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Got a topic to present? FAQ for prospective speakers on the CF Meetup (online CFUG)

Updated Dec 2010

Are you interested in presenting to a CF audience? We'd love to have you on the Online ColdFusion Meetup, the weekly online CF user group that I host. This entry is a bit of a FAQ for prospective speakers.

The LEAST you need to know

The most important thing to know is that if you want to speak, just let me know by email at charlie (at) carehart.org.

And if you wonder about the technical matters of what you need to be a presenter, see the faq, What do I need to be a presenter on a Connect meeting?.

You may want to at least check the list of FAQs below, to see if any answer other questions you may have or may not even have considered.

Quick introduction to speaking on the Online CF Meetup

Whether you're a new or experienced speaker, whether you want to discuss a new or old topic, whether for beginners, intermediates, or experts, there's an audience for your talk within the 1,200 2,400 member group, which typically gets about 30-50 people per meeting (different folks for different meetings). Because the meetings are recorded, still more people will watch that.

But don't let that intimidate you. The CF Meetup is an easy place for any speaker who may like to present on any CF-related topic. It can even be easier than presenting before an audience, as I discuss below. Our slots are typically for an hour but less time is ok if you prefer.

Some common questions speakers may have

If you're interested in speaking, you probably have a few questions. In this note I try to address them:

  • Why should I consider speaking?
  • So what is the ColdFusion Meetup?
  • How often, and when, do you meet?
  • How long do sessions typically last?
  • Where do you meet?
  • Are your meetings recorded?
  • Can anyone attend the meetings? Watch the recordings? How do they hear of them?
  • What topics are welcomed?
  • Is there any list of topics people are interested in?
  • What next dates are available?
  • I'm afraid to commit to a date if I may not be able to make it
  • OK, so how do I become a speaker?
  • What if I'm nervous about presenting?
  • What do I need to be a presenter on a Connect meeting?
  • I just don't have time to build/update slides for a talk
  • Why presenting online is different, in a good way
  • How can I support the group?

Why should I consider speaking?

People enjoy presenting to the CF community for a variety of reasons: to share experiences and discoveries, to help solve problems they've faced, to share new tools, or even to promote something they've written.

There are certainly many CFUGs the world over, and we support them fully, but some people may not be close enough to speak to (or attend) one. And though some CFUGs welcome remote presenters, many presenters don't know where to turn or which to try to present to first.

The CF Meetup is really a great place to present, whether you have a new or often-presented talk.

In the case of a new talk, you can use it to work out the kinks (some find it easier to talk in front of a mic rather than standing before an audience). Also, other CFUG managers can see your talk and then may ask to have you present it to their group, whether on-site or online. (They may prefer that to telling their members to just go watch your recording.)

And if you have a talk you've presented before, consider that many may not have seen your talk, even if presented to other groups or conferences. And even if you recorded it before, this is a chance to do a second take. You can of course use this as a chance to revise a talk done previously (practice makes perfect), or to reprise a previous talk you did that you think some groups may feel is old news. We have room here for classic subjects!

Finally, another benefit for you is that we record all our meetings (more on that later), so you can share the URL of recording on your site, in emails, in your materials, etc.

So what is the ColdFusion Meetup?

The Online ColdFusion Meetup is an online CF User Group--in fact it's the largest CFUG in the world with over 1,200 2,400+ members. Don't let that scare you, though, as a prospective presenter. We tend to have about 30 attendees at any one meeting (sometimes more, sometimes fewer. It all depends on the topic.)

We've had 17 165 talks so far (updated as of Dec 2010).

So how often, and when, do you meet?

Well, most CFUGs meet monthly, but being online we have the luxury to meet as often as we like. :-) We've settled into a pattern of weekly meetings, Thursdays, at noon or 6 US Eastern time, sometimes with speakers in both slots. There are enough presenters, topics, and audience members that I don't see the well running dry.

It may not be the same folks attending week to week, which is fine, really. That's the beauty of being an online group. People will come if the topic interests them. No crowd is too big or too small.

The two time slots try to balance not only the needs of US audiences (across 3+ time zones) but also those outside the US. Noon will be the afternoon/evening for Europe and east but before dawn in Asia/Pacific and west. 6pm will be morning for Asia/Pac but late night for Europe. These are the challenges of a world-wide audience. (We've also polled the membership and these were the most popular time frames, though we may rerun the poll from time to time.)

