Tag Archives: User Group

Speaking at the West Virginia SQL User Group

I am presenting SQL Server 2008 for Developers  at the West Virginia SQL User Group (WVPASS) meeting on February 17th at 6PM.  The meeting is free, open to the public and pizza will be provided.  If you’re in the area (Pittsburgh peeps this includes you) they would be glad to have you.  Registration is still open for the event.

I also submitted two abstracts to SQL Saturday #75 in Columbus, OH. The abstracts are SQL Server 2008 for Developers and Evaluate your Daily Checklist with Policy-Based Management and Central Management Server. The event is scheduled for June 11th. I hope to see you there!

You don’t have to be an expert to speak

Brent Ozar recently posted a great blog post for people who are setting goals to speak in 2011.  His post motivated me to do one for people who are interested in speaking but don’t because they think you must be an expert.  I have a secret for you, I use to be one of those people. If you learn anything from me please check out the next sentence.  You don’t have to be an expert to speak in the SQL Server community.

I am not an expert but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night...

I am not an expert but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night...

I have proof that you don’t have to be an expert to speak.  I did a lightning talk at the world’s largest and best conference for SQL Server professionals and while I strive to be an expert I have a long way to go!

In my opinion speaking is just like playing any sport.  You cannot get better if you don’t get out there and practice, practice, practice. If you don’t practice speaking how can you become an expert speaker? The SQL Server Community is awesome and they have your back. There are several avenues for people to start speaking.  Experts are also willing to give you pointers along your way to help you get better.

What should I talk about?

This one is easy, talk about what you know. A list of tips or best practices you have discovered through your quest of SQL Server greatness would be a great start.   Recently, I have spent quite a bit of time figuring out how I could monitor and apply best practices to my SQL Server farm.  I compiled my notes and a presentation was born.

A well known speaker already submitted my topic

Submit your topic anyway.  Speakers usually submit multiple topics expecting to only do a couple presentations. If you submit your abstract it might get accepted so the other speaker can do another presentation.  Andy Warren (blog | @sqlandy) just wrote a blog post about missing an opportunity to speak. Andy thinks that  too many speakers is a good thing.

Where should I speak?

There are several options for you to  speak do your thing:

If you have never submitted a session to a User Group, SQL Saturday, Virtual chapter do it.  Trust me, if I can give a presentation anyone can.

Recap: Mid-Atlantic Community Leadership Summit

Last weekend I attended the first annual Mid-Atlantic Community Leadership Summit (#MACLS) held for user group leaders. I would like to thank Andrew Duthie (Blog | @DevHammer)  for inviting me.  He did a great job putting the event together at the Microsoft Offices in Reston, VA. 

The following are some notes for everyone that didn’t get a chance to make it out. In general the purpose for the event was to get user group leaders together to share what’s works and what doesn’t work.  There is no order to the post just some notes with some random comments from my experience running the Greater Wheeling Chapter of AITP and hosting SQL Saturday #36.

How do you measure your user Group?

Your user group doesn’t have to be huge to be successful. I learned first hand that 20 attendees is not considered a small group from the consensus of user group leaders.  Sometimes leaders get lost in user group stats. Stats being the number of new members or attendance per meeting.  I will admit that I have been guilty. These stats really don’t hold water towards determining if a user group meeting is successful.  If you have a lot of people attend but no value provided to the attendees the meeting is not successful.

How does the user group get better?  You have to ask the members.  Its hard to meet the attendees expectations if you don’t know what they are expecting. Doing so could be a rewarding exercise for the leaders of the group and the attendees.  It helps the attendees feel like they are part of the group and it helps the leaders provide value by implementing the missing pieces. 

When should I hold that event?

BatmanWhen should I hold that event? This is a question that is asked by many user group leaders during the planning phase of an event or startup phase of a new group. Andrew Duthie created a website known as Community Megaphone to help solve this problem.  There are several user groups which means you might be competing for speakers and attendees. The Community Megaphone cannot predict when another group is going to have an event but if everyone adds their events it is a great system to see if anything else is planned.

Just like the Batman cartoon try to have your events on the same bat day, same bat time, same bat channel.  From my experience I think this works well for user groups.  Its easier for members to attend if you hold the meetings monthly on the same day (number of month or day of a week), same time and same location.

Speakers and Topics

User groups need to communicate with their members and make sure the topics are covering what the needs of the user group.

When you decide to bring a speaker in to talk have them submit multiple topics.  This allows the user group leader to follow-up with its members to decide which presentation will be a better fit for the members.  This benefits both the group and the speaker.

Instead of always having one speaker talk during the meeting or a time slot consider having several speakers talk for a short period of time.  This will light a fire and motivate some new speakers to step forward and give their first presentation because they only need to present one small topic.  The PGH.NET User Group does a good job of doing this a couple times a year.  I really enjoy them check out my thoughts on the five guys with code meeting.  The SQL Server community is also doing this at the 2010 PASS Member Summit with their lightning talks series.

The general consensus of the group is that user groups need more real-world examples during presentations and more beginner (101) sessions.  More lights go off in attendees heads when they see something they can or should implement when they go back to the office.

