Genealogy conference organizers should have been paying special attention to the recent RootsTech conference. Genealogists have spoken with their feet, their wallets and their broadband and they have spoken loudly!
If you want your conference to be a continued success in the future perhaps you should implement changes to answer the call of genealogists.
Here's the message I heard from observing the conference from afar:
1) Technology Topics - Genealogists don't want conferences just to be lectures on traditional aspects of research and methodology. They want to hear lectures on technological tools that can help them in their research. That means topics on software and gadgets.
2) Bloggers - Many conference organizers have not embraced bloggers yet. Those that haven't will soon find themselves far, far behind. Bloggers provide the number one source of timely information for genealogists - both hobbyists and professionals. Bloggers will help you get the word out about your conference ahead of time and let people know how great it is during and after. Provide a dedicated blogger lounge at your next conference and designate official or honorary bloggers.
3) Blogging - Not only are bloggers important but genealogists want to learn about how to blog. Lecture topics need to include introducing genealogists to blogging so that they can share their family history on the web.
4) Virtual Attendance - RootsTech proved that not only is virtual attendance viable but the wave of the future has already arrived. Anyone who tuned in to the live streaming of certain lecture sessions was wowed just as I was. It will be interesting to see who will be embracing the concept of live streaming first to provide a discounted registration fee for virtual attendees. Let me tell you, I will be one of the first to sign up.
5) Media - The blogger booth in the middle of the exhibit hall for recording live interviews was shear brilliance. It was a win-win situation for everyone - the bloggers doing the interviewing, the exhibitors who got exposure, the speakers and the attendees. We want more video interviews from conferences. And we want them posted shortly after on the web/blogs.
6) Twitter - Conference organizers have long been afraid of Twitter. They are afraid that it is copyright theft or a distraction to the speaker. What RootsTech taught us is that Twitter helps non-attendees and virtual attendees engage in the process by following their favorite Tweeps. Not only that, in at least one specific case, questions were taken from Twitter during the lecture and answered by presenters.
7) Wifi - One of the messages that came across loud and clear was that genealogists want wifi access. The exhibit hall didn't have wifi access but there was an internet cafe set up to help alleviate that need. This often isn't an issue that conference organizers can change but in the future they can look for venues that overcome this problem.
Yes, RootsTech was specifically a technology conference. But at 3,000+ strong, and I've heard the largest attendance record ever for a US genealogy conference, who can deny the writing on the wall? When was the last time you had 3,000+ people at your genealogy conference?
I'm sure I've missed other points. Genealogists please let me know what you think were some of the key take-aways from the RootsTech Conference.