I really, really miss speaking at in-person user group meetings–between the death of PASS, and the long tail of the Covid pandemic, while larger scale conferences have returned to some degree, local user groups have been extremely slow to come back in person. While some user groups are still doing remote session (I did a really poorly promoted talk on Azure Active Directory for 3 people last month), they absolutely suck for the speaker, and I suspect are not much fun for the attendees. I have given a couple of talks, but you miss so much in a virtual session.
It’s All About the Networking
When you attend a virtual user group, you might get to talk to a couple of other members of the group for a few minutes before the speaker gives their talk. However, for someone who is new to the group and doesn’t know anyone, it can be really hard to introduce themselves and make connections. I know as a speaker, virtual attendees are far more hesitant to ask questions in a virtual session than they are in a physical one. Additionally, it limits the growth of our community to new members–while virtual events are easy to put on, its the continued relationship building that helps retain new membership.
Let’s Not Forget About New Speakers
One of the challenges of the early days of the pandemic, is that for virtual user group meetings, any UG organizer had their choice of Microsoft MVPs to present to their groups. Typically, limits on travel and such would mean user groups would typically have local speakers, with the occasionally MVP type speaker who happened to be in town. This made it intimidating for newer speakers (the investment in microphones and cameras didn’t help either). Speaking at a user group is a traditional first step for a lot of speakers, additionally, user groups often once or twice a year, held open mic night, giving new speakers a chance to give a short talk to get started with public speaking. Beyond that, it can really help young professionals better understand technology beyond just their jobs.
Note: virtual groups are still valuable–some locations may not have enough population to get speakers every month, or may want to cover specialty topics. One of the things that sucked the most about C&C bankrupting PASS was that the virtual chapters of PASS were thrown out like dust in the wind. They always did a great job of grouping speakers with attendees. But in your local area, there is nothing that beats having a user group to augment your network and learn more about jobs, tech, and make new friendships.
The benefits include:
- Networking opportunities
- A start for new speakers
- Everyone loves pizza.
Finally, if you are having a in-person user group and need a speaker, reach out. I’m not promising anything, but if I’m in the area, or I can make a quick side trip, I’d be happy to speak to your groups.
I hosted a virtual meeting last night that had 32 people in attendance. So, it is possible to make it worth your speaker’s time. It takes outreach, promotion, reminders, etc.
Presenting remotely is hard for the speaker beyond attendance, in my opinion.
Seeing faces & body language is really important. You know if they’re getting it or not, that you need to cover something more in depth or can blow right past.
In virtual meetings, speakers find themselves having to verbally check in after each point or slide. Right? Everybody got that? It takes away from the flow of the presentation.
Being in person helps you personalize the experience for your audience on the fly.
That’s almost impossible to do during a virtual UG.
It has become more difficult in some places than others. I organize the Edmonton, Alberta, Canada chapter and we lost our meeting space during the pandemic. So besides very few now working downtown, where we met, they don’t want to watch a presentation after sitting in their home offices all day. It is also rare that anybody would be in town to make a presentation.
I thank God I got to Seattle in November.
I think there’s room for both virtual and in-person meetings, but one additional benefit of in-person meetings is that it augments the need for socialization that is deprecated by working from home.
My ideal mix would be 100% working from home and then driving to a user group in person.