But we can be flexible on the time and even the day. If you have a desire to present at another time, there will be an audience for it, for sure.

How long do sessions typically last?

Our talks are typically for an hour but you can take less time if you prefer (or a little more, if you need; just let folks know before you start if you think you will, or at least at the hour if you find you're running long). There's also time for questions afterward, which can go from anywhere from a few minutes to as much as a half hour, all dependent on your availability/interest as a speaker.

Where do you meet?

Again, we're an entirely online group. We never meet in person and we have members all over the world. The group always meets at http://experts.acrobat.com/cfmeetup, which is an Adobe Acrobat Connect meeting room that is opened only for the meetings (typically a few minutes before and after, just like a room in "the real world").

Are your meetings recorded?

Yes, they are. And as I mentioned above, that's a real benefit of speaking at the Meetup, if you're interested in being able to have others see your presentation after the fact. We post the URL for all our meetings at both recordings.coldfusionmeetup.com and Charlie's UGTV site, which offers links to recordings from hundreds of speakers from different CF user groups around the world.

And we owe a debt of gratitude to Adobe for their provision of a free Acrobat Connect account as well as the space and bandwidth for holding and presenting the recordings. This is an offer they make to all official Adobe User Groups. For more info on that (if you're a UG manager or want it for your user group), see the other blog entries I've done, starting with this one/.

Can anyone attend the meetings? Watch the recordings? How do they hear of them?

Yes, anyone can attend the meetings and watch the recordings. Membership in the meetup (which is free, at coldfusionmeetup.com) is just to allow for automatic emailing of announcements. There's an option to RSVP there. That's not mandatory, but it gives a bit of a heads up of how popular a topic will be.

Even without signing up, you can also follow the RSS feed offered on the Calendar entry there, or you can follow us on Twitter (@cfmeetup). Finally, I also blog an announcement of the upcoming meeting each week, so you can follow my feed here.

What topics are welcomed at the Meetup?

Getting back to being a speaker on the Meetup, we welcome pretty much any topic related even slightly to ColdFusion, whether on an advanced or a beginning topic, a new or old feature, etc. The beauty of the online format is that people can easily choose to come or not, or can just watch the recording. And again, logistically, no audience is too large or too small.

Going back to a point I made before, we can even have you present some classic topic that you think some audience may appreciate. You (or a user group manager) may fear presenting an "old" or niche topic before a live audience because of the risk it may not bring out enough attendees. That's not a problem for us. With a thousand+ members, your talk will find an audience here! :-)

A user group manager may also worry that some niche topics may cause some to skip a month, and then be annoyed since it will be another month until the next meeting. We don't have that problem either, since there will be another meeting the next week! So really, any topic is welcome.

Is there any list of topics people are interested in?

I've recently (July 2009) created a page on the CF Meetup site where members can edit the page to indicate topics of interest. Feel free to consider (or add to) that. It's not been used to heavily yet, so it's not at all "the" list to choose from.

Really, any topic you want to present is welcome.

What next dates are available?

I'm always lining up speakers for the coming weeks and months. I welcome even just expressions of tentative interest (if you're not quite ready to set a fixed date). I'll keep track and follow up with you down the road.

I'm afraid to commit to a date if I may not be able to make it

No problem. Just go ahead and let me know that it's tentative. You can always postpone or cancel if you need to. I tend to announce each meeting only the week in advance, so no one but you and I will know if you have to cancel/postpone. And even at the last minute, people understand. Again, since we meet so often, and since no one has "drive to the meeting", it's really not the end of the world if we end up not having a topic any one week/slot.

But if it would help you mentally to pre-set a date, just to have a deadline to work toward, again, I'm happy to mark you down on my internal calendar. Only you and I will know until we're ready to announce it the week before.

OK, so how do I become a speaker?

If you're interested or have any other questions, please drop me a note at charlie (at) carehart.org.

What if I'm nervous about presenting?

Don't be. This is a friendly place. And I'll guide you through the entire process. As a veteran presenter of hundreds of user group talks myself, both live and online, I've helped our Meetup presenters (veterans and newcomers alike) with issues as varied as helping firm up a compelling title and description to sharing tips on how to present effectively online, including helping you sound good and even helping pick out good choices for headsets or mics--we don't bother with webcams. For all we care, you can speak in your underwear. :-)

What do I need to be a presenter on a Connect meeting?

