In early 2017 I started running the Glasgow Azure User Group. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before and over the past five years it’s been a learning curve. I shared some of my thoughts on how to start and run a user group back in 2020.
I realised that things have changed since I wrote that. The last few years of COVID have changed how we all think and act. User groups are no different. As an organiser I have had to adapt how we run our meetups.
Before the COVID outbreak our meetups ran every two months. We’d usually start the event around 6:15pm, with the first speaker kicking off the event at about 6:30pm.
We’d then have a 45-60minute break where attendees could mingle and grab something to eat and drink.
For food we ordered pizza. Large pizzas that people could grab slices from and share with other attendees.
Our second speaker would start their session around 7:45pm. And following the second speaker we’d run our well known quiz, finishing the event formally around 9pm. If not later.
The venue that we used could hold up to 50 people but we’d always release more tickets due to no-shows. We used to end up with 30-40 people.
What has changed since COVID? We have been running in-person events since April 2022, and we’ve changed the format of the events.
The first thing we’ve done is change venues. We now have a much more open space. The space has windows that can open. We also have two distinct areas. One where we can mingle and grab food and then another area for the presentation.
Our timings have changed, we now start at 5:45pm, with our speaker starting at 6pm.
Once the speaker has finished we run our quiz, which takes us to around 7pm. And that concludes the formal part of the evening.
We then serve food and drink and our attendees mingle together. The food has changed as well. Instead of ordering large pizzas we have changed to ordering the personal sized ones from Dominos. It’s a 7inch pizza that is perfect for one person to eat.
Changing from large pizzas to personal pizzas is generally to avoid anyone unnecessarily touching anyone else’s food. The costs haven’t differed to be honest going with this method.
Usually the meetup starts to finish around 8pm, with folk starting to head home when they’ve caught up with each other and finished their food and drink. I’ve never had to chase anyone out of the venue, it’s just naturally flowed.
The formal part of our meetup is shorter, but the overall event time is the same.
We’ve found that the earlier start time and finish times work well for people coming straight from their work and also for heading home. A lot of the train timetables have changed and the earlier finish means folks are able to get a train without issue and also head home to be there for any family commitments.
We’ve adjusted the times to adjust for the different way people are working these days.
Because our user group meetups happen at the traditional time that people would be sitting down for their dinner we provide food and drink for folks. We’ve switched from the big large sharing pizzas to the smaller personal sized pizzas.
Before we started up our in person meetups we reached out to the community and most people said they wouldn’t like to share buffet style food again. And this is the reason we’ve changed to the personal sized pizzas.
The personal sized pizzas are all boxed individually giving comfort to those that don’t want to share food that others might have touched.
We still provide drinks in individual bottles or cans. That hasn’t changed.
We've been running the meetups in 2022, solely in person. We have thought about streaming the meetups to an online audience but haven't done it.
We want to ensure that everyone gets a great experience, and I don't think we can do that for both online and in person.
Doing solely in person does mean that some people might miss out, and we appreciate that.
I know some user's groups are running in person and streaming and if that works for their communities great. It's not something we're doing, although that might change in the future. We're always up for trying new things.
User groups are valuable events to their local community. They give people a chance to learn something new. They give people a chance to socialise and meet peers. They open up opportunities for people to speak or for people to volunteer and help run them.
It can be stressful running a user group, it’s a volunteer position. But when I see the community come together and enjoy our meetups I know the hard work is worth it.
We continue to adapt the Glasgow Azure User Group to help the community. To make it suit their needs.