D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 2:44 PM

John Oxley tweeted

Brainstorming ideas on how we can better serve the Canadian ICT ecosystem, any ideas?

I was thinking about it…and I’m wondering…are community technology events as we’re doing them going extinct?

When user groups first came on the scene there was a very cookie-cutter template that they almost all adopted: Get together, have a powerpoint presentation with demos, eat pizza, give out prizes. The focus was always on bringing in a speaker who was the focal point of the event.

But we’ve seen so many different types of interaction mediums since then:

  • Bar Camps/Geek Dinners
  • Coding Houses and Install Fests
  • Seminars and training that are hands on and collaborative instead of traditional lecture/lab
  • Webinars/Live Meeting events

I know as the UG teams I work with prepare for the next UG season, I’ll be challenging them on the types of events we have and whether we need to be thinking about more interaction and knowledge transfer opportunities than strictly presentation style.

People want to ensure that if they do attend an event that they get value out of it. With the evolution of the internet, a one-way presentation doesn’t seem to be as enticing anymore when more interactive opportunities exist.

As a community, we need to start thinking about how to best serve our members and bring more interaction to them.




# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

In these events were going extinct it may have something to do with the trends that the current market shows. We are the Now generation 6/2/2009 3:26 PM | Bain

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

Having members in user groups come out and interact/learn from one another is exceptionally important. Making these events unique is one way to get more people interested in their development community both locally and virtually (i.e. the Internet).

I know that I have learned more about software development by meeting other people in the industry, rather than trying to read it out of a book/website. 6/2/2009 4:05 PM | Wessty

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

Your insight resonates with some of what we are seeing across the country with UG’s and local community. It seems more about the event right now and not just being part of a UG. There seems to be a small group of community leaders in many cities across the country that put in hard work and have a passion to support others which are leading the community efforts. Many UG’s have lots of people on their lists, yet not so many show up to an event unless it’s something special, like code camp, special speaker, or special event “i.e. the WPG - smackdown”. This is important to me and my team to understand what's happening in the broad community. We focus our investments, people and efforts across Canada to impact the areas which we can help support, amplify their impact and nurture those that are doing the activities, events and making connection to the local community. To be honest, this is an area which we’ve always struggled with on how and where to invest in these groups or events to nurture the community and actually making an impact to support a strong ICT ecosystem. In the past years we’ve taken a shot gun approach and blanketed the country, giving many user groups a sponsorship investment at the start of our Fiscal year and investing in special events (code camp...etc). Sometimes it’s not enough, sometimes it’s too much and most of the time it is hard to see that local impact from our approach. D’arcy, your comment and insight got me thinking that we really think we need to review this approach and need input from the community to build out some sort of a plan that can support these leaders in the right manner to build out the local community ecosystems. Any ideas would be appreciated from anyone. While everyone is being impacted by the current economic conditions and we are about to start our climb into recovery, it’s never been more important to help support the community. So my first impression on how we might increase our agility and support, is not to take the shot gun approach and let some of our programs support the foundation. While I know that they are not that easy to find, the feedback indicates that they are pretty good and beneficial to the UG’s. So, if we adjust our approach to let User Group Support Service, (Provides many resources and up to a $1000.00 per year for user groups to help support the community leaders – (check out http://www.ugss.codezone.com/AboutUserGroups.CodezoneCom) support the foundation across the country, where should we focus and how should we focus our efforts in the best way to support you? . Supporting more Coffee and Code activities, Code Camps, increase our support of DevTeach, provide a quarterly sponsorship investment fund, help with certifications, training, content, events....or study groups?

Any ideas is a good idea and I hope that you can take the time to share as I feel togeather we can make an impact!

Hey D’arcy - thanks for stirring up the Conversation!

