Road to European GDG Leads Summit – Setting the purpose

GDG Summit Purposes

If you know me, you know I love to start with why. In addition, as Priya Parker wrote in her book “The art of Gathering“, “by having a clearly identified purpose for the event, participants will have more chances to actually connect, and not be disappointed”. So, once our European DevRel team decided this year to shift from several regional GDG Leads summit, to a European-wide summit for 500+ attendees, we set down together, to define the main purpose of the summit, the North Start that would have influenced all the other event-related decisions. How we made it is the topic of this post.

(This post is part of a series about the European GDG Leads Summit organization. Partially to give to GDG leads some behind-the-scenes of the event, partially to share with other community managers lessons learned, partially for personal fun)

Get inspiration from the past

To warm-up our brains and create a common ground for follow-up discussion among the 12+ people in the team, we started with a retrospective exercise. We looked at the regional summits we run in the last two years, wearing two hats: one that considered attendees feelings and emotions (community is all about emotions), their comments and their feedback; another that considered our goals and impressions as organizers. We used the Start / Stop / Continue model, adding a fourth “Best” element to it. And this was the result.

Start / Stop / Keep doing / Best of past regional GDG Leads Summits

An incredibly dense wall of insights! We briefly discussed the points and, unsurprisingly, the ones that emerged more often were about knowledge and experience sharing, the sense of community, networking activities, training on community-related topics, feedback and discussions, intimate conversations, fun together. We also smiled a lot at your past, because was full of great and heartwarming memories.

We added into the mix the results of the interviews we did during Google I/O to several community leads there, asking them the most valuable activity they wanted to have during a GDG Leads Summit.

Identify the core summit purpose

With all these information in mind, we started to think, individually, about a desired purpose for the summit. With these key characteristics:

• Represents the sweet spot between what attendees want and enjoy, and the event organizers goals, with a slight preference for the attendees side.
Tangible and inspirational at the same time. Able to leave a feeling in between “we made it” and “there is still road ahead”. The “we made it” to positively justify the time spent, the “there is still road ahead” so attendees feel it’s already time for another summit, to continue the journey together.
• Offers a high level narrative that could be addressed during different events, using different angles and themes, but still part of the same, consistent, story.

And we put ideas together, obtaining another “surface” full of great insights:

GDG Summit Purposes

That flip chart fed an intense follow-up discussion that, after setting priorities, voting the different proposals and adding other elements into play, left us in agreement about the following GDG Summit purpose:

Empower GDG Leads connecting them and with them at a personal level, fostering a European identity and celebrating their successes, while providing tools to growth in their community manager role.

Skills and tooling, identity, connections, appreciation. Four areas we’ll work on to draft the agenda!

Stay tuned for the next post on the European GDG Leads Summit!

Organize a national community leads summit – during the event

(Between September and October of this year, I organised two national community summits, one for Italians Google Developer Group leads, the other for French ones. 70 people in total, a weekend each, lot of fun! This and the other posts in the series are a stream of consciousness around different topics)

As described previously, the summit agenda is co-decided together with the participants, and it can be very fluid and dynamic. But there are some activities I always run, because I consider them structural to a good summit.

Define summit objectives, and their importance

Summit goals
Summit goals…

The opening activity defines a list of common summit objectives, from participants point of view. We need concrete metrics to measure summit success, and the number of achieved goals from that list by the end of the event is a good one.

There are plenty of techniques to create that list, but I personally prefer to ask participants to write down on sticky notes the two most important objectives they want to achieve at the summit. After 5 minutes, I start asking to a person to read her first goal and then, back to all the participants, how many have reported a similar goal. Then, we may slightly adjust the original goal to include also the others, copy it into a whiteboard and add how many people have it in common. Finally, all the sticky notes covered by that goal are discarded. And I repeat, until all sticky notes are finished. When discussing a goal, I try to be specific and precise, because it’s easy to move to very generic objectives hard to measure, like “Getting ideas to improve the quality of my community”. Improvements regarding what aspect of your community? Number or participants? Core organisers? Speakers? Sponsorships?
Writing down on two sticky notes, instead of freely asking what those goals are, allows to focus on the really important ones. Otherwise, without selecting them first, it would be easy to say multiple times “Oh yes, true, this point is important also for me”, losing the importance dimension.
In addition, the list provides insights on potential topics to discuss in the months after the summit, during the follow-up community management training sessions.

