One of our goals for Southwest Fox is to be a good citizen of the VFP community. Obviously, just offering a conference is a big way to do that. But we’re also committed to having Southwest Fox support VFP user groups (VFUGs). So last year’s conference binder included a list of VFUGs with contact information.

Since Rick, Doug and I took over management of the conference, we’ve also offered VFUGs a bonus for encouraging their members to attend. The group registers with us in advance, and after the conference, we send the group $25 for each of their members who signs up. VFUGs tend to operate on a shoestring. So we think this is a much better approach than the traditional one of giving user group members a discount, especially since this helps the group from the first person to register. Traditional user group discounts usually require a minimum number of registrants.

However, the biggest way we support VFUGs is a little indirect. We encourage our speakers to preview their conference sessions at user group meetings. Why would we do that when it means people can get conference content without attending?

The most important reason is that we know that sessions get better with rehearsal. Even for experienced speakers, practicing in front of an audience improves the session. So when a speaker presents at a user group meeting, we know that the people who come to Southwest Fox will get an even better session. (It’s not an accident that last year’s highest rated session, Cathy Pountney’s session on customizing vertical market applications, had been previewed at no fewer than three VFUGs.)

The second reason we encourage speakers to do previews is, of course, that it promotes the conference. Every time Southwest Fox is mentioned in a user group meeting or website or email, we increase the change of people coming to the conference.

Whether you’re coming to Southwest Fox or not (and we sure hope you are), in the next few months, you may get the opportunity to see one or more Southwest Fox sessions at your local user group. Here in Philadelphia, we’ve booked Southwest Fox previews for July (Menachem Bazian), August (me), and September (Toni Feltman). Christof Wollenhaupt will be previewing his sessions at a couple of VFUGs (Atlanta and Chicago) on his way to Phoenix. And Detroit’s FUG has so many speakers within an easy drive that they’re considering a special full-day event.

If you’ve never attended your local VFUG, this summer is a good time to give it a try. If you used to go and stopped, ditto. If you’re a user group leader looking for speakers, consider the SWFox speaker list a resource.

And, of course, if you attend one of those previews and decide you like you what you saw, give Southwest Fox a try.


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