November 6, 2000

Good show prep for LUGs

Author: JT Smith

By Tina Gasperson
News Editor

One of the ways that Linux enthusiasts get the word out about their passion is through local computer and technology shows. It's efficient: You get to give away Linux CDs to a captive audience of thousands of at least somewhat tech-aware warm bodies. It can also be cost efficient, because many times, show organizers will donate a booth to the local LUG because they realize the benefit of having a Linux presence.Unfortunately, just having a booth and showing up doesn't guarantee wild success, as many groups have found out the hard way. Sometimes groups may even spend days on the phone trying to get support from major vendors -- but neglect to pay attention to finer points, and end up wishing things could have gone better. LUGs gain maximum show throughput when they spend time in advance getting organized, recruiting workers, and following up on details.

"Details? Who wants to be bothered with details?" you might be asking yourself. But chances are there is someone in your users' group who likes details and lives for the opportunity to organize. If you're really lucky, it will be the current LUG president. If it's not, the key is to find and recruit your organizer as far in advance as possible. Maybe your LUG is new and doesn't have its very own detail person yet. So, you get the word out to neighboring LUGs, or bribe a non-member friend, or get your mom to do it. Moms tend to focus on details as part of their job.

Once you've landed your head detail guru, make sure he or she takes a look at the following tips designed to ensure that your LUG has the best possible show experience.

Don't go it alone.

"The first -- and most important -- thing a local Linux Users Group
should do when given an opportunity to participate in a local or
regional computer show is get help," says OSDN editor-in-chief Robin 'roblimo' Miller. "Almost all of the larger Linux
companies (including NewsForge's owner, VA Linux) will offer everything
from signs to free CDs to give away. Will these companies boost their
wares? Of course. They're in business to make money. But most of their
focus will be on spreading the Linux Gospel; people don't go to work for
Linux companies unless they're believers, so the focus will always be on
Linux first and the company second."

Bill Preece, member of the Suncoast Linux Users Group in Brandon, Florida, got busy last summer when the group asked him to coordinate the booth activities for a local Computer and Technology Showcase. "I got a list together of Linux companies to contact, like Red Hat, Mandrake, and Linux Mall, just to name a few, and asked them if they had speakers and promo items."

The LUG was flooded with CDs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and pins donated by several of the vendors. "We [handed out] over 2,200 CDs in two days," said Preece.

To attract onlookers, consider raffling or auctioning off some of the "swag" (free stuff) that vendors send. One LUG sells raffle tickets at the show and conducts the drawing at the speaker's presentation in order to draw a crowd. The Suncoast LUG got so many tee-shirts that they were able to hold an additional raffle at a recent meeting.

Call in the big guns.

"The second thing to do is get at least one speaker," says Miller. "The 'big three' -- Eric S. Raymond, Richard M. Stallman, and Jon 'maddog' Hall -- may not
be available, but there are plenty of other Linux notables whose
schedules are less hectic." Linux
Journal
maintains a Linux
Speaker's Bureau
. It's self-maintained (speakers are responsible
for their own listings) so it may not be fully up to date, but Miller calls it a
"great starting resource."

Many listed speakers only request travel
expenses, and in many cases they can get their employers to pay them.
"Even if you can't swing this, you can often find speakers who live
within a reasonable drive or at least close enough that airfare won't be
a big deal, and overnight stays can usually be arranged at LUG members'
houses instead of hotels," Miller adds.

Even though your speaker is probably someone other than RMS or ESR, make sure you treat him or her like royalty. Provide refreshments and a small gift. Make sure that your speaker has a good place to sit down, preferably someplace he or she can check email or catch up on important phone calls. Set and enforce a specific time for the speaker to answer questions from the crowd, according to individual preferences.

Create crowds to draw crowds.

"The third big thing is to spread the word," Miller adds. "Once you've gotten
commitments from Linux companies and at least one speaker, you need to
tell others what's going on. Start with nearby LUGs and computer
users' groups. They can usually help you staff your booth, and even if
they can't do that, they can surely help provide enough of a 'base'
audience for your speakers and enough general activity in and around
your booth that non-Linux people will be drawn to the crowd out of
curiosity."

Get invited back.

Preece says the SLUG, as it is affectionately known, had the most active booth at the recent show, and the group has been invited to another show in April. The show organizers want Preece to "try to get Linux companies interested in showing up for a Linux pavilion." And what is Preece's response to the challenge of being the detail man again? "I am excited."

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