How I have a successful MySQL User Group

Note the title is “How I have a successful MySQL User Group.” There’s more than one way to do it, I’m sure. There are 3 basic principles:

1) Try to do as little work as possible.

2) Make your colleagues do as little work as possible.

3) Always have a topic/presentation

These three principles will get you far, and should be weighted equally. Do not use principle # 1 as an excuse to not follow principle #3. As well, “doing work” includes “paying money”. With that being said:

  1. Make your user group easy to get to. This has different meanings for different areas. It may mean near a major highway interchange, it may mean near a mass transit station. Whatever it means for you, make it easy.
  2. When the Boston MySQL User Group first started, we had free space in an office building right in the city of Boston.

    Pros Cons
    Free Not enough parking
    Close to the subway and train station No free parking
    The street was clearly labeled We had to have a person stand by the door to let people in
    The building was clearly labeled
    There was a great pub next door

    Then we moved to a space at MIT:

    Pros Cons
    Free Passers-by eat the pizza and drink the soda
    Close to the subway and train station We had to have good maps to find the location
    Plenty of free parking

    Now, you may not be so lucky to find a place that will give you space for free. Consider local universities. Also, local libraries (university or otherwise) usually have some meeting space where they might be able to host you. Our first space, an office space, was gotten through a contact at MySQL. Contact some companies who use MySQL and ask if they’ll lend you space — most tech companies have folks there at night anyway, and it’s free advertising for the company! There is a book company near you, or a Pearson VUE center. Remember: it does not hurt to ask. The worst people can say is “no”, and if it’s contributing toward education, a book company (Pearson Education, Apress, O’Reilly, etc) might sponsor it.

    Getting a free space is key, particularly if it has A/V equipment for you to use (if you want to have lectures).

    Granted, if you want to just have a freeform discussion, any pub or coffee shop or location will do.

    You may think about having it in your home. Consider issues of personal safety, domestic distractions (kids, pets, etc), parking and transit, and the fact that most people feel comfortable going to their first meeting on “neutral” ground. However, if the culture surrounding where you live encourages it, go for it!

    If you must pay for a location, get a company to sponsor it. Get their monetary and time commitment in writing if you can (ie, they will sponsor for a year).

  3. Make the meetings easy to remember. Have them on the same day of the month (ie, 2nd Monday). Do not make them conflict with something similar (ie, PHP group, linux group). Try to have it at the same place each time.
  4. Figure out what your group wants and give it to them.
  5. Do they want lectures on specific topics? Maybe go to a place with wireless access and a “troubleshooting” meeting every so often. Maybe they want a blog with news, or war stories. Maybe a lending library would work. Anyone that comes to your meeting is looking for something. Ask each new member what they’re looking for. If they say “to learn more” then go with lectures — make sure to accomodate all skill sets, and have advanced lectures as well as beginning lectures. If they want to get to know each other better, go to a pub and talk about MySQL while you down a pint. Or run a charity fundraiser and donate the proceeds to a not-for-profit like the Electronic Freedom Foundation. There’s plenty the group can do, including having contests, or even starting a business together if you’re plucky.

  6. Have incentives.
  7. But remember rule #2, so keep costs as low as possible. Ask companies to sponsor dinner or light refreshments. Don’t be shy; ask book companies for books, T-shirts and buttons to give away as prizes. Again, the worst they can say is “no”, and I’ve found book companies and MySQL AB to be VERY accomodating, as well as local businesses. Ask company techies to present. Ask MySQL to send someone out to present.

  8. Be available, and follow up when you say you will. Often times folks will have a question. Being able to respond in a timely manner is important. But if you speak out and make regular annoucements, and solicit feedback, folks will know you are accomodating.
  9. Do not do work others can do. When someone asks if you can forward a job listing, have them post it to your group members. Or, better yet, have them come to your meeting and make an announcement in the first 5 minutes. This includes advertising! Find your local MySQL Sales Rep and ask them to help promote your group. Promote it on any site you can think of — in a blog, on Craigslist, heck, make flyers and post it around town if you have to. Get the word out there!
  10. Have the right attitude. It’s not your meeting, it’s your group’s meeting. If they want different topics, ask someone to research and present. It’s OK if the research isn’t perfect or complete; many times your group will fill in with their experiences.
  11. It’s OK to be wrong. No, really. If you don’t know the answer to a question, look it up later on, and follow up. Or ask the group if anyone knows. Also, presentations take time to make, and if you feel compelled to get every single detail right, they’ll take a lot longer. Keep an offline copy of the manual so you can look up anything you need to.
  12. Ask others for help. Even if you think you can do it better or faster. Your group should be able to survive without you, so if you can’t make a meeting all is not lost. This includes asking others to do a presentation of any length — it can be a 10 minute “this is how we use MySQL and this is what our setup looks like” to an hour or more. It does not have to be intimidating. Ask folks to present workshops they’re presenting at conferences, or present notes from conferences they go to. People need to feel like part of the group if the group is to be successful.
  13. If you can’t get a presentation, download one. MySQL is excellent at providing past webinars. Download it to your computer, and have a free lecture from an expert, that you can pause and rewind if you need to. MySQL Webinars. The Boston MySQL User Group videorecords the presentations and puts them online — see the links under “Presentations” at http://www.sheeri.net

Note: The Boston MySQL User Group is successful, but we don’t quite do everything above. I’d love to have more socialization, and I think once summer comes I’ll think of something geeky and fun to do outdoors, with little cost. Or maybe just a bowling trip.

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