I started attending technical user groups around about four years ago, intially with the UK PowerShell User Group and swiftly after the London VMware User Group. These are the main two groups I have stuck with in that time, but have also sampled others such as Windows Server, AD and Exchange user group events among others. The amount of real world experience I have picked up, great discussions had and excellent contacts made, has made them an invaluable resource for improving yourself and your career. The first time I attended one I was half-expecting a group of bearded middle-aged blokes sat around a table talking about things I had no idea about. As it turned out only Richard Siddaway had the beard (sorry Richard!) and had in fact managed to arrange for the inventor of PowerShell Jeffrey Snover to present via an online meeting. (I still had no idea what they were talking about, but I was still blown away at the level of technical content and figured I would understand it at some point if I kept going along!) The reason for this post is to encourage you to not only attend a user group yourself, but to present at one!
Typically a user group may have a vendor sponsor (which helps to pay for the cost of running the event) with some of their own content, however the main focus is on what real people have been doing in real situations in their daily jobs. This is the best content because you tend to find out, warts and all, what are the good and bad parts of a particular product, product area, design decisions, deployment type etc.. . The point being you are not listening to a vendor saying that Product X is better than Product Y and will solve all your problems, but stories you can trust.
At the last London VMUG some prizes were given out for the best community presentations at the four London VMUG events during 2011, Simon Gallagher who helps to run the VMUG posted up the results yesterday . I was fortunate enough to get second place which should be a great encouragement to any of you out there thinking that you couldn’t do this yourself. I’m by no-means a natural presenter (which if any of you saw my early efforts at user groups will certainly agree with), but have worked very hard at improving and also spending a lot of time watching other people’s presentations at these events and picking up good points about their own style that I might use (Julian Wood’s scheduled tweet linking to a scheduled blog post with his presentation, to coincide with the end of his session is probably the coolest one yet!). Seriously, I’m your typical system administrator, not naturally better at presenting than anyone else in a similar job role, but it is possible with some effort to make yourself reasonably good at it.
User groups are always looking for new presenters and are better for the wider variety of speakers they can get. In Simon’s post there is a request for new speakers at the VMUG in 2012 so if you have a decent work story to tell or are particularly passionate about a certain product I encourage you to offer to present. I guarantee that:
- You will inevitably get to know the topic better (you need to, to be able have the confidence to stand up in front of a group of people and expect they may ask you questions about it)
- Improve your presenting / communication skills. It’s amazing how this will translate to other areas too. For example, if you can present a topic in front of 40 or 50 people, it’s not surprising that showing up for a job interview with 1 or 2 people how you naturally appear pretty confident and it may seem a whole lot easier than it used to.
- Increase your own self-confidence. It still can be a bit nerve wracking presenting in front of a group of peers, but audiences at VMUGs are typically pretty friendly and once it’s over you realise it was nowhere near as daunting as you thought it might be. People will also give you a nice round of applause at the end, even if you think you didn’t do that great, because inside they may well be thinking “I’m glad it’s not me doing that!”
- On purpose or accidently you may be seen as something of an expert on a topic which can lead to all kinds of opportunities!
So I hope to see some new people volunteering for this either at the London VMUG or your own local user group of choice. Personally I’m keen to check out some new user group type events such as the London Cloud Camp, which describes itself as an unconference and typically has very short talks (5 mins). I’ve heard really good things about this so intend to try and make it next time.
One word of warning, if Alaric Davies ever calls you the week before the London VMUG then only answer the phone if you are prepared to be presenting at it……. ;-)