VanDev, Vancouver's Software Developers Network, started in October 2004 as the Vancouver Software Developers Meetup Group using the services of Meetup.com. The original motivation, which continues as the core vision today, is to build an effective network within Vancouver's software development industry. VanDev's meetings are usually anchored by one or more presentations and this guide is designed to give you, the speaker, the background and guidelines to help you to give a presentation at a VanDev event. It may also be of interest to people involved in organizing events.
What is VanDev? The short answer is that it's a network. A longer answer must consider what that means.
VanDev is often seen by newcomers as a form of user group and they are surprised by the focus that we have on networking. The user groups usually hold meetings in which the technical presentations are the focus. The result is that many people arrive for the presentation and leave immediately after it's finished and they miss out on a very important opportunity to get to know their peers in the industry. Some newcomers from other parts of the country and the world comment on how poor Vancouver's technical events are as opportunities to network. VanDev was formed to improve that situation.
A closer model for VanDev are the professional associations. They have membership directories designed to facilitate inter-member communications and they often allocate time at their events specifically for networking.
The best model for networking events are those put on by the business community. They often design events without speakers in which everyone connects with everyone else in the room. This usually requires a strict limit on the number of attendees. For the participants these can be a powerful events.
Our regular events are a balance between technical presentations and a networking segment with round-the-room introductions bridging between the two. We use the short technical presentations as anchors for the meeting to draw people since nothing works for us techies like a good technical topic. The presentation topics also work well to grease the wheels and give everyone something in common to talk about. It can help greatly when the presenters keep in mind that the presentation's real purpose is to get people talking to each other.
There are 3 things to keep in mind when preparing a presentation for a VanDev event. The first is that VanDev is a network and our events are focussed on strengthening that network. Second, we target a broad audience that has an interest in the software development industry so not all members are programmers. Third, we normally want plenty of time for discussion as a group and for networking so we prefer short focussed presentations that are designed to stimulate discussion.
For our networking events, the role of the speaker is to give us something good to talk about. In the ideal situation from a networking perspective the speaker gives us some background information and leads us into an intense group discussion that leaves everyone feeling that they were a part of something that really worked. Of course we recognize that the speakers have their own motivations and we do our best to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you are looking to promote your interests to the group and have questions directed just to you, then this may not be an appropriate forum. If you have something that you want to ask the group about and you are keen to get different and possibly conflicting opinions, then this could be an ideal venue.
In short, aim to generate questions more than to answer them and invite the participants to contribute their knowledge and experience.
At the core of each event are the round-the-room introductions in which each person stands up to introduce themself and let us know what they are interested in talking to others about. Others listen and note people in the room that they would like to meet and talk with. This works wonders for a networking event and people commonly complain that there was not enough time to get to everyone or that someone left before I could get to them. Time is always in short supply.
During the round-the-room introductions we give each person about 30 seconds on average so this does take some time. We rarely cut someone off if they have something interesting to say so some people take rather longer and this is balanced by a number of people that say very little. As our meetings get larger we're having to be a little more formal about this and we'll tend to use facilities that keep the group to a reasonable size so this doesn't get out-of-hand.
Our meetings typically open with one or more short presentations, follow with the round-the-room introductions, and finish with open networking. Meetings typically start at 7:00 pm and run to 9:30. We want at least an hour for networking so we like to start the introductions before 8:00. This leads to an agenda something like:
This is a guideline that can be adapted as needed but it is typical of what we try to target.
As mentioned above VanDev is a network and we organize VanDev events in order to strengthen our network. We acknowledge that you, as a speaker, have your own motives for doing a presentation and we will do our reasonable best to accomodate them. However the purpose of the our events is to help our members to get to know each other and the best way to help us do that as a speaker is to encourage members to contribute to the presentation. Ideally you would ask questions of the group and help them to answer them or get members to ask questions and then have other members respond. When someone speaks out we all get a chance to know them and our network develops as a result.
We're also looking for presentations that target a broad audience within the software development industry. While most of our members are programmers, they come from all areas with no common language or tools between them and many of our members have done little or no programming. What you can assume is that our members have a better than average understanding of technical issues relating to software development. We suggest that if you want to show code then assume that the language is new to people and step them carefully through the elements of the code that are relevant to the presentation.
Finally, we want time for discussion and networking so we appreciate short punchy presentations. Leaving questions unanswered works better than trying to close loops. Ideally the audience will pick up the topic and run with it and everyone will feel that they were part of something great.
We hope that this guide has proven to be useful to you and that you feel ready to make a presentation at one of our events. Should you have any further suggestions please feel free to contact the event organizer.