The Amsterdam User Group (AUG) gets between 50 and 70 attendees for our meetings (other groups are available throughout the Netherlands, even during these strange times). Now that I’ve stepped down as co-leader, after 3.5 years, I can shrug off the non disclosure agreement and spill the beans on what makes our sessions so special. Read on to find out why, at all our meetings, there’s always content for Salesforce end users, product owners and everyone in between!

With thanks to YeurLeadin and Salesforce NL who originally published this piece in English and in Dutch.

Revealing Secrets

The Community Group network (of which AUG is part) are for customers and partners, run by customers and partners. Typically we meet in the evening, outside of “working hours”. The point here is that we’re not on company time, people are coming together because we want to come together to share best practice, knowledge and to network. As a bonus all the leaders are volunteers, doing this because we want to help create that environment where we can all succeed together.

There’s another aspect to our meetings. We often have people at our meetups who you might traditionally think would be competitors (e.g. their products have the same target audience), but that’s not the challenge. There’s so much potential that can be unlocked at our own businesses, that’s where the focus is, not on each other.

One Year In Advance

There’s some serious planning that goes into our meetings, but one of our discoveries that makes us happiest was that planning the dates for our meetings one year in advance removes headaches. Initially it sounded counterintuitive, I mean sometimes it is hard to predict what’s around the corner, let alone in two weeks’ time, so why is a year easier?

Well it turns out that there’s always something that crops up, but with four leaders (resilience) there’s always someone available to host the actual meeting and having too much flexibility causes more hassle than it’s worth. This way we removed all diary discussions (saving hours!), it allowed us to spread our bi-monthly sessions across the week allowing those with evening commitments to get to at least some of our meetings, and allowed those whose agendas fill up, to slot us in first. As a bonus, it helps us coordinate across the Netherlands and avoid clashes with other groups. Not so many last minute surprises!

Three Months Beforehand

We regularly solicit feedback on what subjects people want to hear about from informal conversations as well as surveys. As a bonus we also share thoughts about presentations we’ve seen at other groups (whether virtually or – if allowed! – by plane, as try and get to as many community events as possible!).

About three months beforehand we look at the current, taking into account what other groups are doing locally (to ensure variety), the “mood” of our network as evidenced on Twitter and in personal conversations, and recent Salesforce announcements or events (such as the seasonal releases, TrailheaDX and Dreamforce).

Then we brainstorm for suitable presenters. In the early days, we often brought in international speakers, who would happily give up their free time in exchange for a mini break in Amsterdam. These days we’re finding we’re able to source more and more content locally, in the Netherlands, and this is a matter of real pride, showing how our ecosystem has grown. That said, invitations go and discussions are had – it’s not plain sailing as we have to navigate around people’s availability and sometimes explain the Community Group ethos. No sales pitches here, only real world experience and genuine case studies!

Two Months Beforehand

As soon as the previous meeting concludes (as we meet every two months) we have a brief retrospective, discussing what went well and what can be improved. We then get to the real work – discussing which presenters are actually available. We have two or three slots to play with, so we discuss the content, what the potential presenters have offered and sketch out what the evening will look like. Occasionally we get more offers coming back to us than we expect and in that case we move a presentation to the following meeting (there’s always one speaker who will be relieved!); we certainly don’t let any offers go to waste.

In all honesty, that doesn’t happen as often as we like and occasionally there’s a bit of a mad scramble and a few rapidly placed phone calls. In the past, this has led to some great innovations such as panel discussions and small group workshops – particularly where we’ve wanted to address a topic but we haven’t not found the right content; we ended up crowdsourcing the expertise instead of having a specific speaker, leading to different and more interactive ways of dealing with the same material.

But that’s not all. It’s not just a case of selecting the speaker. The vast majority of presentations have two or three run-throughs beforehand, rotating around team members, to ensure a fresh perspective every time. If it’s a commercial partner, it may be because we want to check that they will be including pricing information (after all, that’s what our members will be asking!) or it may be one of our very own members, making their first public presentation. We want to help lift them up as much as possible and share our storytelling tradecraft. It’s important to note that we are hugely grateful for the time and effort our speakers put in. Our meetups won’t be possible otherwise.

All that said, sign off is only gained if the presentation meets a single criteria: “Will the content be interesting for me, as a User Group attendee?” There are no favours at this point, out of respect for our attendees who are giving up their evenings to join us.

One week beforehand

We have a quick meeting, where we usually remember to look at our checklist (for the first time!), discussing how we’re going to distribute any swag we’ve managed to get our hands on. We also look at the numbers who have signed up and try to think of extra marketing methods as we’re proud of our content, and are always keen to share it with as wide an audience as possible. Then there’s inevitably a conversation regarding who took the pop up banner home after the last meeting (if anyone), leading to a search of car boots, storage rooms and even underneath beds!

And on the night?

Well, judge for yourself. The Amsterdam User Group’s next meetup is on Thursday, 19th November (click “Join Group” to be notified as soon as the details are published). I’m hugely looking forward to it. 

And if you can’t make it, check out DutchSFCommunity.org for details of other Dutch community offerings, generally at least something every single week, for Admins, Developers, Marketers, Nonprofits, those new to the ecosystem, as well as experienced “pros”.

p.s. Want to contribute and help the Amsterdam User Group out? We’re always looking for stories about what local Dutch users are doing with their Salesforce implementations; our presentation mentoring is very well received. If you’re interested simply fill in the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of our group page (or any other Trailblazer Community Group for that matter).