Liability and Coverage

First of all I am not an attorney so everything covered in here is just notes from the meeting not my opinion.    If you are in a metro area you might want to combine user groups into one non-profit organization.  I learned that the DC area is currently doing this and it seams to be working out for them.  I also believe that the Pittsburgh area does the same leveraging the Pittsburgh Technology Council (This is not verified so don’t quote me on this).  If you are in a rural area then you can look at legalzoom or try to find an attorney who might be interested in doing a little pro-bono work.

It seams like a lot of small user group start off without incorporating.

If you are a lawyer or are friends of a lawyer ask them to do a white paper on the legal side of starting a user group.  It seams like there isn’t a lot of information out there on this.

Vendors (Sponsors)

One of the most surprising things I learned this weekend is that vendors want relationships not just sales.  Okay I you caught me, I knew this but sometimes its great to be reminded because it can be easy to forget.  Anyways, ComponentOne and Infragistics had evangelists at the meeting.  They both wanted all the user group leaders to know they are willing to help they just need to know what you need.

Vendors can also do more than provide swag, pizza and money.  A real world example is SQL Saturday #36.  I had no idea where I should put the sponsors.  I called Andy Warren (blog | twitter) my mentor for the event and he reassured me that this was a common problem.  His advice was very helpful.  Andy said, “Ask your platinum sponsor Confio they have sponsored SQL Saturday’s in the past they will know the best spot for the sponsors.” I followed Confio’s advice and the rest was history. The moral of the story is that vendors are not evil they can be helpful if you choose to ask them for help.

Hosting an All Day Event (SQL Saturday, Code Camp, SharePoint Saturday etc..)

The following advice was given about hosting a big event like Code Camp, SQL Saturday, SQL Saturday (or any other all day multi-track event) but I believe it also is good advice for running a user group.  You need to treat the event like a business and get a core team together to make it happen. A core team doesn’t have to be a huge team but it has to be more than one individual.  Treat the event like a business means assign action items and have people be responsible for the detailed action items and assign due dates. The group needs to have a task manager who can get things running and make sure everyone is meeting deadlines.

Always put your attendees in charge of giving away their information. Allow sponsors to have raffles where they can collect business cards or information.  At SQL Saturday #36 we printed out cards with everyone’s contact information and gave them to the attendees in their welcome kit.  This sponsors could get contact information from attendees who don’t have or forgot their business cards.

Don’t do individual sponsorship as it can be too complicated. For example, you might think to have a lunch sponsor, snack sponsor, after-party sponsor and so on. This can be complicated because one group had an after-party sponsor but found out after the fact that the sponsor would only cover non-alcoholic drinks.  The group had to pay out of pocket for half of the dinner bill. So what’s an easier way to handle sponsorship?  Divide up sponsorship by using levels.  Break sponsorship levels out into Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze and then assign values and benefits to them so that the sponsorship will cover your total budget and still get value out of their money.  Remember that you should build your sponsorship plan like a pyramid and have only a few Platinum level sponsors.

This covers everything I have in my notes.  If you attended and I left anything out feel free to add it in the comments section.

Use UGSS and GITCA to support your User Groups

If you are supporting/running a user group or  interested in becoming a technical presenter this blog post will help you. I am starting to help with the Pittsburgh SQL Server User Group and I wanted to share some knowledge learned from working with the Greater Wheeling Chapter of the Association for Information Technology Professionals. If your user group is based on technology (AITP, INETA, PASS) etc. I highly recommend you look into leveraging the resources provided by UGSS and Culminis GITCA.

Today I received an email reminder to sign up for the Q2 UGSS User Group Kit and this motivated me to write this blog post for leaders and presenters who are not familiar with UGSS or GITCA.  At the end of the day you need to offer something of value (knowledge, training, networking, swag)  for people to attend your events. I want to commend both UGSS and GITCA as they provide support to increase the value of your user group meetings.

Global IT Community Association (GITCA)

For starters Culminis is now GITCA.  Global IT Community Association (GITCA) represents over 700 member organizations and over 3.7 million IT professionals.   GITCA is the world’s largest international not-for-profit independent organization powered by dedicated volunteers devoted to the development and growth of the IT community by providing services to support leaders and connect user groups, associations, and student IT organizations.

The following is a list of benefits for user groups:

  • SharePoint hosting for user group
  • LiveMeeting account online meetings
  • Event Support
  • Community Development
  • Access to User Group Support Services (UGSS)  more on this below.

To apply check out the requirements and sign up if you qualify.

User Group Support Services (UGSS)

User Group Support Services (UGSS) is dedicated and committed to serving technical community members and leaders worldwide.  UGSS provides resources that will ignite your efforts as leaders and invigorate your experience as members.

The following is a list of benefits for Community Leaders:

  • Get speakers for your events – if you are interested in presenting sign up here. Groups will find you and ask you to present.
  • Get funding for your events – yes, they will help sponsor your events.
  • Get publicity for your events
  • Get more publicity for your events
  • Get swag (content, demos, samples and more) –  the photo below shows some items I received during the last kit.


If you are the leader of a user group, a presenter, or someone who would like to sponsor events apply here. If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email at jsterrett at gmail dot com and I will do my best to point you in the right direction.