Nathen Harvey

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Agenda Tips for a Tech User Group

In my previous post, I gave some ideas about how to run a successful user group meeting. In this post, I’ll focus on the actual meeting format we typically use for our Washington DC MongoDB Users Group. You may find that this format works well for any technical user group.

We’ve experimented with a couple of different formats but I think we’ve settled into something that generally works for us. Some of these don’t work with a meeting that’s larger than 20 people; adjust accordingly.

sheets

I usually include a sign-in sheet for our meetings. The sheets usually include space for name, email address, twitter handle, and a space for the attendee to write in a question or topic they’d like to discuss when we have some an open discussion. Usually attendees are already on members on so it’s easy enough to reach out to them but this provides another way to capture their contact info.

Introductions and Announcements

We start the meeting by going around the room and asking everyone to introduce themselves and share any announcements they may have. The announcements might be that they’re hiring, looking for work, or something about an application or open source contribution they’ve made.

Meeting content

After the introductions, you get into the meat of the meeting. This can take on many different formats here are some that we’ve used successfully:

Demos & Tutorials

Having someone demo a product or application that they’ve built always goes over well. In some instances, we’ve had people build applications on-the-fly to give attendees an idea of how easy it can be to work with MongoDB.

Lightning Talks

4-6 attendees give 5-10 minute talks on a given subject related to MongoDB. This is a great way for the attendees to share something they’re passionate about and practice their presentation skills.


During an un-meeting, participants propose talks or discussion items and that drives the agenda for the meeting. I try to leave time for this sort of attendee-driven agenda in every meeting, even when we have scheduled presenters.


It’s great to line-up one or two speakers for the meeting. I think the best combination of speakers for a MongoDB meeting is to have one “intro” talk and one that is more advanced. We always seem to have a number of attendees who have done very little, if anything, with MongoDB prior to the meeting. Having an introductory presentation is great for them. The more advanced talk may get into replication, sharding, or production operations.

Picks, tips, and #protips

I stole this idea from the Ruby Rogues podcast. At the end of each meeting we go around the room and ask each attendee to share a pick, tip, or #protip. These can be related to MongoDB but don’t have to be. Heck, they don’t need to be related to tech at all. Just something that the attendee has been using, doing, or has learned recently that he’d like to share with the group. Tips have included emacs and vi tips, command line tips, books, games, and even tips on how to suppress the gag reflex.

Announce the next meetup

It’s key to announce the next meetup at the end of the current one. Minimally, you’ll want to announce the date, time, and location. Preferably, you’ll also be able to announce the theme of the night or the actual speakers.

Other ideas

Lately, I’ve been kicking around the idea of a book club meeting. The idea is that we’d pick a book, maybe MongoDB in Action and build a couple of the meeting agendas around chapters from the book. For example, perhaps we’d look at Part 1 Getting started in February, Part 2 - Application development in March, and Part 3 - MongoDB mastery in April. We may even be able to spend an entire meeting on the content and theme of a single chapter. The group could publish reviews of each section as they go. Have you had any experience with a user group that’s done this?

We’ve also used Skype to bring experts in to present virtually. I’ve found that this works best when the presenter has a brief (15 minute) presentation and then is available for Q & A.

For some more great suggestions, including suggestions on how to get great presenters, check out Chris Westin’s blog post - How to Run a Successful Tech Meetup.

What suggestions do you have? Please leave a comment or get in touch with me.

Also, checkout my previous post where I gave some ideas about how to run a successful user group meeting.