John Oxley
Director Technical Audience Marketing and Community Evangelism
Microsoft Canada | Direct (905) 363- 8589|Messenger joxley@microsoft.com | twitter:joxley
6/3/2009 9:08 AM | John Oxley

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

It's an interesting question. I'm looking at this from a psychological perspective. User Groups have been well known since the 70's and its only been until now that we are seeing major changes in formats/mediums. These changes, I believe, are the result of more people seeing these groups as more than just talking about what they've been doing at work, or what projects they have on the go using X technologies. It's always been for those who are willing to go the extra mile for these technologies. This is because we love what we do. I think what needs to happen is we need to get people who just work with technology 9-5 Monday-Friday to really see the benefit of User Groups. If we can pander to their needs, we will get bigger turn outs, and more interaction. At the same time, I think this is specific to the group technology in question. I don't think we can apply any one idea to all groups and have it be a success. And make them small changes. Advertise at businesses. I'm sure most managers/directors of IT would love to see their people out learning on their own time. Don't sell it or push it -- let people find it. They will be more open to it. 6/3/2009 10:28 AM | Steve Syfuhs

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

This problem is universal. I find it amazing that in a city the size of Dublin, they get as many out to a UG meeting as we did in little Regina.

We have tried to deliver them as breakfast meetings, lunch, after work, pub events, and live meetings with differing levels of success. I believe that we need to rethink what is a UG meeting and why people come out.

Part of the reason they come out is for the interaction with other likeminded professionals as well as the technical aspects of learning or sharing something new with others. As great as this is, these cannot be the only 2 drivers! There needs to be a better understanding of the rational for people to attend and how they want to interact.

We also need to elevate the local experts in any given community to be seen as having the expertise and knowledge to deserve to be listened to. If the only events that have large attendance are the ones with Microsoft speakers then we have failed as an ecosystem. Unfortunately the MVP program does not always provide that.

I am working hard at driving local case studies, which then lead themselves to local speakers talking about problems and solutions that everyone in the room can relate to. If there is one point we should be emphasizing it is this in my opinion! 6/3/2009 1:38 PM | Will Craddock

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

Contuning the brainstorm:
I get the impression from some of the comments that it's hard to get good speakers, especially outside major cities and hard to get people out unless there is a complelling reason to come. So do we work with INETA/Culmius and sponser dev and IT Pro UG road shows that could bring out the big names? Do we work with DevTeach and support them to drive more depth UG dev and SQL events? Is one of the challanges having great speakers to attract local individuals or should we focus on raising the profile of local individuals that could help support their local area/UG? 6/3/2009 7:48 PM | John Oxley

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

What about a local all-stars "team", if you will, of presenters? It's kind of like the MVP program, except it's locally managed. It doesn't have to fancy. In a sense, decentralize parts of INETA/Culminus. 6/3/2009 7:57 PM | Steve Syfuhs

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

Excellent post D'Arcy!

I've always tended to lean towards interactions and engagement, and not so much on the technical side. I think personally that's a big problem with many presentations and conferences these days. We tend to put many strong technical people into a role of presenter, and frankly a lot of the time they tend to disappoint the people that come out to the events.

This might seem like I'm going on a tangent here, but stick with me. You know the age old question of "Do Great Developers Make Great Managers?” I think we all know the answer to that. I would akin this to the same issue with presenters. Now of course the truly great presenters have awesome tech skills, awesome room presence, and awesome communication skills that can blow the socks off of everyone in the room. For the most part these tend to be the Scott Hanselman's of the world, John Bristowe's, Rodney’s and frankly the "evangelists" that Microsoft has on staff.

These kinds of people draw huge crowds because they don't just show you how to program, how to setup a server, or how to write the latest F# syntax. No. They engage the audience. They ask questions. They look them in the eye. They talk about past experiences. They carry a conversation with the room. They have their laptops setup so everyone can see what they are doing. To me, these types of presentations that are in my mind "interactive" are the best presentations. S

Frankly, when was the last time you took a notepad to a presentation and took notes on how to write some JQuery code or the latest way to write a unit test effectively? You go to an event because you want to learn something cool, here how people have used it in the past, and be entertained along the way.