Identify common pain points, and who has already solved them

... And pain points
… And pain points

The second activity is for creating a map of current weaknesses the communities have. I use this map, again, both to measure summit success, in terms of useful replies provided to those points during the event, and to plan after the summit. And it has another great use: it can connect people who don’t know each other: in a summit with 20+ community managers with different level of expertise, it’s easy that one pain point has been already solved by another community, so it’s worthwhile to chat with its managers to understand how. In fact. I often run this activity just before the lunch or the first long break, to warm-up the informal conversations.

Among the many techniques to create this map, I proceed like previous activity: one sticky note each attendee where write down the most important need their community has. Similar discussion to find if others have same need, copy it to the whiteboard, together with the number of sharers. But now, before moving to the next one, I ask how many people have already solved what we just highlighted on the board. If someone raises her hand, I say to the people with the need: “Memorize her face, now you know near to who you have to sit down during the lunch”.

During the summit

Then the summit continues, with its specific agenda. One attention I have is to leave different free moments for destructured chats. Moments with nothing to do, but I don’t give the impression they are empty slots of time: I put them in the agenda, using terms as “Free chats”, or “Coffee machine chat moment”, so attendees know what they are supposed to do.

Inevitably, the summit also arrives near to its end, and I reserve the last two hours for three activities: a free Q&A session, a quick summit retrospective and the group photo.

Free Q&A session

Despite the unplanned free chat moments, I’ve seen that some questions are common to lot of people, so discuss them all together can save some time and allows to stay all aligned, and I reserve 45 to 60 minutes for a firechat with me and the other Googlers. In the past, we have gone from the kind of support Google can offer for their activities, to national events we can plan together, from details on some Google-wide initiatives, to complaints from managers. We’ve also discussed the evolution of a national community identity, a strategy to record, edit and publish sessions presented during the community events, if and how to do social media involving all the communities and much, much more.

Summit retrospective

In order to verify summit success, I reserve another 45 to 60 minutes to a quick retrospective. We start from the first whiteboard created at the beginning, asking, for each objective, how many people feel it has been achieved. Then, some simple math: if 7 people participated to the summit to figure out the next step of their community in term of event format, and 5 of them have been able to find good ideas, we had a good success on this goal. Clearly, only people who proposed an objective can decide if it has been reached or not. The sum of the success scores for each point defines how the summit has met the expectation of the attendees, if the time they bet on the event was well spent or not.
Similar approach, but this time for needs partially or totally solved.

Then we decide if there are Action Items we need to carry on after the summit. Writing them down and assigning responsibilities and deadlines for them is crucial, because the day after the summit is… A totally different day and it’s easy to forget everything!

Last part of the retrospective is dedicated to fill a form I prepared with evaluations for every single activities and sessions proposed during the summit, in a scale from 1 to 5, plus some bonus questions like the global usefulness of the summit, the best thing, the one to improve for the next time etc. Ten minutes are reserved for this activity, because… Again, tomorrow is Monday, and we have already forgotten everything!

Group photo

Picture, or it hasn’t happened“, so it’s time for the group photo. And to start saying goodbye, or having the lunch together. And, for me, to start thinking to the summit follow-up ;)

Organize a national community leads summit – before the event

(Between September and October of this year, I organised two national community summits, one for Italians Google Developer Group leads, the other for French ones. 70 people in total, a weekend each, lot of fun! This and the other posts in the series are a stream of consciousness around different topics)

The summit is own and decided by the communities

A summit cannot be good if participants don’t feel the need of having one: they have to find their motivation to come, participate and share. During the discussions I have with the leaders of the communities I can scout for these motivations, raise the awareness and collect potential topics, but the communities have to decide, eventually. The summit itself is put under discussion every year, because it shouldn’t be taken as granted and has to be seen as a real resource from the communities. At the end, it’s an exchange: usefulness versus their time.
Once decided for having one, it’s crucial they’re involved in its organisation. Share and vote ideas using a document or a board, create a summit council in charge of the agenda, facilitate the communication: whatever is useful to contribute to a consensus-based process, because consensus generates involvement.
I generally take care of the boring stuff, like finding a location and manage the logistic of the travels, maintain the focus on the parts that need to be decided together etc, so communities can spend time on the most valuable part: the content. But I know groups that take care of everything, location included.

