My Take on Genealogy Conferences

The GeneaBloggers community is abuzz about conferences this week. It’s only within the past year and a half or so that I’ve been able to attend national and local conferences, but here are my observations:

I’ve been thrilled with the quality of the information presented at every conference I’ve attended so far. Our community members have so much to offer each other and I have had a very hard time picking which sessions to go to more often than not because there are usually several offered at the same time that I’d like to attend.

I am willing to travel far and wide if there is more to do beyond just attend the conference in the location where it is being held. I’ve not attended NGS yet because it hasn’t been held in a location where I either had friends or family to visit or where I could do research. I attended FGS last year in part because I could visit my sister in Knoxville at the same time. RootsTech has the draw of being in Salt Lake City where the Family History Library is located. I would love to go to FGS this upcoming September in Springfield, Ill., because I have family history there and could do research at the same time. Alas, the timing won’t work with my schedule this year.

At local Family History Conferences held by the LDS church, the use of social media hardly gets a mention. At FGS/APG last year, the organizers regrettably asked attendees to refrain from blogging, tweeting or even having laptops open during many of the presentations. RootsTech got it right. They had a hashtag that attendees could use to Tweet about the conference and openly embraced the use of social media. I hope other events soon follow suit.

As with any type of conference, the part I value most is meeting and hanging out with other attendees. I often joke that I would come to a conference without any sessions if I had still the chance to meet and talk with so many diverse and talented people. I make a point of scheduling meetings and meet-ups at nearly every break and meal during conferences. Those opportunities are not to be missed.

I would love to have the opportunity to attend portions of FGS and NGS remotely, since I can’t make either one this year. I’d even pay for the privilege, especially if sessions were archived and offered after the fact. RootsTech webcasted many of its sessions and those who couldn’t be there in person flocked to their computers so they could take part too. This made the social media interactions that much richer and I think encouraged many more attendees to make an effort to attend next year.

For those who struggle with what to do with all of the material you accumulate during a conference, you might want to check out a series of posts I did after surveying folks on what they do with everything after they get home.

Conference Materials Survey: Wrap-Up

This is the final post in a series about a survey I did to see how conference attendees organize the information and materials they bring home with them. Please be sure to read the previous posts in the series:

In this post, I will summarize the issues and ideas that jumped out at me–items for conference organizers and attendees alike to consider for future events.

Beyond the issues presented in the questions, some respondents raised points that hadn’t occurred to me, including ways to share conference information with colleagues after the fact. Respondents mentioned this as a way to make their conference attendance a worthwhile investment for their organization. Independent information professionals said that recapping what they learned was a great marketing tool to share with clients.

Challenges not specifically mentioned in my survey but brought up by the respondents touched on needing ways to follow up with the people they meet at conferences. This included both other conference attendees and speakers/presenters.

As I read through the responses, some ideas jumped out at me:

  • I would love to see a conference- or topic-specific filing system that could be organized along the way and dropped into a file drawer once I get home.
  • On the other hand, it’s fine to organize by conference, but if you attend several a year, how do you keep track of what binder/folder to go back to. Did you hear that tidbit in 2008, 2009, or 2010? One of the conference attendees addressed this in her comments: “I currently keep most information organized by conference. I should probably refile information gathered at conferences into subject folders at home.”
  • It would be great if there were an all-in-one online system for conference organizers to post handouts, presentations, blog posts, Tweets and other social-media feeds in one spot for handy access before (possibly), during and after a conference.
  • After hearing many respondents request this, online versions of syllabi and other handouts need to be editable and designed with space in mind for note-taking.

I hope you have enjoyed following these posts. As promised to my survey respondents, I will be putting together a report that ties all of this into one document. If you are interested in receiving the final version, please drop me a line — I’d be happy to send it to you!

Conference Materials Survey: Attendee Suggestions, Part 2

I’m running a series of posts about a survey I did to see how conference attendees organize the information and materials they bring home with them. Please be sure to read the previous posts in the series:

      The final question of the survey was this: Other thoughts? Do you use systems/tools to keep yourself organized at/after a conference not already covered above? Ever been wowed by how a conference presented its materials? How did they do it?

      As with the other questions, I received loads of helpful suggestions. Here is a smattering:

      Suggestions for conference organizers:

      Several people said they appreciate it when pocket-size schedules are available.

      “I’ve been fairly under-wowed by the way conferences present their materials, in that every vendor, panel, and talk seems to have a separate set of handouts, or even a separate format. I’ve never been to a large conference that presented materials in a unified way and helped me collect them in a unified way.” — this was echoed by another respondent who said having everything organized in one binder in order of the presentations makes life easier.

      “Some very expensive conferences provide binders already set up to keep and augment materials. In the more electronic times we live in I find many speakers refer you to their websites or other places where their materials are stored. Easier to use this way IMHO.”

      “I think a good conference provides electronic access afterwards, which is particularly helpful to those who can’t attend.”

      Suggestions for attendees:

      “I carry a three-ring binder with the syllabus materials for sessions I plan to attend divided by tabs for each day of the conference. I have my conference schedule in the front of the binder, so I can see quickly where I’m supposed to go next.”

