Recently there has been some talk on Twitter about ‘Making VMUG Great Again’. Along with that, there have been a couple of great blog posts by Alastair Cooke and Eric Siebert, which I recommend you read. I’ve been following the conversation, albeit usually a good 12 hours or so late.
— Alastair Cooke (@DemitasseNZ) April 11, 2016
I wanted to add my $.02 to the topic, but I don’t think Twitter is a great medium for this (largely due to me ‘missing’ the conversations). As a recent first-time co-presenter I was excited to finally be part of a presentation. I have been attending VMUG UserCons for years, and local user group meetings when possible. I have always wanted to contribute back, but I never have until recently. So what changed? In short, I was invited by Rick Vanover to co-present his session. I eagerly accepted.
So why did I wait for an invite and not go out on my own to make things happen? Believe it or not, public speaking was not an issue. I have never had a problem talking to peers in the tech community, particularly if it is something that I am knowledgeable about. There were two reasons, though, both of which somewhat feed into each other.
What Can I Present?
First off, what can I present that will be of value to attendees. For background, I work in an SMB environment. My infrastructure has ‘bigger’ pieces to it than a lot of SMBs, but I also don’t have a large scale environment like a lot of enterprises. That means that I don’t have elaborate configurations, nor do I have a lot of the heavy-hitting shiny tools that get a lot of attention. That brings us back to the question of what can I present that will appeal to attendees?
In the case of the session I co-hosted, environment sizes were almost irrelevant. Rather, the presentation focused more on some key features of Veeam and how I, a regular user, used them in day to day operations. By taking this approach we abstracted the fact that I might be in a smaller environment compared to %80 of the folks there. But in this case size wasn’t a factor, rather it was to show how features can be used in a real-world environment.
What if I’m wrong?
The second hurdle was the fear of being wrong. What if I throw something up on a slide and someone disagrees with me? What if I accidentally say ‘does’ instead of ‘does not’? So many things could go wrong. Well, believe it or not, I was able to quickly push this aside. In the case of VMUG presentation, I have been using Veeam for years. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if I was using a feature ‘wrong’. But at the same time, if I am getting the results that I need without damaging or breaking anything, is it really wrong? It might be unconventional, and that might be useful to someone in a similar situation.
I noticed that when I was putting material together for my Veeam User Group meeting, I spent a lot of time figuring out the how’s and why’s of my details. There was a lot of information that I wanted to share. Despite this, I found myself researching why certain things were a best practice. I would also routinely find myself asking questions, which I would then look for an answer to.
Long story short, I felt that by presenting the material I was actively learning more about it and preparing myself. I spent a lot of time preparing, and with that my concern of not knowing dwindled. If I didn’t know an answer I could honestly say ‘I don’t know, but let me see if we can find out’.
What can we do to encourage folks?
Two immediate ideas come to mind. First off is an informal session area where folks can give a 10 – 15-minute talk. By making things a little more informal and shorter, you might be able to cut down on a lot of the anxiety that users might fear.
The second suggestion I would have is to have a list of topics of interest. I know this might sound reminiscent of a school assignment, but it might help folks get things going if they know that there is an interest in a topic.
The London VMUG recently had a session on building a homelab, and they appear to be expanding that into a larger project. Say you turn this into a user-driven track where you announce a general topic (homelabs). Then you ask users to sign up for short 10 -15-minute talks on the various components of a homelab. Talks could be given about server hardware, networking gear, storage, cloud services, and licensing. Each of those could take up 10 – 15 minutes and give folks a chance to get their feet wet.
If you find yourself wanting to become a presenter, please, find your local VMUG leader and have a chat.