I got some great feed back on my blog Reflecting On User Group Meetings. Thanks to all that commented at this blog, on facebook and via twitter. I used a picture in the previous post that showed the audience bored and asleep. I have attended many user group meetings where, while no one had their head on a table they were dosing or not paying attention. In order to get a different result you must plan what and who should attend.
This is how I plan for any user group meeting that I am planning to attend. I also used this plan when I owned an agency and when I supervised staff that would be attending these meetings.
1. Review the agenda thoroughly as soon as it is published.
2. Map out sessions that are:
- Critical – must attend
- Interesting – would like to attend if time allows
3. Who needs to attend?
- Think about this very carefully. The CEO of the agency attending a session on how to structure a word merge template is probably not the correct individual for this type of session. Select the the staff members in the agency that will be interested and engaged in the sessions.
- Verify with these individuals that they are available and get these dates booked on their schedules immediately.
4. Register early
- Early Bird registration is a good value. This is especially important when several people will be attending.
- Some meetings required that each attendee register for their chosen sessions on line. It is very important to do this as early as possible so that you secure the sessions that are important to your firm.
- Make appointments with those individuals you might need to meet with from the vendor, exhibitors or in the user group. Pre-arranging these meetings will assure you of a time. Waiting until you arrive may find you out-in-the-cold.
5. Make hotel and plane reservations well in advance. I find that staff is more comfortable if they know all the plans sooner than later. They usually need to share this information with their family. Often, they need to make arrangements for child and/or pet care.
6. Make a plan for how the office will function in the absence of those attending the meeting. Today’s technology allows for instant/constant communication. However, it is important that those attending the meeting be as detached from the office as possible. Attendees cannot learn if they are not in the session because they are in the hallway on a call or sending emails during the meeting.
7. Have a plan for how each attendee is going to capture what they hear and learn in the sessions.
- Many meetings today put meeting handouts online for download prior to arrival at the meeting. Downloading these to make notes on may be the way that works best for some attendees.
- Some meetings have tables available and attendees are welcome to bring their laptops for taking notes.
- Some meetings sell recordings of some sessions.
8. How is this wealth of knowledge going to be shared back at the office?
- There may be some sessions that the agency decides to purchase the recording(s) for. In this case, the staff that would benefit would listen individually or as a group.
- A plan needs to be in place for the formal sharing of written notes in electronic or printed form. These should also be discussed in group sessions so the real flavor of what the session was about can be shared.
9. What is the reward for those that remain at the office. In large corporations this is usually not a consideration. However, in a small to mid-size agency it might be an important consideration. If you are going to a user group meeting to achieve real business you will be very busy and usually tired at the end of each day. But let’s face it, we all know there is fun time also. You might consider a half day off for each of those that carried the load for those attending the meeting. Everyone always appreciates some extra time off.
I am sure I have overlooked an important point here. Please chime in via comments anything else that you think is important when planning to attend a user group meeting. These are expensive. You should get the most for your money.