Umbraco London Meetup (1)

How to host a successful virtual meetup

Tips from an Umbraco Meetup attendee, speaker and organizer.

Rachel Profile
Written by Rachel Breeze

Suddenly, all events were cancelled. That was the reality we faced earlier this year - and are still facing. What do we do? We go on Zoom! The same thing happened to the many Umbraco Meetups being hosted around the world. Today, avid community member, meetup organizer and accessibility expert, Rachel Breeze, will give you tips on how to host a successful online meetup and maybe encourage you to either host or join one at a screen near you: 

Umbraco as well as being a content management system, has a friendly, welcoming community. There are many ways for people to learn and share knowledge about Umbraco, the ecosystems it sits within, and make friends within the community. This includes attending meetups, conferences, festivals, and roadshows.

Going virtual

When the UK and other parts of the world went into lockdown we sadly saw the cancellation of many events we had been looking forward to. The last real-world event within the Umbraco Community was UmbracoSpark, an innovation conference for Umbraco developers.

Umbraco Spark logo

Umbraco Spark logo

However, this hasn’t signalled the end of the road of the community catching up, sharing knowledge, and making new friends. Meetups have gone virtual, and the Candid Contributions Team have even run a virtual Hackathon and a mini Umbraco conference “Code Patch”.

Code Patch logo

Code Patch logo

Whilst the virtual hackathon, conference, and meetups don’t replace the vibe of a real-world one, they have kept us connected as a community; we have caught up with one another, shared knowledge, had a drink (alcoholic or otherwise) together, and a natter.

What’s been really lovely about the virtual meetups is that we as a community have had the chance to connect with people regularly who we wouldn’t normally see.  We have met people from around the world including the US, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, Denmark, and Norway.  

A trend that started just before COVID with Vendr, uCommerce, UmarketingSuite giving talks in Australia, and Emmanuel Tissera joining Umbraco Virtual was continued by Callum and Poornima have even given talks in Australia without leaving their homes here in the UK. 

Not all meetups are about code; Karl and Ravi have each run a fun and slightly competitive quiz at the Bristol and London meetups respectively.   

In Australia, the meetups have combined to run one a month for the whole of Oz.

Umbraco London Meetup courtesy of Mike Irving

Umbraco London Meetup courtesy of Mike Irving

Rethinking Zoom

The meetups use Zoom and Umbraco HQ manages the account. The use of Zoom does provide an opportunity for gatecrashers to a meetup, so introducing a waiting room and only sharing the meeting code with attendees has helped reduce the risk of unwanted guests.  As a result, many meetups have also strengthened their code of conduct which is only a positive thing, with them being revisited not only to help with virtual meetups but also to help support diversity.  

Sadly Zoom doesn’t provide closed captioning out of the box, and it is an option that needs to be added separately.  Most people who are presenting at a meetup will show a slide deck and code examples, this does mean that attendees who lip read can miss out on information.  To overcome this, meetup organizers should spotlight the person doing the talk so that people who lip read can see both the screen share and the presenter at the same time. Also as attendees, we can help improve the accessibility of meetings, by only having the mic on when we’re talking and by using a video camera for people who lip read.  

All meetups can be a little daunting to newcomers, but Zoom calls can be even more so, you log on to the meetup, and see a lot of unknown faces looking back at you. Meetup organizers have made sure they welcome attendees, and then when the meetup starts everyone introduces themselves. This means by the end of the introductions, you know who everyone is and why they are there, so by the start of the talk you know who everyone is.

When the meetups were run “in the real world” you would see a number of people on the circuit giving the same talk at different meetups, now that they are virtual it’s meant that this is no longer an option and it’s created an opportunity for more people to talk at different meetups. If you want to practice a talk for the first time, a meetup is a great place to do it.   

If you find using Zoom hard work you may find it easier by:

  • On a one to one call, pin the person you’re speaking to so you can focus on them rather than you, this is done by right-clicking on their video and selecting Pin Video.  
  • In a conference call, you can right-click on your video to display the menu and then choose “Hide Myself”. This was a top tip from Carole.

 

Looking on the bright side

One of the big pluses about the virtual meetups is that you can travel anywhere in the world, without leaving your home.  This means that you no longer have to worry about the travel; when attending the Manchester and Leeds meetups I would have to leave work early to make sure I got to them on time.  It may also be possible to join a meetup and look after children at the same time, something which is impossible in the real world. Also if you have other life commitments, it is possible to drop into and out of the meetups without disturbing anyone, or feeling self-conscious.  One of the things that underscored the flexibility of this was someone joining in the London meetup at 21:45 BST, knowing that it would still be running and that they would be very welcome.  

I have mixed feelings about when meetups start to be in the real world and are no longer virtual. We will be able to speak in person, but others will no longer be able to drop in on meetups that are not local. I do hope that we can continue to do some of the things in the real world that we’ve done in the virtual world, say hey to new people, go round the room and introduce ourselves.  Start each meeting with a news round-up and so on. 

In the Virtual World, Mike Masey has also confirmed that Umbraco Virtual will return and a number of meetups are considering the occasional virtual session.  

Umbraco Virtual logo

Umbraco Virtual logo

Other options for meetups may be to find a method for hosting a combined virtual and physical meeting, DUUGFest is trying just that this year.

DUUG Fest 2020 Logo

DUUG Fest 2020 Logo

For me, the Umbraco meetups no longer feel like it’s a group of peers sharing knowledge, but a bunch of mates keeping one another updated about Umbraco and related technology; I hope that all attendees feel this way too.

Useful Meetup links

Meetups which have run through the pandemic include:

 

/Rachel Breeze, senior developer at Umbraco Gold Partner, Sigma and Umbraco MVP. Rachel is part of the Umbraco Backoffice Accessibility Team and Umbraco Manchester and North West Meetup Organising teams. 

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