Putting the User Back in VMware User Group

As most of you probably know, I visit quite a few VMUG User Conferences around the United States and around the world. I’d probably do even more if my calendar allowed, because it’s truly an honor for me to have the opportunity to help educate the VMware user community. I know I’m not alone in that regard; there are numerous VMware “rock stars” (not that I consider myself a “rock star”) out there who also work tirelessly to support the VMware community. One need not look very far to see some examples of these types of individuals: Mike Laverick, William Lam, Duncan Epping, Josh Atwell, Nick Weaver, Alan Renouf, Chris Colotti, Cody Bunch, or Cormac Hogan are all great examples. (And I’m sure there are many, many more I’ve forgotten!)

However, one thing that has consistently been a topic of discussion among those of us who frequent VMUGs has been this question: “How do we get users more engaged in VMUG?” VMUG is, after all, the VMware User Group. And while all of us are more than happy to help support VMUG (at least, I know I am), we’d also like to see more user engagement—more customers speaking about their use cases, their challenges, the things they’ve learned, and the things they want to learn. We want to see users get connected with other users, to share information and build a community-based body of knowledge. So how can we do that?

As I see it, there is a variety of reasons why users don’t volunteer to speak:

  • They might be afraid of public speaking, or aren’t sure how good they’ll be.
  • They feel like the information they could share won’t be helpful or useful to others.
  • They aren’t sure how to structure their presentation to make it informative yet engaging.

We (meaning a group of us that support a lot of these events) have tossed around a few ideas, but nothing has ever really materialized. Today I hope to change all that. Today, I’m announcing that I will personally help mentor 5 different VMware users who are willing to step up and volunteer to speak for the first time at a local VMUG meeting in the near future.

So what does this mean?

  • I will help you select a topic on which to speak (in coordination with your local VMUG leader).
  • I will provide guidance and feedback on gathering your content.
  • I will review and provide feedback and suggestions for improving your presentation.
  • If desired, I will provide tips and tricks for public speaking.

And I’m calling on others within the VMUG community who are frequent speakers to do the same. I think that Mike Laverick might have already done something like this; perhaps the others have as well. If so, that’s awesome. If not, I challenge you, as someone viewed in a technical leadership role within the VMware and VMUG communities, to use that leadership role in a way that I hope will reinvigorate and renew user involvement and participation in the VMware/VMUG community.

If you’re one of the 5 people who’s willing to take me up on this offer, the first step is contact me and your local VMUG leader and express your interest. Don’t have my e-mail address? Here’s your first challenge: it’s somewhere on this site.

If you’re already a frequent speaker at VMUGs and you, too, want to help mentor other speakers, you can either post a comment here to that effect (and provide people with a way of getting in touch with you), or—if you have your own blog—I encourage you to make the same offer via your own site. Where possible, I’ll try to update this (or you can use trackbacks) so that readers have a good idea of who out there is willing to provide assistance to help them become the next VMUG “rock star” presenter.

Good luck, and I look forward to hearing from you!

UPDATE: A few folks have noted that all the names I listed above are VMware employees, so I’ve added a couple others who are not. Don’t read too much into that; it was all VMware employees because I work at VMware, too, and they’re the ones I communicate with frequently. There are lots of passionate and dedicated VMUG supporters out there—you know who you are!

Also, be sure to check the comments; a number of folks are volunteering to also mentor new speakers.

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  1. Ariel’s avatar

    you got it. i’m in denver too.

  2. Rick Vanover’s avatar

    Yes, good idea. We need more User-submitted content for VMUGs.

    The sponsors have their interests, but that’s not what the attendees want. I do my best to present as a sponsor in a way that maintains our interests as a sponsor (it’s very expensive) yet enriches the attendees who may or may not have an interest of what I’m presenting as sponsor.

    I think that VMUG HQ does a good job of operations on the events, and soliciting the sponsors.

    The blood of the VMUG is the User. Maybe it should be vmUg ;)

  3. tom’s avatar

    The nearest VMUG to me is a 2 hour drive each way and often the meetings don’t cover stuff I’m interested in since I have no budget for expensive cool things like Tintri etc. :)

  4. Andrea’s avatar

    One barrier to this (maybe just to me) is the size of the VMUG meetings. Actually I should preface this by saying I’ve only attended Silicon Valley VMUG events.
    Big: lots of people, lots of vendors.

