It’s so darn beautiful outside today that I thought I’d sit on my deck and add another entry to my series on User Group Startups. This time around I’ll write about meeting and event locations. If you are looking at holding reoccurring meetings, as most user groups do, location selection is a big deal. If you have to change your meeting locations regularly (I might even argue that if you have to change them at all) you run the risk of confusing and alienating your members. Holding special events such as code camps at different locations is not such a big deal as they tend to be viewed by the membership and organized by the leadership as one off events. No matter which type of event you are holding, location selection is very important.
Before you start looking for a room or building to use you should put thought into which area of your city your want to hold your events in. Consider where the majority of your membership will, or does, work. Once you have become as comfortable as possible with the the location of the majority of your membership, then you should consider if that area is a feasible candidate for holding your meetings. You will never find one location that is perfect, good or even adequate for all people that may attend the events. Instead of worrying about that, try find an area that will work for the majority and is accessible for the remainder. Consider factors such as public transit availability and parking.
Now that you have the area narrowed you can start looking for facilities to use for the event. There are a large number of options for you to consider here. Because you are running a lightly or non-funded organization you probably won’t be able to afford some of the options that I list here. That said, working with restricted funding can open the doors to some very nice facilities at no cost. Below is a list of possible venues. No matter which you choose to use, always ask them for a discount (you’re a community group and, most likely, non-profit) or ask them to sponsor you outright and waive the cost.
- Colleges/Universities/Public Schools – These usually have great facilities that are very conducive to presenting. You may run the risk of having certain times of the year where you can not gain access to the facility due to holidays or usage conflicts.
- Company Board/Conference rooms – Many companies will offer the use of their office space during non-business hours. Things to watch here are the seating capacity of the rooms and building entry requirements during off hours (passes to open doors etc.)
- Government facilities – Being a community group might get you in the door here.
- Public Libraries – This is what Edmug uses. We worked out some sponsorship with the Edmonton Public Library that provides us with a conference room at no cost.
- Local Microsoft offices – If you’re a MS technology focused group why not give them a try. More than one user group in Canada is using their facilities.Choose your location carefully and make sure to take into consideration the needs of your attendees. Make sure to provide them with knowledge about parking, public transit, directions to the facility and directions to the room once they are in the facility. The easier you make it for people to come to the events, the more often they will come back.