Set the date and announce it as earlier as possible

I reserve for the summit two days, generally the weekend: when people need to travel 4 or more hours, one day event don’t worthwhile the trip. And because they are running the community as a passion, asking to take two days out from work is not feasible. Fri-Sat might be another good alternative. In any case, I run a poll with potential dates, and the communities choose. I like to have the summit when the “community year” restarts, to have time for planning together. In Europe, this means just after the summer, September or early October. I generally start the discussion about the date of the new summit in June, to confirm it by the beginning of July.

Carefully select the summit location

This kind of summit can be easily organised in an hotel at the city center, sometimes even at the Google office. No way. I like to experiment with places detached from the everyday context, generally with nature around. A medieval farmstead in Tuscany, a country club near Paris, a dedicated structure. It may be hard to spot the right one: price, distance from train stations and airports, services offered: all need to be taken into account, but the impact on the final result really worthwhile the search. One year we went in a location barely covered by mobile connection, with Internet available only at the reception, and very slow. After an initial moment of panic, people realized that not having the connection for a weekend wasn’t a big issue. Panoramas and sun were far better.

Ask what attendees need and what they can provide

Even if the participating communities are all technical, I try to exclude tech topics from the agenda. I would like to provide contents for doing better as a community manager. Those contents are generally harder to find than tech content, and tailor them specifically for the needs of Google Developer Groups in their particular context, is practically impossible to find outside the summit. So, once we know the summit happens, the attendees list on a shared doc two things: what they want to know more and what knowledge they can offer to the others. In less than a week we create a road map, useful to understand where they are and where they want to arrive. Of course, year after year, I can recognise patterns on this map, and it’s not rare that requests and offers of the leaders recourse based on the maturity of their communities. Never mind, it’s important to verify every assumption. This initial and shared road map is used as raw base to work on summit contents. In addition, it is extremely useful to drive the “after summit” follow-up. Eight weeks before the summit are a good timing for this activity.

Set my goal

In addition to the general motivation for supporting this national summits, I need to set the specific event goals and metric meaningful for me, and different from the ones of the attendees. Clearly, they depend on the level of the local ecosystem: if it isn’t so active, an increase in the event number during the 6 months after the summit can be a good metric. If the goal is to improve the skills of the communities, track how many managements techniques presented at the summit have been adopted is important. Or, for a mature local context, maybe the birth of cross organised events, decided at the summit, is the success metric. Or the number of “organizer’s issues” solved at the event. Or the tangible development of the mindset around a national community of community organizers. In any case, it really depends on the general strategy and local context.

Balance between contents internally and externally provided

I like to have mixed sources of content during the event. Part from external experts, and part from the internal group of attendees.
For the first category, I brought at past summits a social media expert, a professional community manager, a person that was working around diversity and gender gap in the tech ecosystem, Improvisation theater trainers, a psychologist. As “external guest”, she should be able to provide fresh air, new points of view and high level of expertise around one inspirational topic I suppose can help the communities to grow better and stronger. Previous road map guides me in this selection, but I generally take some freedom of choice here.  To be really able to push them further in one direction I think is important.
For the second category, and thanks to the previous road map, I both identify communities that are doing great under one or more topics leaders want to know deeper, inviting them to present a session, and pick-up some of the “offered sessions”: maybe a successful activity analysis, ideas they want to share, community experiences they find valuable. Everyone can present, not only the most experienced communities.
Time balance between these two sources depends on local context. Ideally, I would keep at least 1/3 – 2/3 division, if not a 50%-50%.

Insert a fun, and unexpected, activity

I’m proud to always bring one fun and unexpected activity during the summit. An activity that helps the community-making process, last for a couple of hours, relax the evening atmosphere and different from a session. In the past I used the community dinner format, where each leads bring some food or wine from her city a and, all these food together, and only these, are used for the dinner. I’m from Italy, after all! Or the “My Story” activity, where each attendee has four minutes to talk about her to the rest of the group, using only one slide and with free choice on arguments relevant in her life and useful for others to better know the speaker. Or animate the evening with an Improvisation theater activity, perfect to create stronger bounds and to stretch some public speaking skills. Fantasy it’s the key here. One suggestion: keep diversity in mind, and propose activities suitable for all genders, even if male is the predominant one at this kind of summit.