As for software, you don't need anything special. Connect is based on Flash, and most browsers have that. And Adobe Connect works with Windows, Mac, and Linux.

There are no ports you need to open, whether to be an attendee or a presenter. It all works over port 80 or 443 (if you really preferred). As a presenter, you'll just install one little additional Flash plugin when you are first marked to be a presenter (before we start the meeting).

Then you'll just share your screen with us. Whatever you show, we'll see. You don't need to upload anything, or offer a preso in some particular format.

If you have two monitors, that's great (but not needed). You could move the Connect window off to the second monitor, which makes it easier to keep an eye on the chat pod, as well as to confirm that we see what you want us to see. It works fine if you have only one monitor, too.

As for your voice, we don't use the phone (for now, as it's not offered in the version of Connect we use.) Instead, both speakers and attendees participate via VOIP. You just need a mic and speakers. A USB headset works best, but even an older analog one can work. While the mic and speakers in your laptop will work, it would be better if you use earphones or a headset to prevent echo from your computer mic picking up your speakers.

I just don't have time to build/update slides for a talk

Some speakers fear they don't have time to prepare a new talk. Well, I've already explained that old talks are ok, too. In that case, you just show up and give the talk you've given.

But if you are thinking of a new topic, just note that you don't really have to come up with a bunch of slides. Presenting online can be different in that respect. Let me explain.

Why presenting online is different, in a good way

You'll find that with an online talk, you can get away with putting a lot less detail into your slides. In a live talk, you may do that as much to help prompt you for what to cover. Sure, presentation software has notes features, but you may fear being tied down to the laptop in a live event, or if you printed the notes you may feel uncomfortable holding them while you talk.

But with an online talk, you can print those notes out for yourself (in large print) to have sitting next to you at your desk (or viewed on a second monitor). You can see them, but the viewers don't need to. (You can give them a notes file after the talk if you want to, to give them those details, and URLs, etc.)

Even in a live talk, with the extra bullets, have you noticed they don't help you as much when it's time to switch away from the slides to a demo? In an online setup, that won't be a problem. You can just as easily view your notes easily whether showing slides or doing a demo.

These things make doing an online talk a lot easier.

You could even just make a whole talk out of simply walking through a live demo. No one would care if you had "slides". More and more people are going away from them.

How can I support the group?

Hey, we could always use your support, whether as a speaker or just in helping "spread the word" on the group. :-)

If you're a blogger or belong to a mailing list and want to promote the Meetup as a place for prospective presenters to consider, we'd be grateful. Feel free to point them to this blog entry that you're now reading.

You can point potential members to the CFMeetup site (coldfusionmeetup.com). Again, it's free to join the group. And let them know they can find the recordings at recordings.coldfusionmeetup.com.

Feel free to use this nifty Flash badge that also always lets folks know when the next meeting will happen:

Here's the code for that:

<div style="text-align: center; width: 214px; font-family: tahoma, verdana, sans serif; font-size: 12px;"><embed src="http://www.meetup.com/swf/membership_badge.swf?chapterid=36740" width="214" height="142" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" /></embed><br /><a href="http://coldfusion.meetup.com/17/?track=i3/mu_xomz4qgrkm">Click here to check out<br/>The Online ColdFusion Meetup Group!</a></div>

I meant, "how can I support the group monetarily?"

Ah, well how nice of you! :-) Seriously, though, we're not setup to take in donations for now (nor are we setup as a non-profit).

I will say I pay a monthly fee for the meetup.com site, which is a commercial third-party site otherwise used by groups that meet in real life, and it helps them organize and promote such meetings. Our URL really just redirects to a specific section of their site, devoted to our group. (I'm torn about whether to switch to the Adobe Groups site.)

Beyond that, running a weekly user group is itself a significant time commitment (getting speakers, organizing and announcing each meeting, managing and posting the recordings, and so on). Still, running the CF Meetup is really a gift to the community, and just another part of the many wonderful ways that we all learn from each other in this great CF community.

But if you're interested, I'll point out that I do have an Amazon wish list.

But thank you!

But really, thanks for your support whether you're a speaker or an attendee, or if you do anything to help promote the group. It sounds trite, but as with all CFUGs it really is your group. You can help make it what you want it to be, and by promoting it to others, you make it all the more compelling a place to "watch and be watched".

I welcome your feedback and comments, and I hope to "see" you at an upcoming meetup.

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