Events and events planning

It is different of course to arrange a small online event with just one speaker (Yourself perhaps) or a face to face conference with hundreds of participants. There are a number of things you need to do in both cases such as planning for it, marketing, registrations and perhaps follow up.

Anyway, here there will be two different parts with some overlapping. Again, please comment if there are things you are missing or if you have any other kind of feedback.

Events with one or a few speakers

This is quite easy nowadays, especially if you do the event online-based. You need a few things. An idea, and date and a plaform/place for the event.

Keep things simple and just do it. If you have skills yourself around a topic, just plan for it yourself and start inviting members. If you would like to have someone else speaking, reach out and decide for a date and time that works for both of you. Don’t spend to much time figuring out which time is better than the other. Just go ahead and book it and change in worst case. To take holidays into consideration is a good idea though.. and don’t forget if schools are closed etc.

What you need to arrange virtual event is:

  • An idea/topic
  • A speaker (could be yourself)
  • A date for the event
  • A registration page which is built into Zoom for example (or use Google Form)
  • a webinar platform such Zoom, Gotomeeting/Gotowebinar, Webex, Microsoft Teams.. (there are tons out there)

If you would like to do a face to face meeting instead you need also:

  • A place to be at. Can you borrow a room at your office after working hours? Or reach out to IBM locally if they can help out. Another option is to just find a good bar or restaurant. Sometimes they have meeting rooms or else you just find a corner of the place and do your stuff there.
  • The registration page could be done via Google Form for example.

Don’t spend to much time on thinking and instead just do it!

Event planning with several speakers

This takes some more planning to be good. But again, the main thing is to have the idea, find speakers, decide for a day and time and start promoting it.

You could start with using Excel as a tool for the planning, but you should probably start looking at something else like Trello where you can work with others in a smooth way.

As you want to publish the agenda online, I would go with Why? Because this tools is used by COMMON and Common Europe and many speakers are already in their database (this blog post is focused on IBM Power user groups after all). It has the basic functions and as soon as a speaker has agreed to participate, the only thing you have to do is adding him with his email in Sched and voilá, his picture, bio and everything is there.

It is far from free though, so this depends on your budget and today there are tons of alternatives out there, check this article for example:

Please feel free and give feedback in the comments below

User groups – tools for management

Tools are the difference between smooth management of an user group and a not-so-smooth one.

There are a couple of different tools we are going to mention here. There are of course more out there and plenty of specialists comparing different tools if you are looking for something more.

Please give ideas in the comment field if you have other tools to suggest.

Management of a user group

This one is a bit related to how big or small your user group is. But let’s start with the basic tasks you have to perform.

  • Keeping tracks of members
  • Invoicing (if you are charging a fee)
  • Project planning (Another post will cover event plannings)
  • Communicating with the users

To start with, creating a Gmail account is not a stupid thing. First of all It is good to separate your work with the user group from your daily job or even private life. Secondly with Gmail comes tons of tools.

Keeping track of members

This one is crucial of course. Depending of your size and “ambition level” you should know a couple of things about your members. Name, email, company is the minimum I would say. If you are charging a fee you need to know if they’ve paid or not.

Gmail contacts is a good place to start, or just a spreadsheet with Google Sheets or Excel if you are willing to pay a bit for this.


is a bit up to where you are in the world (and of course if you would like to charge anything in the first place). But I would go with a local vendor with a cloud based solution today. To create an invoice and send it as PDF is today a very simple process. The financial reporting is a bit trickier, but with online tooling you can do this yourself with basic knowledge. Make sure you follow the rules of your region though. To pay a bit extra for this as a service might be a good idea after all.

Project planning

There are many tools out there nowadays. Again, you can do magic with Google sheets or Excel when it comes to planning activities for the user groups, but some other tools gives you some nice features. One such feature is to delegate tasks another one is to set due dates and reminders.

One popular tool for project management is Trello. It is free and you can tweak it a lot to meet your requirements.


You need of course to communicate with your members in different ways. You should probably create groups on Linkedin and Facebook and perhaps also a Twitter account. Another great way of communicating is through newsletters. A bit old fashioned but let’s call it “classic” instead.

Mailchimp is the most popular tool around, and free up to 2000 email addresses. Most likely enough to start with at least. You get tons of good functionalities using Mailchimp where one important thing is that Mailchimp will help you being compliant to rules around spam etc.

Slack is another popular way of communicating with your user group members. It is free to start with and easy to get started with. Also it will give you tons of options when it comes to integrations with other tools (such as Mailchimp) and runs well on both browsers but also on my smartphone. You can create different “channels” and they can be both open or hidden, you can chat in threads and much more.

Some other tools that you should take a look at for managing your user group are:

Doodle – To find a good time for meetings or events.

SurveyMonkey for surveys

Google Forms for different types of registrations

Please comment below if you would like to suggest other tools for managing a user group!