And now?

Having all these stuff arranged, probably makes already halfway to a memorable event. Now it’s time to make it happens!

Organize a national community leads summit – Why?

20151108 - community_8_bit_wallpaper_by_zequihumano
Credit to zequihumano

(Between September and October of this year, I organised two national community summits, one for Italians Google Developer Group leads, the other for French ones. 70 people in total, a weekend each, lot of fun! This and the other posts in the series are a stream of consciousness around different topics)

Why a summit?

Before talking about a specific event like the summit, let’s do a step back and understand why Google supports GDG communities (Google Developer Groups). The one-sentence reason that is getting more consensus in my Developer Relations team right now is:
“Increase developer engagement and skill level on Google technologies by building a trusted community through strong relationships with influential local developers”
There is the final goal to increase developer engagement and skill level on Google technologies. The strategy to reach the goal is building a trusted community and the way to implement the strategy is through strong relationship with influential local developers.

The trust component is fundamental for maintaining a serene and solid two-ways communication channel. One side, I can suggest interesting content to discuss based on what Google cares in a particular moment of time, pass tips about community management methodologies, suggest improvements, share inspirational initiatives. On the other side, they can try to ask Google support for their activities, feel hears when proposing new or better ways to collaborate together, report me developer’s feedback and, for very specific cases, they can also count on me to try to solve a problem they have with Google as a company, like a support center not replying, an internal point of contact they need etc.

The community model is a way to implement the one:few:many outreach model, where I and my colleagues working with communities are the “one” part, the influential local developers are the “few” part and the audiences attending their events are the many part. This “many part” is also the reason why these “local developers” are influential: because they can reach and teach to a broad “last mile audience”.
It is also a way to get in touch with a group of people that care about particular values: they recognise the importance of the “giving back”, they like to share knowledge and try to create something better together. I personally love, and prefer, to work following this mindset, and the community model itself filters out who diverges too much from this approach.
The community helps, in addition, to reduce the dependency from the single point of failure: me! Yes, because I can leave my job, shift priorities or have less time. Instead, a network model, where newcomers are helped by expert, where the natural internal group sharing creates a positive spiral, where group culture is naturally breath by all the members, where sharing and synergies happens, is more resilient to failure when important nodes go down. I’m not saying it would be the same without me, but I can take a short break without too many damages.

Back to original question, it’s now easy to understand that a summit can be a convenient way to build and maintain strong relationships with these influential local developers. It offers unique advantages compared to other solutions: dedicated time to discuss and share, face to face approach, the feeling participants have been taken into account, occasions to have fun together and much more: all bring to a better knowledge and, ultimately, to a stronger feel of trust and respect among the group members, myself included. In addition, such occasion allows serendipity to happen, brainstorming of new ideas possible, makes feedback easier to receive and provide, a quicker notion sharing. And it brings real people knowledge, beyond the simple fact of being community managers: it create personal relationships, people get closer. And the closer they are, the more trust and strong relationships happen, the more the ground is fertile to create a national community of community leads. Regarding the fun part, I’ve learnt to never underestimate the power of shared experiences and positive remembers on the life of a social group.

The other ways I tried, all lack of some element: visiting groups creates strong connection between me and them, but doesn’t allow groups cross-pollination. Online meetup are useful to sync-up and share, but are sharp focused on the agenda, hard to run when more than 7/10 people are online and there is no room for fun, serendipity and personal connections. Podcasts, blogposts, newsletters are good to share a message, but are impersonal. On the other side, all of them are cheaper than a summit and require less effort to be arranged and run.

Regarding this very last point, I believe the best community you can build is the one that can happily survive when you leave, so the summit can be the moment of truth to verify the maturity of the community. If I’m the one that, year after year, propose the summit, arrange it, run after the leads to have them in, probably I’m not doing a great work. Instead, if after some years of first-person involvement, I receive an invitation for the next community summit, this could be a strong sign of a well-done job.

As mentioned before, in addition to create this trusted communication channel with the leads, it’s also crucial for me to build a strong network among the different community leads, a community of community leads. This will be the topic of one of the next posts in the series.