General User Group Organisation
Being at your meetups and the meetups themselves are just a small part of running a User Group. By forming a user group, you're also forming a community, which doesn't stop when the meetups themselves stop - you need to continue catalysing communication within the community.
Setting the Dates
It really will help attendance if you have a regular date for the meetups to happen on. Typically the meetups will be on the Nth X of the month, and you should advertise this fact on all resources.
Finding speakers for each meetup is the hard part that you have to keep doing every month. The best way of doing this is to encourage new speakers (for example by offering short “lightning talks”), and do as much “networking” as you possibly can. Look for local speakers, national speakers as well as keeping an eye out for international speakers who might be in the area too! Try to plan as far in advance as possible - if you've confirmed speakers for 2-3 months ahead of time, it will save you a lot of stress!
You should appoint someone trustworthy to be in charge of finance (or do it yourself). Even if your User Group is free to attend, you will still have costs from time to tim, for example venue hire and organiser dues for Meetup.com. You need to judge whether you think you need to go to the level of opening a bank/checking account to manage finances, or perhaps use an online payment service only (like PayPal). You need to ensure a record is kept of all transactions, and you'll also need to check in your country and region whether you need to register your organisation with authorities.
Herding the elePHPants
A good meetup can sometimes be down to the fact that the User Group has a great leader. As a great leader of elePHPants, you need to be approachable, open-minded, trustworthy and respect your attendees. By placing yourself in the leader position, people will look up to you for leadership, which is a big responsibility you must be prepared for.
Put it this way - which User Group will be more successful: one led by a rude, arrogant leader, or one led by a friendly, approachable and helpful leader?
As a great leader, you need to attend every meetup you can. Unfortunately, life can sometimes be busy, so on the odd occasion you can't make a meetup, make sure you've got a great leader as a backup to run the meetup. Many meetups might have two (or more!) organisers, so that if the primary point of contact is ill or otherwise unable to attend the meetup, another can take over and ensure everything runs smoothly.
Networking is a hugely important part of your User Group community, so make sure you're enabling people to network effectively. Often that can mean coaxing people to converse; for that you'll need to be a “people person”. Many developers can be quite shy people, so make sure you're friendly and open, and that'll help them get the confidence to talk to you and others in the meetup.
Although many conversations will happen naturally, if the topic runs dry and people start looking blankly around during an awkward silence, you need to be able to rescue the conversation by bringing up a new topic (related or otherwise!). Often topics such as these will bring up a passionate debate or some constructive discussion:
- Where do you work? What sort of things do you work on?
- What IDE do you use?
- What is your favourite framework?
- Do you unit test?
- What is your development/deployment process like?
Code of Conduct
User groups should ideally have a code of conduct in place that details the procedures the user group takes, and the general expectations of mutual respect for all peers. Don't just pay lip service and have a code of conduct just because: you need to make sure your user group is a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone.
Sometimes, groups might meet in pubs or bars, but it is very important to note that not everyone will want to drink alcohol at your event. Make sure that your meetups don't focus around just drinking and that they are open to all.