At the beginning of an ASUG Chapter meeting, when you walk into a room that holds 150 people, you can feel the quiet. Watch as people slowly mill about, deciding where to set themselves down, and you can see the thought bubbles above their heads as they evaluate whether to sit near the coffee, by the display at the front, or close to the exit for an easy escape.
Now, fast forward to the end of the meeting, and marvel at all you can hear. People are talking and laughing, reminding each other to send a promised document or email address. Consider what having the courage to use your words has done for those around you. Contemplate changes in the overall energy of the room. Marvel again how each small outreach, every point of interaction, has expanded and enriched this space.
ASUG is built on the premise that its members benefit through networking. As Program Chair for the ASUG Colorado Chapter, which I previously served as Chapter Chair for 21 years, it’s a premise I believe in wholeheartedly. Our goal as ASUG Volunteers is to provide content but also to provide connections, to facilitate networking for those members. The more people attend a meeting, the more opportunities exist to connect; and attendance only increases when those people are motivated to return in the future, perhaps bringing others with them. A few attendees might return because their boss was impressed by something they learned at a meeting. Even more attendees will return because they enjoyed their time.
Let’s put it this way: if education is the kale of our diet, enjoyment is champagne and a bit of dark chocolate. We are naturally healthier when we learn but, when learning is also enjoyable, it’s an even richer experience. People will fondly remember how they felt when they contributed meaningfully to a conversation or a session. They will remember how they felt when they arrived to find themselves among peers. Reconnecting with familiar faces and making new acquaintances, our meetings impart the feeling of becoming more than colleagues, of friendships forming.
"It's Easy Math"
Within the ASUG Colorado Chapter, our leadership team of five has worked together for about a decade, and we have morphed into an extended family. Attendees will often ask if they can help us plan and execute our events; they want to take part in our fun. We always find something they can do to help.
That emphasis on community and collaboration contributes to camaraderie. We push for interaction early; if we do not recognize someone, we introduce ourselves. We ask if they have a mission for the day, and then we introduce them to anyone who might have a similar interest. In our opening address, we remind attendees that they will learn as much from each other as from the speakers.
In order to maximize their learning, however, attendees must talk to people they do not know, rather than conversing with their everyday colleagues. Whatever question they’re asking, one of the hundred people in attendance will likely have the answer. Even if only a quarter of the attendees reach out to a stranger, half of the room will meet someone new. It’s easy math.
In opening our meetings, asking questions with easy answers expands those types of interactions. The best questions give us a chance to ask another. “Who is launching a new project?” suggests the question, “Who else has experience with that solution?” “Who just went live with something?” allows us to cajole those raising their hands into presenting at the next meeting. We remind them of the gift card that is theirs if they are brave enough to share wins and challenges. The key is to move the audience to participating, rather than just attending.
This sounds a little scary, but we are a bit “in your face,” in the best ways. As the day progresses, we will ask attendees at our meetings or events if they’ve learned anything interesting. The opportunity to raise one’s voice, to be heard, is a craving that most humans share. We ask if people met anyone new, and we ask if they found answers to their questions. If the answer to either is “not yet,” we might conduct a brief survey to facilitate the right meetings for that attendee.
The Energy We Expend Comes Back to Us
The end of any ASUG Chapter meeting or event brings both a high (of elation) and a sigh (of relief) when we survey the faces of those in attendance and feel the shift in their energy from reticent to energized. That energy permeates who we are as volunteers. We are lucky to serve and grateful for each meeting we experience.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” We Volunteers do what we do because we embody that energy. We enjoy both the high and the sigh. Volunteering also illustrates one of Newton’s laws: that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, the energy we expend comes back to us. We know why we come back for more meetings, and we share those reasons with our members, because we believe they’ll feel similarly. If members come back and bring a friend to the next meeting, our community grows and provides many more networking opportunities.
Networking creates growth, and growth facilitates networking. Growth brings about interactions, which creates more growth. Interactions provide energy, which creates more growth. And so it goes.
Chavone Jacobs, Sr. SAP Strategist for cbs Corporate Business Solutions, is an ASUG Volunteer and Program Chair of the ASUG Colorado Chapter. More information about ASUG Chapter events can be found here.