Saturday, November 07, 2009

Oracle Usergroup meetings - Tips

Oracle Usergroups are the next best thing to a working-holiday, just dont tell your bossLast week was Perfect: I could escape the project-managers for all but Monday and spent the rest of the week "working" remotely, while visiting two usergroup-events.

I had the pleasure to attend the DBA-Day from Oracle Usergroup Holland (OGH), and the Autumn Seminar from Oracle Usergroup finland (OUGF). Both events were Very Well organized and had excellent content.

Being lazy, I do hope some other enthusiastic bloggers will do a writeup of the interesting items from each event. Today, I have another priority on this blog.

I hope all of the the attendees had an interesting and productive time. And I would encourage them to tell their managers how useful these meetings are.

If anyone has to justify their Usergroup-Fees or cost, I always like to make the point that these groups are the only way to get information that is not totally-tainted by pre-sales. At a usergroup, you can hear how it really works, rather then how it is supposed to work. The unbiased (ok: less biased) information combined with the staff-motivational aspect, are probably the best business-case.

Evaluation forms

I know most usergroups are trying very hard to please their audience, their members and their sponsors with ever-present "Evaluation Forms", and I do fill in my share of forms.

I would like a quiet word with that one person at UKOUG events who always fills in 100% minimal scores on my presentations. I can only presume he is linked some some vendor that lost business because of my "simple" crusade.

I know for a fact that at least some of my comments to UKOUG have been read, and considered. Thanks Aimee, Rachel and all the other members of staff.
Those forms are useful, and I forward all the good comments to my boss.


As a regular visitor and presentor at Usergroups in various countries, I have compiled my own list of preferences and what I consider best-practices.

Mind, this is not criticism, but rather praise and encouragement. I full well realize that it is much easier to criticize then to construct. And I do applaud the volunteers and staff who organize it all.

So, at the risk of ridicule, here goes...

- Handcuff speakers to the table.
Do not allow speakers to run in, rush-ppt, and run away from the event. No matter how "celebrity" they are, they should allow time to discuss and mix with the (paying) audience. Find some incentive to keep the speaker after his talk. Allow approachability and discussion.

- Clean out the speakerlounge regularly.
Discourage speakers from hiding in speakerlounges. See above. Usergroups are for users. The mixing and hobnobbing with higher celebrities can be done elsewhere.
And for speakers: the information you pick up from listening to in-the-field users is often invaluable. Get out there.

- Provide a safe cloakroom.
Especially for those who travel with luggage-trolleys, it is very convenient to have a safe spot. It is one less worry, and ppl dont lug around the additional coats and other items (also a firehazard).

- Use simple timings.
Plan the start/stop of sessions on whole-hour, half-hour or quarter-hour, please.
Simple timing is easier to keep. When a speaker is sweating in front of an audience he doesnt want to permanently do time-math. And users wandering around or smoking outside will easier remember simple timings as well.

I sometimes had to fit a 45min ppt (+/-22 slides + some demos) into a slot between 14:25 to 15:10. Running it from 14:30 to 15:15 is just easier (me - I like simplicity). I know that staggered breaks are better for services, staff, crowd-control and exhibition-sponsors. I understand that, but it doenst mean I like the funny timings.

- A visible clock.
A nice big clock on the wall, visible to both speaker and public is a great help. See above.

- Breaks between sessions.
Breaks should be 15-20 minutes, please. In between all sessions. Breaks are meant for discussing the topics, for networking, for coffee/ciggies and for phone-calls/mails. A whole morning sessions with no break (because the speakers want to run away?) is tiring, and doesnt allow to digest and discuss the material presented.

- Simple Refreshments at Every Break.
Preferably Coffee (strong), Tea(ditto), water (still) and biccies (optional) at all breaks. IT ppl like we are run on coffee (and some also run on ciggies [link to Doug?]). And a cup facilitates mixing and networking.