Small event – I have an idea of an event, now what?

If a small event will happen in the first place, you need two things. An idea and the execution itself.

The first step is the easiest, we all have tons of ideas right. The second one is actually not as difficult as you first might think. It has a lot to do about expectation level. Keep it low at least the first time you do it. This is a little bit like agile application development combined with the classic Nike slogan “Just do it”.

Choose a topic

If we are talking about traditional educational presentations they usually comes from two different perspectives. I have something to show/teach or I want to learn something myself.

Now, if you have something you would like to show to others you have already 75% of the things needed. Start right away if not already done with making your presentation, Powerpoint is far from needed, a live demo is highly appreciated but you still need to go through some kind of flow. Probably you’ve seen a number of presentations in the past so you know what you like and don’t like yourself.

There will be another post about things to think about when doing a presentation

Guest speaker

If there is a topic that you would like to know more about yourself, there are most certainly a big audience out there interested in the same topic. Take the initiative by inviting some expert with the right competence. Perhaps you know someone personally, then this is the easiest way. Or you can contact someone that you know did a presentation about the topic at some other event. People speaking at conferences are always happy to share their experience and do the same or similar presentation over and over again. After all, they’ve spent a good amount of time producing their presentations and like to show it to others of course. But be clear with compensation, that is always a bad idea to discuss after the event.

Get ideas and find your next speaker by looking at other events. In the US you should look at COMMON website or at any of all the local user groups that you will find all over the country. There are a number of “super stars” that frequently attend conferences, webinars and other events and they are again always interested in speak more. They are professionals for a reason and you will learn a lot by engaging them.

Some conferences to find speakers from:



Common Europe Congress 2021

Online or face to face?

You need to decide if you would like to do an online event or face to face. Online is the easiest of course where the only thing you need is some kind of presentation platform such as Zoom, Teams or any of all the other tools available (another post will describe these tools).

If you would like to do a face to face meeting it requires some extra step but “Keep It Simple Stupid”. Can you borrow a conference at your office, do you know someone at IBM that hopefully can help or just find a good restaurant nearby where you can do your event and have a dinner together at afterwards..


Date and time

The next thing you need is a data and time. Give at least 2 – 3 weeks for marketing of the event. If you give to short notice, people most likely has other plans and can even be upset because they really would have loved to come if you just gave them enough heads up. Depending of your intended audience spend some thoughts on the timing and don’t forget the time zone perspective if you do an online event. You can reach most of both the US and European markets if you do it right. If you do the planning and execution all by yourself, perfect. More agile is difficult to be.. Don’t forget to record it for later use or publish on Youtube for example.

Don’t forget to record your webinar

In other posts I will talk about toolings and presentations techniques.

Saving an user group

A short story that perhaps you can relate to or get some insights from:

I came 2008/2009 into an very old organization (40+ years old) after about 10 years of hard times with losing members and with that members fees, lost interest from sponsors, bad reputation of the name, few people attending meetings, previous board members that used all the money for personal benefits, people trying to split the organization etc.

I made a decision very early, I was there to create content to make the user group relevant in the future. Luckily there was other at the board that could take care of the boring stuff such as cutting costs, going through bylaws and just keep the members list up to date and make sure invoiced went out.

We had a very good relation with IBM locally and the first year we cancelled our yearly conference (two per year was done in the past) and made a half day in IBM facilities where mostly IBMers and business partners showed up. Previous conferences had cost us money we no longer had more or less..

The year after we arranged a two day conference with approx 80 people attending, again mainly IBMers, business partners and some old members that always showed up. On my initiative we ended the conference with a brainstorming session where one very important idea came up from one of the participants. “Why not make sessions that attracts developers?”

Back then, around 2009 – 2010 the agenda was mainly for hardware people including operating system management. We did, and the following year we invited Paul Tuohy, Susan Gantner and Jon Paris, with that we grew the number of participants to over 150 and more each year with a peak of 300+ attendees when we in 2016 hosted the Common Europe Congress which was seen as a huge success. Common Europe and many other organizations through out in Europe had similar issue like we had in Sweden after all.

We also produced a members magazine which I took control over. Another huge success was made especially I was lucky to know a person doing magazines for a living. We got really good attention from all around the world, and I always brought a number of them to the board of directors meeting for COMMON in North America for example.

The third thing I started was a monthly newsletter that had about 800 subscribers when I quit doing them in 2019. Short messages about what is going on in the community, news from IBM etc was the success factor. People really liked to read about their beloved platform that the outside word gave very little attention after all.

First page of a newsletter

What would I like to say with this?

  1. Keep an good relation with your local IBM people
  2. Keep it simple. All initiatives are good initiatives.
  3. Look around and see what resources you have available. Perhaps just starting a monthly newsletter or a Slack group for chatting is good enough to start with. Or just gather some people in a pub and brainstorm together.

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