Friday, April 11, 2008

My experiences running a *virtual* user group (part 1)

This is scheduled to appear in Culminis' The VOICE newsletter out officially on May 9th, 2008.

This is one of my longest postings *ever*! ;-)



Seeing as Windows PowerShell was so new, and I live in a smaller town in Eastern Canada, I didn't think I would have an opportunity to actually start a regular local user group. So I started off looking for a bigger pool of professionals and try to start a Canadian user group (similar to UK UG PS).

I'm sure when it hit me to create a virtual PowerShell group, but it is likely after I started having various discussions with Rodney Buike from Microsoft.

With the help of Rodney, I have Live Meeting server access and could hold my first meeting. Since that first meeting, I was able to find access to a Live Meeting server because I had just received a MVP award, and had made some new contacts.

The story so far

I had my first meeting late in 2007. I decided to have my first meeting at noon EST to try that out. My main reason for doing something at that time was that I had a presenter from The Netherlands. The attendance for that meeting peaked at roughly that meeting. Currently, I have had three more meetings since, and am working on others. The attendance has dropped a bit, but I have also been very busy, and haven't put as much effort into marketing my meetings. Besides, the proceedings are available for anyone to download and view at their own convenience.


My meetings so far have been mostly a 85-15 mix: 85% from North America and 15% other. One of the features of Live Meeting is being able to create a quick voting page and have participants indicate what continent they are from.


I had 50 or so at meetings #1 and #2, then about 25 at #3, then just 10 at #4. I don't have stats on offline viewing of the videos.

How the sessions work

Typically, I either have my sessions at noon EST or 8PM EST. The reason basically is to open up the possibilities of who can attend and present at the live sessions. So, for the most part, I believe other one of these sessions is usually acceptable to anyone in North America, and when I have someone from another continent talk, then I likely try to set up a noon EST session so it isn't too late in Europe, for example.

I usually start off with a 10 minute introduction presenting the agenda, sponsors, and running a few polls to get some general information about who is attending (continent, experience with PowerShell). Then each speaker is allocated about 20-30 minutes each to present. I'll usually invite 2 to 3 speakers for one meeting.

Previously, I kind of had the intention of organizing the sessions like this: Microsoft invitee, vendor invitee, general invitee. So for each session, I would try to invite a Microsoft employee to present, have a 3rd party vendor present, and then some people from the community in general.

The presentations go for a total of 1-2 hours.

Finally, I close off the last 10 minutes talking tentatively about the next session: when, presenters, etc. I usually run two closing polls: sessions too long or short?, will you attend the next session?. Usually the results from those 2 polls are positive.


The majority of my presenters have been from North America, but I have also had a presenter from Russian, and The Netherlands, as I previously mentioned. One of my upcoming presenters is from Israel.

Of my four sessions so far, I've had a mixture of about five general presentations, four vendor related presentations, and two Microsoft employees. Of the general sessions, all the presenters were at the time, or currently are, Microsoft MVPs.


Here might lie one of my problems. I don't have any set way to get the word out about my user group. Usually, at least one week before, I'll post something on my blog, a few mailings lists that are PowerShell related, and on the PowerShell newsgroup. Also, I'll put on a notice on

I could definitely put some more thought into getting possibly a domain name and some web space of my own for my user group information.

Level of attendees

For the most part all of my sessions so far have been intermediate to advanced. I'm not currently planning any introduction sessions, and besides, giving a 20-30 minute introduction session on something doesn't seem like the most efficient use of anyone's time. Furthermore, for the most part, people who have come to my session are already pretty experienced with PowerShell and have thus managed to find out about my user group.

Using Live Meeting

In a future posting, I'll talk more about what I like about Live Meeting.

Things that can go wrong

The biggest outstanding problem I still have is occasionally not taking myself off of mute and talking away, while nobody can hear me. With each session, I try to be more and more conscious as to whether I'm on mute or not.

Session is recorded. Now what?

The process to get Live Meeting to record is simple, and also getting the recorded session to your local computer is easy also. Most of my raw, recorded sessions have been about 10MB in size which is pretty good. Now, that's raw... What if you want to start cutting/editing out parts, then the fun begins. The process to get from a Live Meeting recording to an edited WMV format is tough from my experiences. I'll cover the process in a future posting. For now, I'll just say that an edited video turns out to be about ten times bigger using my method.

For the time being, here's all the recorded sessions from my previous meetings:





The videos are uploaded to my free 5GB SkyDrive account for your viewing pleasure. Because of the apparent limit with maximum file sizes, each file is usually a maximum of 25MB, so I have had to split individual sessions into 2, sometimes 3 smaller files.

Help me!

For now, most of the information is on my personal blog ( Sign up to my RSS feed if you'd like to be kept up-to-date of anything going on.

OK, now I'm offering myself as much as to try to help anyone with my limited experience, to offer anything I may have gathered so far, or even to present at your own virtual user group.

Feel free to email me directly at: [EDIT] "by leaving a comment on this post". If I don't respond within 48-72 hours, then maybe your message got flagged as spam because I'm usually on top of my email, and answer quickly (maybe too briefly also).


Check out You can use this site to register your events, and then you can use that site to manage attendees who go to the site to register for your event.


I'm excited that Culminis has begun offering this service to user groups. This is definitely something groups can use on occasion to invite external people to listen in or present. In the colder months, I know I'd much rather be sitting at home drinking a cup of hot chocolate while somebody presents an interesting topic!

Recently enough, the UK PS UG ( has started having the occasional presentation via Live Meeting so external people could do remote presentations to the group. Just a few weeks ago, a new System Center virtual user group ( started up using my virtual user group idea. I've actually already offered to do a PowerShell presentation for them.

For the time being, I'm not currently using the Live Meeting server Culminis is currently offering, but the experience should be the same.