    What I could see is something akin to the LUGs of yore where it was generally a small group of people working together, finding speakers, etc. Call it spoke VMUGs to the hub VMUGs that we currently have.
    Silicon Valley VMUG:
    - Mountain View VMUG
    - Santa Clara VMUG
    - Monterey Bay VMUG
    - University VMUG
    - K-12 VMUG
    - Healthcare VMUG
    - Security VMUG
    - etc

    Am I crazy? Could it work? Separate issues at play here?

  5. Luigi’s avatar

    Scott,this is a great idea! I would love to be selected and mentored by you or anyone!! I love the VMUG and VTUG. I have done some talks and can def use some help. I think it needs to be a top down bring users back mentality. I know the VTUG is like this and trying to think of ways to better engage the users. They are also expanding into different areas.

    SIGS are ok as you outline above but problem with most Vendor presentations are they are pitching something. I want to learn something. Mike foley does great job, Josh Townsend does awesome job. Brad Maltz tech presentations not pitches were best I’ve attended.

  6. Michael Forner’s avatar

    Thank you for this, Scott. This is awesome! Many good points and a very generous offer. As a local VMUG leader, I know our steering committee struggles every quarter to come up with topics, technologies and sponsors that are exciting to our members. And being a smaller public sector group here in Denver, we try to figure out how to lure the “rock stars” to our local meetings and grow our member base. But I can’t remember the last time we asked any of our own users (very much “rock stars” in their own right) to share their trials, tribulations and successes.

    So thank you again for the fresh perspective and I look forward to having someone you’ve mentored speak at a Colorado SLED VMUG meeting. They can reach us at colorado underscore sled at vmug dot com.

  7. Matt Heldstab’s avatar

    I am completely amazed what this community does for its users. Kudos to you Scott, along with all the others who have volunteered to mentor “junior members” of the community.

  8. Charlie Gautreaux’s avatar

    Awesome Scott! I could not agree more and am totally on board to assist as well. There is nothing better than when users begin interacting, it’s only then does VMUG live up to its mission!

    I am available at cgautreaux at me dot com – Reach out anytime…

  9. slowe’s avatar

    Rick, thanks for your comment! Readers should definitely not take my post as a knock against the VMUG org, but rather as a call for all VMUG members to step up and get engaged! So…when should I expect you to offer to mentor someone? :-)

    Tom, so what sort of stuff would you find useful? Speak out here, and maybe someone in your region will see it and volunteer to speak on that topic!

    Andrea, I understand your position. I’m primarily targeting this toward the regular VMUG user meetings, not the big full-day user conferences, although either would be fine (as always, work with your local VMUG leaders). I can’t imagine that Ravi (one of the SV VMUG leaders) wouldn’t be interested in getting more users involved—have you spoken with him yet?

    Luigi, I’m extending my offer to first-time speakers, as I really want to encourage folks who haven’t been engaged before to get engaged. However, if you can find someone who is willing to mentor you, then I say go for it! In this case, “the more the merrier” definitely applies.

    Michael, thanks for taking the time to comment. Hopefully we can get some additional folks in CO SLED involved!

    Matt, no kudos for me, as I can’t take credit for this idea. Duncan Epping indicated via Twitter that he’d suggested this a few months ago, and (as I mentioned in the post) I think Mike Laverick and a few others have already done this. (Wade Holmes indicated via Twitter he’s done this before, too.) So, credit does not belong to me, but rather to the broader community of VMware and VMUG supporters. That’s what makes this community great!

    Charlie, awesome! So glad you’re willing to mentor others as well. As a former VMUG leader, I’m sure that you will have some extremely valuable insight to share.

  10. Tim Antonowicz’s avatar

    Scott,
    I’m glad you started this thread. I think that getting more users involved in the VMUG is a great idea and I applaud your willingness to do something about it. I am willing to step up and mentor a first-time VMUG/VTUG presenter or two in the New England area. If there is someone interested in getting involved and making it happen, you can reach me easiest via twitter (@timantz) or my twitter handle at gmail. If there is enough interest, I can recruit a few others to help mentor as well.
    Getting more Users more involved with the VMUG organization is a win for all of us. Lets make this happen.

  11. Eric Wright’s avatar

    Thanks for posting this Scott!

    It is a great thing to be able to give back. I began my VMUG attendance just over 2 years ago and was able to go from attendee to presenter to co-leader thanks to the support and inspiration of folks like yourself and all the great contributors to the VMUG and *UG groups all over.

    I am happy to do what I can to assist with this as well. The greatest feeling of getting over a wall is when you reach back to help someone do the same thing.

    People can reach out to me via Twitter – @DiscoPosse (http://twitter.com/discoposse) to get in touch and I’d be happy to coach a group of people through presentation building, delivery, public speaking and blogging.

