Note: This blog post is from 2006. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
One of the benefits of being an Adobe User Group (CFUGs and others) is that the managers have access to a free Acrobat Connect account that can used to have remote speakers and/or attendees
, and to record your presentations (so others local or remote can watch what you've had presented).
Many CFUGs don't seem to be taking advantage of the feature, so I wanted to point it out. Your manager may not know about it, or may have forgotten, or just may not be seeing the benefit. I share this to help you inform and encourage them. (This account is only for use with user group related activities.)
Let me expand on each of the reasons to consider using it.
Gives you access to remote presenters
The most obvious to some is that it permits a group to have a presenter who's not local. Many CFUGs have a hard time getting presenters from within their ranks. Some do get remote presenters to come live, such as if they're in town (which is always nice), but at least a Connect-based presentation is better than having none. It can also inform you of techniques from specialists holding expertise just not available within your group.
Such Connect-based presentations have been very successful. Not always perfect (audio, video, and bandwidth problems can play up), but successful far more often than not judging from those who try it once and then do it again.
Permits you to welcome attendees who might not normally come
Yet another benefit, whether you have a remote presenter or not, is that it can also be used to let others in your group (or even outside your group) see the presentation without being there. Yes, this is a two-edged sword, in that you don't want to cannibalize your local attendance by people saying, "I'll just stay home". We all know that being there is very important, so one wouldn't want to always substitute "watching" for showing up.
Still, there are some who for family reasons, or due to other commitments, can't make some or even all the meetings. This is a nice way to connect them to your group (and promote whatever other services your group may offer).
Naturally, this also opens the door to folks who aren't even local to your group to join in. There are ways you could limit who can participate, but the general thinking among most groups is that you should just let anyone in.
I'll talk about recording and watching recorded presentations in a moment. But this idea of having lots of online attendees brings up a point worth noting.
Sidebar: Challenges of a large number of online attendees
You may wonder, "should I worry at all about how many online attendees join in?" Yes, you might want to be aware of a couple of points. First, the Connect account that is shared is designated to have no more than (I think) 150 total participants at once, across all groups that may share it at once.
Second, when you have lots of online attendees, they tend to engage in chat, which may be a challenge for your presenter to keep up with. I do believe that the person running the Connect meeting can turn off the chat. I'm pretty sure it can be switched on at the end of the meeting (or when desired during the meeting), to open the floor to questions. Such online chat is a two-edged sword, as it can give detract focus from your local attendees. Like any tool, all must use it responsibly.
Recording your presentations, whether a local or remote speaker
Another really nice benefit of using the Connect account (even if you have no remote attendees) is that you can use Connect to record your presentation--even if you have only a local presenter. That's not something that many have yet thought of.
These recordings can then be made available for anyone to watch. They are saved on a server at Adobe (part of the account that's offered). Once recorded, you can share the URL of that recording with others in your group (such as those who missed the meeting, or want to see the presentation again), as well as those outside your group. There's no cost to watch the presentations, nor does is there any limit for the group on how many people can watch the recording. As far as I know, there's also no time-limit for how long the recorded presentations remain available at Adobe.
Speaking of these recorded meetings, I've long been meaning to create a repository for such, and writing this post finally motivated me to do it. It's now available at http://www.carehart.org/ugtv/. I may break it out into its own domain eventually, if it takes off (ugtv.com and .org are already taken). I'll also share the link with Ray to add to his nifty CF portal, where he links to such CF resources.
As far as the issues above about having too large a number of online attendees, or a concern over cannibalizing local attendance, note that you can choose in a meeting to not allow any remote attendees, and only offer the recording. That's your own call.
Showing previously recorded presentations at your meeting
One final benefit of these recorded Connect presentations is that you can use them as alternatives to live speakers. I mean, think about it, if you're viewing a presenter via Connect, it's not much different to just view such a presentation, recorded previously.
I know some may lament, "well if we can just watch the recording, couldn't we do that on our own?" I'll say, sure, you could, but would you? Do you? I know I have a really hard time getting around to watching all the available recordings that already exist. Just like we could also read a book or article or blog entry and perhaps hear all that a given speaker would say on any topic.
Yet still we go to the CFUG, both because we might not otherwise get around to reading up on the subject, and because we may never even think to in the first place. And of course, there's also the networking and camaraderie that comes from actually being at the meeting.
Those who know me know that I'm a huge fan of CFUGs, both learning from them and contributing to them. I've spoken to several dozen of them, many several times, over the past 7 years. I was also manager of the Atlanta CFUG in 2006-7 (and previously managed the Southern Maryland CFUG in 2002-2003). I offer this as one more way for the community to share and strengthen itself. I hope it proves helpful to many.
PS: The Virtual Online CFUGs
While we're on the subject of Connect-based presentations, note as well that there is a long-standing "virtual" meeting, called the ColdFusion Meetup, now run by myself and Ra Camden. It meets about monthly, and he often posts recordings of past presentations on the site. Ray had also previously started a new "Jedi Virtual User Group", with one meeting described here (if he has a link to all of them I'll change to that).
Getting access to the free Connect (aka, Breeze) account
If you're a user group manager, or want to encourage your manager to take advantage of these benefits of having remote speakers, attendees, or recorded meetings, the user group manager should contact the adobe user group program coordinators. All user group managers should know how to reach those folks. I'm just reminding you to do it. :-)
In the meantime, come take a look at my UGTV listing of previously recorded user group presentations, and add any that I'm missing.