December every year an Austin local robotics club holds its annual banquet and member meeting. This is the first year I was able to attend and, as is not uncommon when I get involved with a group like this, I left the event with some authority and duties.The Robot Group is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Austin, Texas with a mission of promoting technology to the community through robotics. Established in 1989 the group has a long and varied history. Once upon a time they were very active. They had their own work space and a very enthusiastic community. In those early years robotics was a new thing and they received a lot of attention including news broadcasts and even a spot on The Discovery Channel. However, about a decade ago they lost the work space and the enthusiasm took a hit. Since then membership waxed and waned, mostly waned, with a small core group struggling to keep the group alive. I joined in 2012 when they began holding some of their meetings North of Austin, in Round Rock.
The annual banquet was held in December as it is every year and this was the first year I was able to attend. Being a banquet my wife and I dressed nicely. Turns out we were a touch overdressed as most were in jeans and t-shirt, a trend I aim to correct. Regardless, we sat down and were soon joined by a few other couples at our table. During the course of dinner the conversation inevitably turned to the topic of attendance and what could be done to improve it. This is an area I knew something about having been involved with several groups which grew from 8 to 1,000 people in a few short years. Now, I’m not saying I did that, but I helped and learned the formula.
After the dinner the event transitions into the annual meeting where we vote on officers and make plans for the next year. Wouldn’t you know it, the main topic was how to improve membership and get the group back to its former glory. They went around the room and nobody really had anything to say. There were a lot of shrugs and blank looks.
Seeing as I just spent the better part of an hour ranting on this very topic I could feel the eyes of everyone at my table digging into me. So I had to speak up. And speak up I did, which turned into a lively conversation about ideas for the coming year, things to be done including restructuring the meetings, adding purpose, etc.
When the conversation ended and the voting tool place, people were socializing while the board and officers went off on their own to have their meeting. A few minutes later Derek, the president of the group, approached me and asked if I’d be interested in a position among the officers. Being who I am I said yes and he walked off, back to the board meeting. A little while later they asked me to join the meeting where I discovered they created a new role and title, VP of Marketing, which they offered me and promptly voted me in. Now, with authority, it’s my job to start implementing the ideas we talked about at the meeting.
Needless to say it was a rather eventful night for me. And now I begin reworking their website, restructuring the meetings, and doing what I can to get the group know. Of course, the biggest part of that is just to get people to start building again. And that’s probably my biggest challenge.