    I’ll fire up a blog post on this as well at discoposse.com so that people can find out about this great community and how to become an active part of it all.

    Thanks!

    Eric

  12. Mike Foley’s avatar

    I’m in Scott. Glad to help.

  13. Tommy Trogden (@vTexan)’s avatar

    LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS IDEA !! Count me in on mentoring !

  14. Tommy Trogden (@vTexan)’s avatar

    LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS IDEA !! Count me in on mentoring !

    @vTexan

  15. Jase McCarty’s avatar

    I’ll be happy to help as well Scott…

    I can be reached via Twitter (@jasemccarty) or via email jase dot mccarty at EMC dot com.

  16. Brad Christian’s avatar

    At the Dallas-Fort Worth VMUG, I try real hard to get users to come up and talk, even if its just for 10 minutes. I’ll get one or two takers a year. Where people really open up and talk, though, is the Q&As afterwards. Some people have a really hard time standing at the front of a room, but they have no problem getting fired up in the audience.

    Because of that, we’ve started using Google Hangouts for video conferences. People are a lot more comfortable talking in a group of 10 peers, so it’s a great baby-step for public speaking.

    We are starting to post the videos afterwards for our users to listen to live or streaming. Best of all, its free. We just had one tonight with @vtexan and @virtualchappy that was great. I’m @bchristian21 if you have any questions, or join the Dallas-Fort Worth VMUG Google community to see what the recordings are like.

    Anyone in North Texas who wants to take advantage of Scott’s offer, you can count on our support.

  17. Josh Atwell’s avatar

    Great Post Scott.
    Count me in to mentor and provide guidance on prepping for speaking at VMUGs.
    As a now former VMUG leader one thing I did was set up opportunities for people to share ‘impromptu’ during the meeting. I did this by selecting people and asking them a simple question:
    “What is the most recent issue you’ve dealt with in your environment? how did you solve it?”
    or
    “What new feature/product did you implement in your VMware environment recently. Anything you learned from that implementation?”
    sometimes it’s good just to ask “Why did you join the meeting today?” I do this to new people usually. Gets great feedback and often starts a conversation while also making connections.

    Here’s one thing that is a fact. If you do not put any pressure and say to them…”just share for about 2-3 minutes”. Next thing they know they’ve been talking for 15 minutes and have answered 3-6 questions. Works almost every time.

    Another way to help encourage participation is to do a tech talk segment where people only have to prepare short topics for 10 minutes. Stack 4 of these in a one hour block. no slides required and no marketing. People really like these…i have proof :)

    Slides and formal presentation can be intimidating for people which is where the mentoring is going to come to play. Hope I can help. Folks can reach me on twitter at @josh_atwell and josh.c.atwell at gmail.com

  18. Howard Marks’s avatar

    Scott,

    Put me down on your mentor list. I agree user groups need more user content.

    Howard Marks

  19. Graham’s avatar

    It’s great that you (and others are doing this). I’ve attended my local VMUG for probably the past 4 years, and to be honest, I don’t remember when there was last a User giving the talk – it’s mainly been a combination of vendors, and a very good local SE who do most of the talks.

    The vendor talks are usually pretty good informational wise, and of course there’s always a slant on it, as they’re pushing their agenda or product – which is fine – that’s their business, and they’re good enough to sponsor the event, so I think everyone wins.

    I think there are a couple of barriers to getting more users to do the speaking…

    There’s the usual fear of public speaking. Most people are not comfortable talking in front of a large crowd of people. I’ve seen people like you or @vmken (and loads of others) talking to huge rooms of people at vmworld like it was second nature. I’ve also seen speakers at vmworld who were having a horrible time of it, and ended up being rescued by their co-presenter. I suspect like most things in life, it comes down to experience – if you can get through the first couple of times you will be fine, it’s just the thought and fear of getting over that initial hump that puts most of us off.

    There’s also the ‘what the heck do I talk about’ syndrome. You could probably talk for a couple of hours on NSX without having to think about it. @vmken could do the same about SRM and replication. You both can tell the room about new and cool stuff. Most people at the VMUGs are guys (and the occasional lady) in the trenches, and we don’t think we have anything new and cool to talk about, just the stuff we do. Now, to some people what I do may be cool and exciting and pushing things further, but to me, it’s just what I do, and not terribly exciting.

    The other issue is the length of time for a presentation. Most of the presentations are about 30 – 45 mins. Even assuming that I decide what I am doing is cool and I want to talk about it, I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t talk about it for 45 mins (although some people may disagree on that – lol). Maybe one way round that is to have 2 or 3 people do a 10 min talk on their subject, I don’t know.

