We used to have an active VMUG here in East Tennessee, but several years ago, for some reasons I never fully understood, our VMUG went dark. I began reaching out to the VMUG folks last year to offer to help bring it back to life, and that request eventually lead to me and a new pal, Jerry Hook, being named Co-Leaders of the East Tennessee VMUG. Jerry and I bring a good mix of experience and skills to the table, with him working at a VMware partner and me working for a very large VMware customer. We held our first meeting, what I’m calling the reboot of East Tennessee VMUG, on May 20, and I was very pleased with both the turnout and the event itself.
Some Details and Lessons Learned
We held our VMUG meeting lunch-and-learn style at a local BBQ restaurant, Calhoun’s. The first thing I’d done when we started planning our meeting was secure a sponsor for the meal, which wasn’t hard at all because of my connections via another user group, LOPSA East Tennessee. LOPSA’s meetings, and in fact many local IT-related user groups, are sponsored by the local branch of TEKsystems, an IT recruiting company. I have a good relationship with a few folks there, and my primary contact, Kylah Sellin, was excited to help us revitalize our VMUG.
The lesson here would be secure a sponsor early, which I did.
We had 34 attendees at our first meeting, and both Jerry and I were thrilled with that. Frankly, after so long without a VMUG, and without a ton of advertising, we would have been satisfied with 20 as a first attempt. We routinely have 40-50 attendees at our monthly LOPSA meetings, held in the evening on the first Tuesday of each month, and my goal is to do at least as well as that from now with our VMUG.
The lesson here would be to get the word out about your meeting early and often, and I believe we did a pretty good job at that too.
We almost hit a snag for the presentation, and if I’d listened to some advice my pal Shane Weinbrecht had given me, I would have been prepared for it. The restaurant only had a VGA cable for use with the TV, and while our presenter, a local VMware Engineer, had an adapter, for some reason the resolution via VGA was all jacked up. Luckily, he had an HDMI cable in his bag, and that took care of the issue.
The lesson here would be to come prepared for connection issues of any kind – display, network, etc. I had my set of adapters in my backpack, but next time I’ll prepare a go-bag of cables and adapters.
While I believe Jerry and I did an OK job passing speaking duties back and forth, I know we could have done better, and I especially could have. I may not prepare a script for next time, but if I could go back and remind myself to thank the sponsor before turning everybody loose on the BBQ Buffet.
The lesson here would be to prepare some remarks ahead of time, or at least a list of high points to cover, including thanking the sponsor!
One thing I think we’ll know to do a better job of next time is to get started sooner. We listed our meeting as starting at 11:30, but we let the restaurant know to be ready with the food at noon. I know I expected people to casually make their way in between 11:30-11:45, but aside from a few stragglers, I’d say more than half of our attendees were present and signed in by 11:30. That meant we had quite a few people sitting and waiting for the meeting to get started and for lunch. We still ended in advance of our scheduled end time, but I can see how some folks may have thought we got a really slow start and could have turned them loose from lunch to get back to work sooner.
The lesson here would be to get everything rolling as close to start time as possible in order to be respectful of everybody’s time.
One final detail I want to mention is that we asked our attendees to fill out a survey because we wanted to know what topics for future meetings are of most interest to them, as well as what time and format for the meetings they preferred. I also asked if they would be willing to speak at a future meeting. I did this with a paper survey, and to incentivize folks to fill them out, we let them know we’d be raffling off a VMUG Advantage membership. We had 24 surveys returned, and I’m not sure if that’s a good number or not. Here are some things I would do differently next time:
Do the survey online and point a tiny URL at it, and maybe hand out a card with the URL on it. This would make examining the data much simpler.
Bring a method for randomizing the raffle winner to the meeting. I had to do it post-meeting this time, which had to cut down on the potential excitement, and delayed the awarding of the prize unnecessarily.
Ask for email addresses from everybody, on a form with fields large enough for normal humans to write in. I can’t make heads or tails out of what some of our attendees wrote in many places, and my wife, who runs events like this fairly regularly, laughed at how small a space I gave them to write in.
Overall a Great Experience – Can’t Wait Till August
I’m so glad I reached out to VMUG about volunteering to help bring our local VMUG back to life. I’m excited about where we go from here, and I’m looking forward to helping to bring our community closer together in a way I know is possible at the local, face-to-face level. Social media is great, and I’ve even setup a Twitter account for our VMUG (and need to start posting to it), but nothing beats meeting in person, especially over a meal or a beverage!
If you have advice to offer to a still new VMUG Leader, I’d love to hear it, especially via Twitter, where you can find me at @mikestanley.