Love this post. One of the best things I’ve ever done as a professional was to shift from hour long defaults in meeting times to 25 minutes. If something needs to be longer, than I schedule 50 minutes. In both cases, I keep to schedule, ensuring everyone has a break and we don’t use time just because it’s “free”. The ideal is ending a meeting early, or avoiding it altogether.
There are a wealth of tools that you can tap to cut down on your workload and make it easier for others to participate. Here are just a few I’ve used:
Refresh Austin uses Google Groups as the central point of communication. It’s convenient and easy for us to administer and provides our members the ability to choose how they want to interact with it. Each person can choose to receive every message posted to the board as it comes in, or opt to receive a batch message each day, or they may choose to use it as a message board, visiting whenever is convenient for them. Keep that last option in mind – you may have a significant amount of members who do not receive any e-mail from the group, and who may not check the message board very often, if at all. The one downside to Google Groups is the lack of a decent spam solution. You’ll spend some time weeding the garden, but its worth it.
Tip: A spammy list will destroy your group. Set Google Groups to moderate all new members. This puts a bit of work on your shoulders up front, but once you see a valid message from a user, you can set them to “Always Allow” and you won’t have to moderate them any more.
I’ve also set up the Refresh Austin Google Group to auto-tweet to the Refresh Austin Twitter account whenever there is a new topic or job posted to one of our mailing lists.
Don’t forget other methods, like chat rooms or IRC channels if your group would be into it.
I’ve used SurveyMonkey to gauge which subjects we should cover in our Refresh meetings as well as to gain a better insight into what members would like from the group. The basic level is free and has served my needs well. There are many similar options.
Refresh Austin used to use Upcoming to provide event information and to track potential attendance, but has shifted to Facebook given the amount of people in the network. Ultimately I chose to go where the people are and that’s Facebook. Meetup is another option, but they charge an annual fee, which doesn’t seem like a worthwhile use of money for our particular group. You can also keep it simple, and just send out notices to your group and keep your Web site up-to-date, as the Austin 1759 Society does.
Tip: Keep in mind that you can’t rely on the RSVP numbers on any of the sites, as many members of your group may not RSVP or may not stick to their option. Enforcing an RSVP will result in less attendance unless yours is an exclusive group.
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but I want to ensure I include everything I can think of. Make sure you have a site that includes the most up-to-date information regarding your meetings and topics, even if you are posting to multiple other sources like those mentioned above. You want to ensure that your group is findable via search engines and a URL that’s easy to remember. You may also want to include a wiki or a blog to make it easier for your members to follow group news and contribute to the expansion of the site through comments and new content. As to which platform or content package you use – the only thing that matters is that you have a t least a few people who know how to use it and keep it up to date.
Setting consistent meeting times and regular communication is key to the success of your group, but without a bit of experimentation, you may not find what works best. Each compliments the other.
Set up a regular schedule for your meetings. Refresh Austin meets the second Tuesday of every month from 7:00 to 9:00pm. Those few times when we’ve had to find a new venue, we have made sure to get a guarantee from the new spot that we will have that day and time every month. Switching the day, time or location in any but the most extreme of circumstances is a recipe for confusion, resulting in reduced participation. Make a choice and stick with it for at least three months.
Your members will appreciate the consistent schedule as that gives them a chance to arrange for babysitters, reschedule other events and make it easy for them to avoid conflicts down the line.
It’s easy to let the days slip by without sending an update to the group, yet we all hate a communication vacuum. Make sure you let people know what’s happening early and often. This is your opportunity to build some excitement and provide some warning when change is in the air. Once you have established your routines and the group is running smoothly, make sure you continue to send updates. I cannot stress this enough – update update update!
It’s important to try things – what works for one group may not work for another, so be willing to give something different a shot. This may seem to go against the consistency point above, but it’s the one way that you can strike the right balance.
Be ready to kill off an experiment if it isn’t working, but make sure that you won’t frustrate the members of the group with too many changes in too short of a time. Don’t forget to communicate the changes and the reasons behind them to the group. People don’t likely care about all of the details, but everyone likes to know that there’s a reason for a chance.
The reality of the situation is that you can’t please everybody. Any decision for a group larger than five (if not smaller) is likely to work out poorly for at least one member. Someone will likely feel slighted, if not altogether pissed off and you’ll hear about it. Luckily, it’s not your job to make everyone happy.
Your job is to move your group forward. Your job is to ensure that as many people as possible (within reason) can participate. It’s too easy to miss an opportunity because one member isn’t able to participate, or doesn’t care for the topic or the venue or the day. Make a decision that will benefit the majority of the group and move forward.
People who want to be a part of the group will find a way to participate if its important to them and in time you’ll find the right balance to ensure as many people as possible can participate.