  20. Rod Gabriel’s avatar

    Scott,
    Great post and great offer! As much as you give back to the community already I continue to be amazed when you find ways to do more.

    While I often have Wisconsin VMUG members let me know they are interested in presenting, there are many times where one of the biggest hurdles seems to be schedules, both for them having time to prepare a preso and being able to commit to a particular meeting date. When it comes together and we get a member presentation they have always been well received. Last year Jeff Pitts and Jeremy Gruenke (@grinks311) from Johnsonville presented at one of our meetings and did a great job. They were able to use it as practice (in front of a friendly crowd) for presenting at a larger upcoming conference.

    During our WI-VMUG Steering Committee meetings we often talk about ways to get more member content into our meetings. Earlier this year we decided to make some changes to our typical meeting format to extend the meetings to be longer and make room for what we hope will be a member presentation at each of our meetings.

    For our August meeting we had #WIVMUG member and vExpert, Brandon Hahn (@BrandonHahn) present on ” From Servers to Services: Fully Automated and Self Service Infrastructure Delivery”. This was an outstanding presentation and was a big hit with our members.

    While Brandon did a great job presenting and he’s a nice guy and all, that’s not why it went over so well. Our members love to hear about what other members are really doing. It doesn’t matter if the speaker is flashy, well known, an amazing speaker, has a flawless presentation, etc…, what matter is it’s one of us up there talking about something they have done in the real world.

    For our meeting next week (Thursday, 9/26 in Appleton, WI) we had Sean Massey (@SeanPMassey) from the Diocese of Green Bay offer to present. Sean’s presentation is “Three Simple Things to Automate in Your VMware View Environment with PowerCLI” and for those interested in checking it out, you can register at: http://www.vmug.com/e/in/eid=1035

    As a VMUG Leader, I can tell you most of us will do whatever we can to help get our members presenting at our meetings. Come to us with your ideas, questions, suggestions, anything we can do to help get you to present at a meeting.

    Thanks to you Scott and others willing to help out with this and more importantly thanks to all of you VMUG members willing to step forward and volunteer to present at a meeting.

  21. Rod Gabriel’s avatar

    Graham,
    As far as content, talk to your VMUG Leader(s) and get some feedback on your ideas. Don’t worry about talking about something super cool, awesome, leading edge, etc.. Just talk about something you have done that’s real life, that’s the part that get’s people’s interest. Whatever you talk about may not be of interest to everyone but more people will listen because it’s real life experience from one of their peers. Tell us what you did, why you did it, the problems you had, how you resolved those problems, what would you do different, what you learned, etc..

    As for length of presentation, before you spend much time worrying about that, talk to your VMUG Leader about it. More than likely they will be happy to make whatever adjustments they need to with their agenda to accommodate you.

  22. Jon Hildebrand’s avatar

    I actually did this recently with the Kansas City VMUG. One of the leaders there put out a call about anything interesting anyone has or had already done utilizing PowerCLI in their environment. I went in with that leader to go through about 15 minutes on what I did with some automation components as it pertains to our pretty large environment. I had to overcome a small bit of nerves of public speaking, but once I realized that I was just discussing something I’d already discussed with many others, I think I did all right (or as well as you can when discussing what 1800 lines of PowerCLI code can do for you!).

    I believe that in the future, if the call comes out again for community members to present on various topics in which we dabble in, I may have to get involved in another presentation.

  23. Wade Holmes’s avatar

    For anyone looking for help with presentation ideas, creation and review, reach out to me on twitter, @wholmes. Is always great to help support the community. BTW, for anyone interested in pursing the VCDX certification track, working on presentation skill is critical in a successful defense, and presenting at VMUGs is a great way to hone ones presentation skills!

  24. Mike Laverick’s avatar

    Of course I’m on board too… In case folks don’t know ‘em (!?!?) my details are @mike_laverick and the email is mike AT mikelaverick DOT com…

    I did my first “Feed Forward” session via someone who approached me on twitter a week or so ago. As ever I have to a catchphrase for everything I do (I’m sorry about that, maybe I should be in marketing). The concept is an easy one. Feedback after a presso although welcome, is not very useful for members of the community who present – because they may never (or rarely) present on that topic again. What they really need is “Feed Forward” help/assistance before the presentation. Really helps to polish up generally good content already – and remind the speaker they actually really know the topic. It also helps to have second eye looking at the content – to make sure there aren’t any unintended messages – like appearing to endorse another vendor over another.