Anyway, I'm rambling. But I would tend to argue that for the most part, many groups have low turnout because they don't have powerful speakers that engage the audience. I think with the Winnipeg .net User Group, in the last few years we have had some awesome speakers, and therefore people want to come out more and more, and trust that when we say "This is gonna rock, get your ass out here for this one", they flock to the events!

That said, I think other interactive events like Bar Camps, Code Camps, Geek Dinner's and Tweet-Ups are awesome! I think more and more you will see people organizing these on their own of course, but here is the funny thing. For the most part, I think those people in each city will probably be the same people consistently, and they definitely need help. I know personally in Winnipeg the board members of the .net User Group are usually the same people organizing other awesome events in the city.

So what can Microsoft do to help? I think a series of webinars that would be titled “Becoming a Better Speaker”, or “Preparing for the Presentation” would be huge. I think providing tools like mass e-mail tools and registration systems is huge to help us organize the events. A How To Series on MSDN would be awesome on “How to run a bar camp” or “How to do a tweet-up” or “How to organize a Geek Dinner” would be awesome as well.

Anyway, just my thoughts, hopefully they get the juices flowing. To be honest Microsoft does a great job of supporting these kinds of initiatives, you’re always there when I need you guys. Maybe a final thought is doing a blog post that’s to the point that says point blank “If you want to do anything in your community, we are here to serve you and help you!” And continue that with something like “over the next few months, Microsoft Canada is going to show you how to do XYZ...” You could even have guest bloggers that talk about how they ran a successful event, and what they learnt.

Happy Coding!
6/3/2009 9:03 PM | Miguel Carrasco

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

Tech community leaders often fail to recognize that there are many "communities" in the ICT ecosystem (even within the .NET developer ecosystem there are many subdivisions along product/framework lines). If we create events expecting large turnouts from "the community," we are presuming to understand what typical developers want. But what do they want? If the best turnouts are nights with free pizza, what does that tell us?

I no longer concern myself with planning regular events based on the PowerPoint + pizza + prizes model. I now see my role as being a catalyst to bring together like-minded people to share with each other in ways that add value. [Note: "like-minded" does not necessarily mean using the same technologies but being passionate or interested in similar types of technology, practices, or business environments.]

If the majority of developers were clamouring for opportunities to gather together for presentations, we would be turning people away at the door of user group events. User group events have traditionally been "training" events based on a pre-Internet model of classroom learning. I think technical community events can be so much better than that. As I've said in the past, I don't recommend people go to events for "technical training." Rather: "Go to broaden your horizons. Go to engage in conversation with peers and industry experts. Go to find out what’s working (and NOT working) for other developers in the trenches. Go to be inspired. Go to reset."

Chris Guillebeau recently wrote a good piece on "What Makes a Community" (http://chrisguillebeau.com/3x5/what-makes-a-community/). He has some good insight, including this: "when growing a community, it’s usually better to focus on connecting with people who are naturally predisposed to your message than to try and convince hostile people to join. Evangelism is hard; recruitment is easy." In the Microsoft ecosystem, community leaders should think of themselves as connectors and influencers. Microsoft has to be concerned with evangelism as a business necessity. Influencers share what works for them and what they are passionate about.

Too often user group events look more like evangelism than interactions between like-minded professionals. Evangelists care about how many people come through the door to hear the message. Influencers care about sharing their passion with whoever is interested in listening. That's a big difference, IMHO. An evangelist comes with a message to spread. An influencer responds with what the community wants (or needs?) to hear.

How can Microsoft better serve the Canadian ICT ecosystem? In most ways the Canadian team is doing things right: supporting local events, engaging with those who care (e.g., Coffee & Code), hoding training events (TechDays), hoding evangelism events (Energize IT), etc. Helping local community leaders run new types of events is probably an area for tweaking.

6/4/2009 9:32 AM | Derek Hatchard

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

Our user group in Edmonton had this discussion last year.

People know the presentation style is a passive way to learn..

To be honest, I think you can do everything to bring the horse to water but he wont' drink unless he wants to.

