Running an Inclusive and Engaging AWS User Group

Running an Inclusive and Engaging AWS User Group

Notes on how to improve your User Group experience from the leader of one of the largest AWS UGs.

Published Apr 1, 2024
AWS User Groups are a great way for cloud enthusiasts to come together, learn from each other, and grow their skills. However, running a successful user group requires more than just technical know-how. It's essential to create an inclusive environment that welcomes people from all backgrounds and encourages active participation from everyone. Here are some tips to help you run a better AWS User Group:

Attract a Culturally Diverse Set of Speakers

Diversity in speakers not only brings fresh perspectives but also makes your user group more inclusive and welcoming to a broader audience. Actively seek out speakers from underrepresented groups in tech, such as women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those with disabilities.
Reach out to local universities, coding bootcamps, and organizations that support diversity in tech to find potential speakers. You can also leverage social media platforms and online communities to connect with a diverse pool of AWS experts and enthusiasts.
When inviting speakers, be mindful of their preferred pronouns and any accessibility needs they may have. Ensure that your event venue is accessible and that you provide accommodations, such as sign language interpreters or captioning, if needed.

Create a Safe Space for All Attendees

Establishing a code of conduct and enforcing it consistently is crucial for creating a safe and welcoming environment for all attendees. Your code of conduct should clearly outline expected behavior, define what constitutes unacceptable conduct, and specify the consequences for violations.
Encourage attendees to report any incidents or concerns they may have, and have a designated team ready to address them promptly and professionally. Consider having a quiet room or area where attendees can take a break if they feel overwhelmed or need a moment of respite.

Encourage Introverts to Engage

While user groups are social events, they can be overwhelming for introverts or those who prefer quieter settings. To ensure their engagement, consider the following strategies:
  • Provide opportunities for written or online participation, such as Q&A platforms or collaborative note-taking tools.
  • Encourage small group discussions or breakout sessions where introverts may feel more comfortable contributing.
  • Avoid putting introverts on the spot by calling on them unexpectedly. Instead, give them time to prepare their thoughts before asking for their input.
  • Offer virtual attendance options for those who prefer to participate remotely.

Defend Against Zoom Bombing

With the rise of virtual events, user groups must be vigilant against disruptive behavior like Zoom bombing. Here are some preventions:
  • Require registration and approval for attendees to join the meeting.
  • Enable the waiting room feature and have a co-organizer monitor and admit attendees. This can be challenging if you don't have a co-organizer.
  • Disable screen sharing for non-hosts and limit other potentially disruptive features.
  • Have a co-organizer dedicated to monitoring the chat and removing disruptive participants if necessary.
  • Be aware of the security options provided by your platform of choice

Manage Meeting Dynamics

Running an engaging and productive meeting requires careful planning and facilitation. Here are some tips:
  • Set clear expectations and ground rules at the beginning of the meeting, such as respecting others' opinions and avoiding interruptions... unless you actively want people to interject with questions during the talk
  • Use a structured agenda and timekeeping to ensure that the meeting stays on track and all topics are covered.
  • Encourage participation by asking open-ended questions and calling on quieter attendees to share their thoughts (without putting them on the spot).
  • Be mindful of your body language and tone, and ensure that you're not inadvertently favoring or dismissing certain attendees.
  • Assign a dedicated facilitator or moderator to manage the flow of the meeting and ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute.

Select Engaging Meetup Topics

Choosing the right topics is crucial for keeping your user group engaged and attracting new members. Here are some tips:
  • Survey your members regularly to understand their interests and pain points.
  • Stay up-to-date with the latest AWS releases, updates, and industry trends to identify relevant and timely topics.
  • Alternate between beginner-friendly and advanced topics to cater to attendees with varying skill levels. Some meeting are structured with two talks: an introductory level talk followed by a Deep Dive.
  • Consider inviting guest speakers from AWS or partner organizations to share their expertise on specific services or use cases. One thing to watch out for here is that AWS speakers can be "too polished" ... warn AWS speakers that your group will want to ask questions during the talk.
  • Encourage members to suggest topics or volunteer to present on areas they're passionate about or have experience with.
Running a successful AWS User Group requires a combination of technical expertise, organizational skills, and a commitment to creating an inclusive and welcoming environment. By following these tips, you can foster a vibrant community of AWS enthusiasts who feel valued, engaged, and empowered to learn and grow together.