pre-cons at PASS community summit. These interviews were spontaneous, a lot of fun, and to our surprise got significant viewership as well. So, this year, my new co-lead Leslie Andrews and I decided to stick with doing interviews with tech women – mostly those who were not very famous in the community and needed high lighting. We have done two so far and it has been going really well. We also continue to write the monthly newsletter, keeping up with what Kathi used to do in this regard.
Lesson: Experiment and find what works well to get a decent audience. There is a huge range of options. You may fail a few times before you succeed.
Last, but not least – make sure what you are doing as a user group lead energizes you. If not feel free to give it up. When I gave up running SQL Saturdays , which I ran for 12 years in a row at Louisville – I felt really low and thought would miss doing it a lot. I do miss doing it – but lots of other things have taken that place. It was right for a certain time, but no more. Life goes on. Stay energized with what motivates you, and stay connected to the community in ways that work for you!! Thank you, Rie, for hosting.