Just come out of an interesting set of round table events for 'community influencers' at TechEd. These are people who are active in both the online and face-to-face communities from all round Europe (and Australia - the reach of TechEd Europe!) attended.
In the sessions I went to the general discussion was on the point I posted about a few weeks ago and that had been a running conversions on a number of UK blogs. I was refeshing (or sad?) to find the problems we have seen at home over attendance are the same around Europe:
- It is hard to get people to attend events in the evening
- It is hard to convert attendees to active community members
- A very small percentage of people who view online forums contribute.
As you would expect there is no single answer, and for most ideas there was someone to say 'we tried that and it did not work for us'. However, it did come out that things that fail for one group work for others - there is no silver bullet. So try anything and everything to get people engaged.
A general it was felt 'marketing presentations' do not draw people in, neither do events that cover what can be found on-line. Most people agreed that events, maybe in a panel or round table format, that provide real world experience or 'war stories' as I call them are often the ones that get the most interest. Of cause it helps if the speaker presents in an engaging style, but this is mitigated if you can get the whole room involved.
From my experience some of the most interesting community events have been to are technology agnostic and focus on general development for project management issues, notably in a group workshop style. Such as those at the Extreme Programming club, but even with this interesting content this group has struggled for number. As I said before the fact I like technology agnostic groups, as a NET developer I know there is much I can learn from Java developers and vice-versa, does not mean that this is right for all.
There was an underlying discussion of how many people in the industry were looking to the community as a means to professional development, as opposed to IT being just a job that ended at 5pm. Moving the latter group into being hard - can you engage people who have lost the 'joy for their career'?
I am sure this pre conference event will generate some online activity, keep an eye out for it.