This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with leading professionals. In this series of blogs, I have an exclusive interview with Teresa Hennig. Teresa is an international authority on MS Access, a top user group leader, a best selling author and a recognized and profiled MVP.
5 Biggest Issues Facing User Groups
Stephen: What are the 5 biggest issues facing user group communities, IT societies today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?
Issue: Declining membership
Recommendation: focus on serving the members in ways that recognize the high demand on their time, the issues that they are currently dealing with and the technology available to serve their needs. User groups need to compliment, not compete with, news groups and other online services.
Issue: Scheduling quality presenters
Recommendation: It can be challenging to schedule experienced presenters who are ready to speak on a topic that is of current interest to your group. Look for ways to help presenters gain skills. Maybe hold a training session – these are often done in conjunction with code camps. We also encourage team presentations; (sometimes this is with a mentor helping a first time presenter), but it also works well with two friends. This takes the pressure off and allows them to become more comfortable in front of a group. Or, have two shorter presentations during one meeting; these require less prep time and are less intimidating for first-time presenters.
Issue: Presenting current topics
Recommendation: With the rapid changes in technology, it can be challenging to balance between, demonstrating the latest features and advances, and discussing features that are relevant to the membership’s current work and interests. We often do a mix of showing what can be done, but also demonstrate the use of the technology that they are currently using.
Look to related industries and technologies to see what your membership needs to understand and work with. Then, invite a company to do a technical presentation, (not a marketing spiel), demonstrating how their tool/service leverages and extends the reach of your program. This also a great way to get drawing and review items. It is critical that this is not a sales pitch!
Issue: Perception of Value
Recommendation: We all know that value is a perception. Help the audience recognize the benefits of networking, of having the Q&A sessions where they get immediate solutions to answer THEIR unique problems, of seeing what others are doing. We often mention that it can be as important to know that something CAN be done as it is to be able to do it. That’s where meetings are so valuable. They expose members to features, techniques, and approaches of which they might otherwise be unaware, but when they come across a situation in their work, they will draw the correlation and be able to respond. Whether that means calling in expertise or knowing that they can research the topic for examples, they have the advantage of knowing how to get started.
Issue: Meeting space and equipment
Recommendation: Many companies will sponsor a group by providing a meeting room. Ideally, this will have a computer and projector set-up, but not always. If it doesn’t, perhaps the group will invest in a projector – then every presenter’s laptop becomes a podium machine. Other meeting locations that work are community centers, libraries, convention buildings, a community rec room. With more people moving to laptops, we will hopefully see a resurgence in lab sessions. And, with a few CDs, jump drives, or router and cables, people can quickly share files and work through exercises.
Look for more with Teresa in the next blog.
I also encourage you to share your thoughts here on these interviews or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.