Growing Speakers in your User Community

Software user communities share a common problem with other support and special interest groups. Finding quality speakers and programs ranks high on the pain list for community leaders. I wasn’t surprised at my Modeling Global User Community Presidents’ webcast this week when this topic was the hottest topic the Presidents wanted to discuss. I wish I could say that there is an easy solution, but the reality is that there is not.

I understand the desire to have in-person speakers at a meeting, but with software vendors and their partners watching their bottom line in this tight economy, travel budgets and roadshow presentations are not that common. Add to that, technology has progressed where webcasting is now a simple solution that is cost effective and easy-to-setup. You can look at these two items as limiting speaker availability, but you can also look at it as enabling remote locations to have quality presentations with industry experts that they would never be able to experience.

This brings me to this week’s blog topic of growing local speakers for a meeting. Technical folks are almost all analytical personality types. One of the primary traits of this personality trait is the desire to work diligently on the technical aspects of a profession and avoid the human interaction and communication aspect. The chore we face when getting these speakers to step forward and speak is getting them to step out of their analysis comfort zone and step into a more amiable and expressive world. Here are some basics I would like you to consider if you need to grow these speakers in your user community.

1. Farming Speakers 

Growing local speakers is all about how you approach them and the dynamics of your meeting. First, look for the people in your group that speak up the most. They are more likely to present. Concentrate on members their peers see as experts, the folks who really have a passion for the software or topic. With this base of speakers to work with, begin having dialogues with them to understand what motivates them and what passion they really have. Support that passion and motivation with your request for them to speak, and you have a good chance of nagging them for an upcoming program. They want to know their story is one people really want to hear.

2. Comfort and Joy

No one, even experienced speakers, will step forward unless they are comfortable. Part of your sales pitch involves making them comfortable with the audience. Reiterate how much the group enjoys their opinion and knowledge. Listen to them and find out what their comfort zone is. Perhaps you need to alter the typical program or setup to put them at ease. Maybe they have a fear of PowerPoint or structured programs. Let them dictate the technology and format of their presentation. Just like a used car salesperson, you need to sympathize and “work it” to make that sale.

3. Starting Small, Thinking Big

I have found that a person is more willing to speak as part of a panel or group. Open yourself to having multiple speakers and topics in a given slot of time. Picking a hot topic in your user community is a likely means to tie the smaller supporting subtopics together. Design an “Ask the Experts” session where 3-4 people take member questions. My local user community has been very successful in using this “jamboree” format of shorter presentations within a larger topic. Most people find that 15 minutes is more palatable than 60 minutes of presenting. You will find that audience participation is high and people are more comfortable with others supporting them in the presentation. You will also find out that this increased audience participation only helps you grow more speakers for the future.

4. Thank You, Thank You!

Everyone loves to be thanked. Once you get a speaker to give that presentation, you need to express the groups’ appreciation for the presentation. Start by thanking them publicly at the meeting immediately after their presentation. Audience applause is a strong motivator and ego booster. Some nice words, a thank you certificate and possibly a gift card of a small denomination go a long way. Always follow up after the meeting with phone call or email. Pay attention to the audience and presentation. What topics were of the most interest? What questions were asked? These are good seeds to grow a return appearance of the speaker.

Summarizing…

I know that many who are reading this post follow some or all of the above tips. These grassroots type speakers should not be underestimated. Everyone loves to hear that success story. These peer presentations make success a reality. Members leave the meeting with some new techniques in their pocket. They are able to talk to their management about what success looks like. On the speaker’s side, they leave feeling pretty good about peers asking them questions and praising them for their presentation. Guess what? Happy people return for the next meeting and become more involved. Your benefit as a user community leader is a happy community. A happy community is successful and grows exponentially with each happy person.

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