- Provide some (walking) space during breaks.
The venue should provide sufficient space to walk around and mix (with cup of coffee in hand). Networking and listening to peers is such a very important aspect! Additionally, some of the attendees will want to return phone-calls and will appreciate some space to hide and speak.

- Provide Free wifi - Please.
Possibly negociate vouchers with venue if the wifi is payable. A lot of us want to stay in touch, or even verify what the speakers say on tinternet.

- Practical Food.
The Quality of the lunch needs to be Acceptable, but the food should mainly be practical, and easy to consume while networking. Sandwiches are perfect, hot soup is a big risk. The sit-down lunch in "Slough" is very Good (a much appreciated classic at UKOUG). But if such quality is not on offer, then make sure the food can easily be consumed standing/walking. Balancing a hot plate plus a glass in a crowded space can be awkward.

- Facilitate shared transport after the event.
Ask publicly, around lunchtime, if anyone wants to share taxi to trainstation or airport. The RMOUG has set the golden standard for this, AFAIK.
But it is plain funny to command 5 taxis separately and form a convoy to the trainstation. And sometimes a gentle soul even offers a ride from Solihul all the way to London (Thanks Dave!).

That concludes my pedantic advice
(I'm a consultant after all - I always want to impose some unsolicited opinion).

If it helps anyone, then fine. If you think all of the above is totally obvious or ridiculous, then I apologize for wasting your time (you should have stopped reading earlier - consultants are there to be ignored, remember).

See you at some Usergroup maybe!


Doug Burns said...

IT ppl like we are run on coffee (and some also run on ciggies [link to Doug?]).

Thanks for suggesting breaks, because I'm going to take them anyway! LOL

I know what you mean about speakers mingling more and have talked about this a lot in the past. I would say two possible things against it though (just playing devil's advocate really).

a) Might not be true any more, but I used to be painfully shy and I still like my own company a lot. I think it is good to mingle but forcing anyone to socialise is a slippery slope. Yes, you have agreed to stand up in front of a group of people, so you're hardly being private, but I still like my own space sometimes too. Some of us are less social than others.

b) I have noticed that I hang around more with the usual suspects than I used to and it's something to be wary of but what do you do when some of them are your friends and it's who you would choose to hang out with anyway?

Essentially, I agree with you. It's a user group and should be about users getting together to discuss things, but I wouldn't want any form of *enforced* socialisation. Unless it's with other smokers ;-)

Good post though and lots of good ideas.

PdV said...

Hi Doug,

And damn you for taking away a few good points.

But of course you are mostly right: Especially after a heavy ppt the speaker needs a breather (or a ciggy). And getting besieged by trivial questions can be awkward.

As for the usual suspects, Yep. Some of the usual suspect are good to hang out with, and they also happen to have a lot of relevant knowledge that I like to tap into.

Discuss in Brum ?


Doug Burns said...

And getting besieged by trivial questions can be awkward.

Oh, I think speakers should *always* be available for some questions and discussions, no matter how apparently trivial. I think that *is* part of the deal. Just not sure they should be available for the whole conference, which they're there to enjoy for their own reasons and in their own way.

Discuss in Brum ?

No doubt, although it'll be a particularly quick trip for me this year because I won't be able to come down until Monday.

Then I plan on spending the entire conference in the speaker lounge ;-)

PdV said...

"spend the entire conference in speakerlounge".
In your case, you cant: that lounge is usually non-smoking.

I though about bringing a nice old-fashioned mechanical alarm-clock (time keeping!). But maybe I should bring a lighter so I can join you in smokers-corner.

Martin said...

Hi Piet!

The sit-down lunch in "Slough" is very Good (a much appreciated classic at UKOUG).

You'd be surprised the Slough wasn't the venue for February's RAC SIG, it was the Oracle TVP office. Food very practical but not equally tasty. As always I am tempted to say with the exception of OU courses. There you get proper lunch vouchers-great!


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