This evening I arrived at the LUV  meeting half an hour before it started. I was one of about a dozen people sitting in the room waiting, some of us had laptops and were reading email but others just sat quietly – the venue is sometimes open as much as an hour before the event starts and in bad weather some people arrive early because it’s more comfortable than anywhere else that they might hang out.
So I went to the front and suggested that instead of just doing nothing we get some short talks about random Linux things to fill the time. This seems to be a good opportunity for people to practice their public speaking skills, share things that interest them with a small and friendly audience, and keep everyone else entertained.
With some prompting a few members of the audience got up and spoke about Linux things that they were doing or had recently read about. They were all interesting and I learned a few things. I considered giving a talk myself (my plan B was to just speak for 15 minutes about random Linux stuff I’m doing) but decided that it would be best if I just encouraged other people to give talks.
I have suggested to the committee that we plan to do this in future and maybe have a mention of it on the web site to encourage people who are interested in such things (either speaking or listening) to attend early enough.
I think that this concept has been demonstrated to work and should also work well in most other user group meetings of a suitable size. At LUV we typically have about 60 people attend the main meeting and maybe a dozen arrive really early so people who would be nervous about speaking to an audience of 60 may feel more comfortable. For a significantly larger group (where you have maybe 300 people attend the main meeting and 60 arrive early) the dynamic would be quite different, instead of having more nervous people give talks you might find that a membership of 300 gives a significant number of people who have enough confidence to give an impromptu short lecture to an audience of 60.
As an aside the Connected Community Hackerspace  is having a meeting tonight to decide what to do about an office in a central Melbourne area. One of the many things that a Hackerspace can be used for is a meeting venue for lightning talks etc.