Killer Ideas for your Next User Group Meeting

In my last post I wrote about how I organize meetings for the Milwaukee Tableau User Group (spoiler: the leadership team chooses all dates in advance then work to fill in the details). In this post I dive into how we determine what content to focus on at each meeting. It's important to note that I have been running the user group for 5 years, so we're well-established and it's fairly easy to line up presenters. I understand that may not be the case for all user groups. (Also, see this post about starting a user group.)

Meeting Themes

To begin, the leadership team identifies high-level themes for each meeting and we try to consider an overall flow for the year (so the first meeting theme leads into the theme for second meeting and so on). The idea of having the quarterly meetings build to something over the course of the year was actually a tip from Matt Michaelson, who helps to lead the Milwaukee Alteryx User Group. But, without further ado, here are the themes we came up with for our 2020 meetings:

Having themes helps us determine who we want to reach out to when asking people to speak/present at a meeting, as well as providing a cohesive meeting agenda. Once we have themes, we reach out to a few possible presenters. We welcome visitors (our first meeting will include Vince Baumel and our second meeting will include Ryan Sleeper), but I also want to showcase local talent. So we try to think about attendees who frequent our events, what their skill set is, and what topics they might be good at speaking about.

Finding Presenters

I remember when I first took over the user group, the most difficult thing was finding presenters. That's actually how I got into the habit of picking a year's worth of dates at the beginning of the year. When I would email people asking them to present, they would have a conflict for the date of the meeting, but when I presented them with multiple dates, it was easier to find a time that worked for them.

A new trick I've found when asking people to present, is to also provide a topic idea. The work of trying to come up with an interesting topic is removed and the speaker can focus on putting together a presentation, or demo, of what we've specifically asked for. Of course, I try to ensure it's in their wheelhouse.

While everyone loves a good presentation, I believe the economic concept of diminishing marginal returns applies. Most people have been to an event where there is a great presentation, followed by a second presentation that is also valuable, followed by a third presentation that is probably insightful but who knows because you're bored of seeing PowerPoint slide decks. Having more of something isn't always a good thing and this concept applies to presentations at user group meetings.

So Much Room for Activities!

One way I've found to create an equilibrium in our user group meetings is to have a presentation followed by an activity. Activities are amazing for a variety of reasons:
  • You do not have to ask someone to present
  • You facilitate connections among users
  • You sometimes have less work to do
  • You create a memorable experience

Ever since the 2018 Tableau Conference, where they had Braindates, I have been hooked on creating connections between attendees. If you haven't done a Braindate at the conference, you need to! Additionally, I have been reading a book called New Power, which is all about building a movement through empowerment of its members. Its fascinating stuff that I have been trying to apply, both in my professional work, as well as the Milwaukee Tableau User Group.

So where are the killer ideas I promised? They're right here:
  • Panel Discussion – Pick a topic and ask 3-5 of your regular members to be on the panel. You could even layer in additional content, such as asking panelists to present a dashboard they built in Tableau Public before diving into questions about visualization best practices.
  • Viz Competition – Run your own Iron Viz competition! Ask teams of 3 to sign up in advance. Provide the necessary data and the rules. Presenters, hosts, and/or sponsors of your meetings can be judges.
  • Trivia – Have attendees divide into groups (or assign them groups at random to force networking) and play a few rounds of trivia with prizes going to the winning team.
  • Skills Drive – Host the meeting at a venue with round tables. Wherever people sit is the group they're assigned to. Have people go around the table, introducing themselves and speaking about what they do. Then, ask each person to connect and endorse every other person for skills on LinkedIn.
  • Speed Networking – Place numbered tent cards evenly around the room and assign each attendee a number (repeating the numbers twice so 2 attendees end up with the same number). Attendees take their seats at the associated numbered tent card and have 5 minutes to chat. Then rotate!
  • Tips & Tricks – Showcase the various ways to use the tool. Even if the tips and tricks seem beginner level, even seasoned individuals learn new things!
  • Breakout Discussions – Poll attendees at the beginning of the meeting about what their roles are or areas of interest. Divide users up into those groups (breaking up large groups if needed) and discuss those topics.
  • Makeover – Ask attendees to bring their laptops to the event and email out the item to be made-over in advance. Working in groups, makeover the item. Allow groups to present their creation at the end if they so choose.
  • Dashboard Critique – As a whole group, put a dashboard or graph up on the screen and ask for feedback. Make changes as consensus is achieved to demonstration how to make the suggested changes. 
  • Doctor – Allow time for attendees to ask their most pressing questions. Encourage them to present their issue, if possible. Open up the floor for other attendees to answer their questions, encouraging dialog and offline discussion if necessary.
  • Collage – For those who use Tableau Public, ask members to tag their dashboards with a unique hashtag. Collect those items and create a collage of the group's fantastic work!
  • Certification Study Group – Nobody wants to study alone! So host a study group session where the group can watch videos or discuss difficult concepts together.