    What I love to see is the Global VMUG pick up on this – make program out of it – something that volunteers can sign-up for. So the load is spread amongst all that are willing to help. I kind of DRS for speaker help…

  25. Victor Bohnert’s avatar

    What a great post! I would also like to work to capture these tips and tricks in a downloadable toolkit (and perhaps webinar) for all our speakers to use.

    Great idea!

  26. Josh Atwell’s avatar

    Great idea Victor. I’d be happy to volunteer the vBrownBag platform to help put together some recordings. May have to do it on a different night than normal or wait until first of year since we’re scheduled out through the rest of the year.

    More immediate we could do it with G+ hangout. Anyone interested in presenting or having a panel discussion or two on the topic?

  27. Sketch’s avatar

    I am part of the DC VMUG, and the USFederal Gov’t VMUG. and aside from the lack of meetings/sessions, one issue I have is the commercialization of it all. The meetings I’ve been to are usually sponsored. for good or for bad, it seems that its always how ACME CO. helped us do XYZ or helped move us to ABC… but with little to no actual details or hurdles that had to be dealt with. just a big commercial.

    I understand that sometimes the commercials are needed, but that takes away from the USER portion of the group. I’d rather pay for my lunch and actually learn something than get a free lunch with a commercial.

  28. Andy Konecny’s avatar

    a great idea, and there are a couple of other speed bumps that have lead to this.
    - its all about the large work loads (100+) when there are so many with a much smaller number of work loads. So many automation tools become counter productive below a certain threshold. Even if we could show respect of the bottom range of effectiveness of given tools would go a long way.
    - Clickishness: where the ‘super stars’ get ALL the attention, but those who contribute in little ways get NO public attention. ex from a recent VMUG, a blogger who was just attending got a whole pile of attention from the VMUG leader, but the people who have helped with attendance and such don’t get any mention, in effect declaring to the audience that a VMware user is a mere clerk.
    Said leader also does lunches after these morning only events, but only ‘special’ people get invited with the bulk of the membership excluded. and the sad thing I was the one pushing for post event casual gatherings as they do work well with other user groups but only if they are open to all who where there.
    A Social media only approach is actually somewhat anti social.

  29. GS Khalsa’s avatar

    Fantastic idea Scott! I’d like to volunteer to help mentor VMUG speakers. We need more user speakers and anything I can do to that end I’m happy to help with. My twitter handle is @gurusimran and email is gs at vbrowncoat dot com.

    Also wanted to second Josh’s ideas, there great ones.

  30. Cody’s avatar

    Just a quick note, that I too will be volunteering, both to mentor folks, as well as the use of the #vBrownBag platform (one-off style) with as much or as little audience as needed.

    I can be reached via email, twitter, or comments on this post:
    http://professionalvmware.com/2013/09/on-putting-the-user-back-into-user-group/

  31. Shawn’s avatar

    I like this idea. I have always thought about trying to do a presentation after speaking with my vmug leaders. Personally I get fairly nervous at the same time when I think about it. My fears are that I may not know enough about the content I present. I feel the sharing of knowledge is extremely important in the community. I would be interested maybe I could step out of my shell and try and share some knowledge with others.

  32. Sam’s avatar

    I did my first VMUG community presentation earlier this year in London, and I’ve got a slot to speak at the UK national VMUG in November – so any help and advice will be gratefully received! It’d be great to be able to pay it forward and maybe help out someone who is thinking about doing their first one.

  33. Aaron’s avatar

    Thanks for posting this. It is one of the challenges we have as VMUG leaders. We are always asking for user presentations, and we as leaders have presented couple times. But VMUG is all about mind share amongst users.

  34. John gregor’s avatar

    Nice idea of yours to involve more and more people in the VMware User Group. i would love to be a part of it too.

  35. slowe’s avatar

    John, I’d encourage you to contact any of the folks here in the comments who also offered to mentor someone. My five slots are full, but there are plenty of other mentors out there!

  36. Cody’s avatar

    John,

    I’ve still got an opening if you’d like. Ping me bunchc @ professionalvmware.com

  37. Eric Wright’s avatar

    Same here on availability. I still have some slots free for folks. Virtual availability thanks to Skype and Google+ are all kinds of awesome!

    eric – at – discoposse – dot – com or DM me on @DiscoPosse on Twitter

    Updated blog post with Google form for submission here: http://www.discoposse.com/index.php/2013/09/24/vmug-mentoring-putting-the-user-back-in-vmware-user-group/