Hosting a User Group on Zoom (when it’s normally in person)

I’m not looking to add to the noise around using zoom to work remotely and connect with people during social distancing, but after spending some time on Google I couldn’t find a guide on how to do this. These are pretty much my own notes while I’m prepping to try and host a user group through zoom.

Here’s my “minimal video call host check list”

  1. Let people know what they’re getting into (state that you’d like people to turn on video in the agenda, tell them what will happen during the meeting, ask for their patience while everyone gets used to the video chat)
  2. Be “that guy” – engage the participants, ask questions, be the energetic one to get the conversation going
  3. A few awkward silences are ok – they happen in real life too
  4. Have fun! We’re all stuck at home, make the best of it

About once a quarter I organize an AWS User Group. We get a group of people together (usually 20 – 30), a sponsor brings pizza, someone spends a few minutes talking about a tech topic, and we nerds get some social time.

With social distancing we cancelled our in person Meetup, but it’s hard to tell how long that will go on, so I’m working on getting some kind of virtual gathering on zoom. Here’s my current plan

  1. Start an open zoom meeting (I have a licensed account from work)
  2. Prevent participants from sharing (Next to screen share click up arrow -> Advanced Sharing Options -> Who can share -> Only Host (this lets cohosts share too)
  3. Let people social network for the first few minutes – I looked into breakout rooms, but I think that’s a different license level

At this point you have a pretty normal zoom meeting where people can chat. Our user groups start with 20 or so minutes of social networking at the beginning. When we’re ready to start the presentation

  1. Make the presenter the cohost (under Manage Participants -> Hover over the name -> Click more -> Click “Make Cohost”
  2. On the manage participants tab click “Mute all” and uncheck “Allow participants to unmute themselves”

At this point you have as close to a “presenter up front, audience watching” setup as I could get with zoom. People can watch and listen, but not interrupt. The host can glance at the audience reactions, but they can ignore them if they choose.

If you want to have more social time at the end have the presenter stop sharing (so people can switch back to speaker view or gallery) and

  1. Click Mute all and make sure “Allow participants to unmute themselves” is checked, that will let people jump back into audio
  2. Be social as long as everyone is interested!

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