      “It’s a whole lot easier to deal with a conference if I’ve live blogged it.”

      “For some things, I actually write on it, “Why am I keeping this?,” and write out the answer.”

      “I try to create an “Action List” of things I want to try, do, research, etc., when I return. Keeping this separate from all the other conference “stuff” helps me to focus on just that. I also need to submit reports on all meetings that I attend.”

      “Ideally I would write the conference paper titles at the front of each notebook and list them in a database on computer. I do this sometimes but often I am too busy when I get home and resume work.”

      For vendors:

      “One vendor at SLA 2009 gave medium-end swag on front table, and the high-end stuff was on a back table; you would only get it if you had a conversation with them.Sometimes [a] weird or intriguing toy is good swag because it’s a conversation starter, both for me at the vendor’s booth and later when I bring the thing back to my office.”

      Current technology:

      “I do find that I’m starting to scan more things, though. I am a fan of Microsoft OneNote for keeping e-scraps (Evernote is good, too).”

      “I especially like following and following up on conferences through the extensive use of Twitter. I just attended a one-day event yesterday and found myself disappointed that they hadn’t created a Twitter handle for it.”

      “Slideshare for the PowerPoint (and with download option can often see the speakers remarks as well as the sides), Youtube if a video was made, Rww is great for tech conferences write-ups.”

      My final post in this series will sum up the results and include my observations about the trends mentioned and possible opportunities and solutions that have revealed themselves along the way. Read on here:

      Post 8 (Conclusion)

      Conference Materials Survey: Attendee Suggestions, Part 1

      I’m running a series of posts about a survey I did to see how conference attendees organize the information and materials they bring home with them. Please be sure to read the previous posts in the series:

      In this post, I’ll share some of the attendee responses to Question 8 of the survey: What would help you make better use of your conference materials when you get home? Again, I am extraordinarily grateful to the wonderful folks who responded to my survey because so many took the time to give great recommendations in answer to this question.

      Respondents clamored to have more presentations and handouts made available online after the conference (either by the speakers or the conference organizers). A couple people specifically asked to have the syllabus made available online too.

      One respondent played devil’s advocate to the above suggestions however, stating, “Saying that the notes are available online is useless – how many of us actually manage to write down the entire URL on the screen and then bother to go back and look it up?”

      In a similar vein, several other respondents said that posting materials online isn’t enough. More than one suggested assigning keywords to handouts and presentations and/or indexing them by subject and author. Another said, “I wish that the handouts/PowerPoints would be provided in a way that they could be searched by topic. Otherwise, all that great stuff just gets forgotten about because it’s not easy enough to access. It’s essential[ly] hidden unless you remember to go there.”

      This sentiment was echoed in another answer: “My real problem is that it takes me so long to categorize and file and so stuff stays in piles til I get to it – but at least I know its there along with stuff I pull out of magazines etc. I wish I had a better way to make use of the stuff!”

      One respondent suggested that more conference follow-up is needed to encourage attendees to make the best use of what they learn: “Some sort of nudging follow up from conference organizers might push me to get back to it. A follow up note like ‘Librarians Pat Smith and Jamie Brown are starting to using the tools we explored in these ways – what about you?’ might help restart the conference conversations and push me back into the immediate post-conference mentality.”

      A couple of respondents made suggestions specific to vendors. One respondent asked for more clarity in the brochures given out at conferences: “Some of them use cool graphics and vague names and descriptions: business solutions, synergizing competencies, maximizing your….we have no idea what your product does so it’s easier to toss your flyer.” Another simply asked for coupons and trial periods that start after the conference and not during.

      Many other respondents simply requested more time to be able to deal with everything they accumulate at each conference. And, of course, there can never be enough outlets or free wireless access at conferences.

      My next post will cover the responses to Question 9 of the survey: Other thoughts? Do you use systems/tools to keep yourself organized at/after a conference not already covered above? Ever been wowed by how a conference presented its materials? How did they do it? Find out at the links below:

      Conference Materials Survey: Purchasing Syllabi/Recordings

      I’m running a series of posts about a survey I did to see how conference attendees organize the information and materials they bring home with them. Please be sure to read the previous posts in the series:

      In this post, I’ll share the responses to questions about purchasing conference notes/syllabi on CD and/or thumbdrive and recordings of sessions.

      The majority of respondents (64 out of 85) said they do not purchase conference handouts on CD or thumbdrive when this option is available. Five respondents said they purchase electronic handouts in addition to picking up printed copies of these materials at the conference. Four said they purchase the materials in electronic form in lieu of printed copies. Twelve respondents said they sometimes purchase conference materials in electronic form.

      There was a smattering of comments in response to this question. Several folks said they have never had the option of purchasing such materials before. A couple respondents said they wouldn’t pay for these, but would take advantage of them if they were offered for free. One respondent said that such materials are not useful because they become separated from papers and other material due to the difference in format.

      On the question of purchasing recorded sessions after conferences, there was a similar breakdown of responses. Sixty-one respondents said they do not purchase these, three said they do and 21 said they sometimes do.