Personally, I like to hear presentations but I don't jump on every topic I listen to. After a while it will popup in my mind when it's time to dig in and then I'll go experiment. That being said, I wouldn't want to do a lab everytime I go to a UG meeting. However, it would be nice to drive first hand on CERTAIN topics that particularly intereste me.

6/4/2009 7:04 PM | 5x1llz

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I agree with Derek's comments. I think Microsoft Canada is going in the right direction. Let's just look at the interaction we're seeing right now. Some of the top people in Microsoft Canada are sitting here talking to regular people asking them "Is this right, is this wrong, how can we improve, taking chances."

I'm not sure if it's the same in the States but I think you need to continue down that path.

Even that change to Energize IT. Now mind you, the event in itself was probably missed by the "die hards" (it was sort of like Christmas in itself, a big party etc etc) but spreading it across the country. That has to be making a difference.

The only thing I can think of top of my head is there are so many Influencers across Canada now, I wonder if there is some way to keep them tied together. Talk about your "like minded individuals" :)

Anyhow keep up the good work. You guys try when nobody else does. THAT's what counts!

Sean 6/4/2009 7:19 PM | Sean Kearney

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

So what I hear from various emails and this tread is we should take the following approach to supporting the community:

1.Invest in the local catalysts - those that have the passion to bring like minds together and support each other.
2.Nurture the new (when someone steps up and has an idea --- try and learn)
3.Provide a channel to share best practices and learning’s – blend the learning from the evangelists, to communication skills….to what is happening in the community.

I like this brainstorm and please continue it at Devteach and on online. Together we might not get it right the first time, but we will go forward. BTW – to be transparent I’m jazzed about this as I’ve challenged our team on how we spend our community budget. I want to make sure we are supporting the local ecosystems, you, and your passion. We can reach an audience for awareness and training, yet community take people, time, passion and shared interest. To be successful and sustainable, I’ve learned we need each other and that’s a good thing.
6/4/2009 9:53 PM | John Oxley

# re: Better Serving Community – Interaction over Presentation

To comment on the large membership but low attendance we have run into a situation where we have our core group who come out for all events and then we split into 3 different groups who only come out for Intro level talks on a technology, SMB talks or Enterprise level talks.

For instance, last month our topic was on Windows Home Server in a SMB and it pulled in our Core group plus the SMB group but the Intro group and Enterprise group were missing. The only way we get a “full” showing is when we put on a special event on the latest Technology with some Microsoft presence. At this point we are starting to entertain the idea of adding a second event per month and running an intro vs advanced or SMB vs enterprise nights to help get more people out.

For other idea’s on what we could do our group has run a study group where we received a lot of responses but to make the group practical we had to limit ours to 13 users. When our user group leads were running the group like a project we got a lot of things done but when it came down to the individual users some of them fell a little short. In the end we had less then half of the group take the exam (even with discount vouchers provided by Microsoft). But in saying this I think it still went pretty well, we learned a lot and we’re looking at doing more study groups in the future.
6/5/2009 9:36 AM | Terry Edwards

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Given the pattern I've witnessed over the last little while my comment will either not get posted until there is a witty retort, or just not posted at all =), however from the comments I have witnessed quite a bit of naivete about:

* what makes a presenter good
* who are good presenters
* what makes a user group appealing
* what actually drives turnout
* INETA's role if any in these opportunities

I think understanding some of these things are critical to figuring out how to engage community. Maybe once there's a better handle on this then you'll see more success. 6/5/2009 1:59 PM | Justice~!

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BTW, I don't want that last comment to come off like I'm attacking the Darc. I think he has the right handle on some of this and it's good thinking. 6/5/2009 5:43 PM | Justice~!

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What makes a presenter good? Many things from Content, experience, practice, practice and the ability to connect with people....you have to get your point across to have an impact - either leading a group or delivering a technical session.

In the end - what makes a presenter good - Passion + the feedback and support they have and use to grow.

Or you can take the expected response. http://www.creativekeys.net/PowerfulPresentations/article1078.html 6/6/2009 6:08 PM | John Ox

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