      Among the comments for this question, a couple of folks said they never re-listen to the recordings or fear that they wouldn’t take the time to do so and therefore don’t purchase them.

      Of those who do purchase session recordings, their reasons for doing so varied. One respondent does it for sessions they couldn’t attend. Another said recordings are a useful resource when you want to capture things that are hard to get down in one’s notes, like longer anecdotes. Still another respondent said she sometimes purchases sessions so she can play short segments in classes that she teaches (hopefully with the permission of the speaker/conference first).

      I found this comment to be interesting: “I’m now frequently recording and taking quick photos of various slides so that I have immediate access to the information. It continues to disappoint me that many conference keynoters do not allow formal or informal recordings.”

      I can see both sides. The speaker wants to protect their material and the listener wants to be able to retain it in the format most useful to them. For those who are auditory learners, I’m sure it’s frustrating not to have recordings to refer back to.

      My next post will cover answers to Question 8 of the survey: What would help you make better use of your conference materials when you get home? Read on at the links below:

      Conference Materials Survey: How Attendees Get Organized

      I’m running a series of posts about a survey I did to see how conference attendees organize the information and materials they bring home with them. Please be sure to read Post 1 (Survey Results Overview), Post 2 (Questions 1 & 2/Attendance & Note-taking) and Post 3 (Questions 3 & 4/Vendors & Swag) for analysis of the results thus far.

      In this post, I’m going to examine the answers to Question 5: How do you organize your conference materials when you get home?

      Respondents had the following answers to choose from (and once again, they could pick more than one):

      • I don’t
      • I create a binder for each conference I attend
      • I scan everything for future reference
      • Other (please specify)

      Twenty-one folks admitted that they don’t organize materials once they return home. Thirteen said they create a binder for each conference (but many more said they use simple file folders instead). Nine said they scanned the materials. I had 51 replies for “Other” to sort through.

      There were many interesting ideas among the various responses submitted. Here are a few examples:

      “The best way is to share your conference highlights with someone else. When I start talking about a session, I really “get” what I learned. The best conference I had was when my roommate and I de-briefed each other each evening on our highlights.” (this type of comment was echoed by at least one other respondent)

      “One thing that helps me is postings or articles about conference sessions. e.g. for our AIIP conference, I love reading the articles in Connections, esp. if I missed a session. I love the way others perceived the content of a session as it broadens my own understanding.”

      “I generally review all my notes and create a list of action items for follow-up.”

      “I write up summaries (with links to slideshare etc) and keep it in a file on my computer.”

      One respondent mentioned in answer to this question that she live-blogs to help her record sessions. Another respondent said they take notes on index cards and then these are filed appropriately on their return — I need to follow-up with this respondent to see how these are organized. I keep imagining they have an old card catalog cabinet or something.

      Still another very organized respondent organizes reference materials for vendors and products she already uses in files she has for each of those providers; notes on topics related to research she performs are filed in the appropriate boxes by subject; she has a “Try It” box for new things to explore and she schedules time to try these out; and finally, she sorts the cards for contacts with whom she needs to follow-up.

      Stay tuned for my next post on how many folks purchase conference materials on CD/thumbdrive and/or purchase recordings of sessions after the fact. Read more below:

      Conference Materials Survey: Vendors and Swag

      This is the third post in a series about a survey of conference attendees and how they handle the materials and information gathered at such events. Here are the links to Post 1 (Survey Results Overview) and Post 2 (Questions 1 & 2/Attendance & Note-taking).

      The third question of the survey asked respondents if they visit vendors at conferences. Only five of the 85 overall respondents said they did not. Really, who can resist all those shiny new pens, and those pins with the flashing LED lights?

      Next, respondents were asked what they do with the swag they pick up from vendors when they get home. Their choices (and more than one could be selected):

      • I try not to pick up vendor swag
      • I only pick up what I know I’ll use
      • I give it to my kids
      • It’s in a drawer
      • Other (please specify)

      Forty-nine people claimed they only pick up what they know they’ll use — well, they’re less impulsive than I am. I always come home from conferences with a crick in my neck from carrying my conference bag full of pamphlets, notepads, magnets, erasers, rulers, you get the idea.

      Fifteen people said they don’t pick up vendor swag (and, presumably, five of them were those who don’t visit vendors at all). A handful of people said they give it to their kids and/or have it stuffed in a drawer.

      Thirty-three respondents had other ideas or uses for vendor swag. A few of them donate the items they pick up to their local genealogical society, library or other local organizations. A couple of folks admitted to using them for stocking stuffers. One respondent said, “Toys go to my husband who gives them to neighbor kids, so my husband is a superstar.”

      Others divvy up their haul among their coworkers when they return to the office or use them as door prizes or giveaways. One respondent gathers so many tote bags at conferences, she Freecycles them twice a year.

      Additionally, many folks admitted that they end up tossing most of what they gather, some as soon as they get back to their hotel room.

      Stay tuned for the responses to the next question — how folks organize everything else they bring home from a conference. Read more at the links below: