Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Genealogists Want! Conference Organizers Take Note.

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.


  1. Brilliant post Marian and you hit every point right on! I agree that this was a "cataclysmic" event and that other genealogy conference and event organizers need to take note.

    And thank you for mentioning blogging and twitter - I've been at conferenced where use of such social media has been met with scorn and outright verbal ridicule. Those conferences that don't at least permit social media use run the risk of becoming unimportant to the genealogy community.

  2. I'm in love with your virtual attendance suggestion. I would totally pay a reduced fee to view some sessions over the web. Because I'm not yet able to transition to genealogy as a full-time career I'm still tied to my desk. But not so much that I can't have some background noise going on (lots of people listen to audio books while they work, why couldn't I listen to a conference??). I hope that conference chairs/organizers take your suggestions to heart!!

  3. I didn't attend the conference but read many tweets and followed through to sites and online posts. I had dinner with a friend last night who was "aghast" that writers need a blog, twitter, and FB to develop an audience. She could hardly believe it, and felt good writers would be left behind! The present and future belong to social media. If you're not joining in, you're being left behind. It's a lot harder for the generation now in its sixties. Many have joined, but others still skeptical -- which means they're not paying attention. Egypt, anyone?

  4. Linda,
    Tell your friend not to worry - many "good writers" already have blogs! Maureen Taylor, Megan Smolenyak, Leslie Albrecht Huber are just three that immediately come to mind. And tell her not to worry also because many bloggers who have yet to publish in print are very good writers. It's all good and it doesn't have to be scary. We're here to help.

  5. Thanks for posting Marian. I agree with many points you posted here. I really enjoyed the live streaming videos although I was only able to catch only one video. I had the video of the virtual presentations paused and "up" in my browser for several days so I could go back and finish watching it, but alas I lost it last night during class. I also really enjoyed the Twitter convo about the points that were highlighted during the videos and various other presentations. It made me feel like I was right there with everyone else!

  6. Don't you just wonder what the number of people who tuned in virtually was? I'd sure love to know. It had to be at least 5,000 more people.

  7. Marian,

    Super Blog post. YOU are one of the blogs that I MUST read daily. Thank you.

    What I "saw" from Roots Tech, was the number of Twitters, FB Friends, and Bloggers who will not miss RootsTech 2012. And I think that Thomas' Talk Radio and others say that they will be attending. I was on another Conference Call with some Genealogists and Techy types who also carry the same theme.

    And YOU did a great job on that Panel.

    See you in April.


  8. Yes, I too would almost certainly sign up to pay for virtual attendance - either a flat fee to cover all of it, or on a "pay per view" basis to see my selected sessions - $2 or $5 per session would be a bargain to me, and when you multiply that by say 5,000 people viewing online it's still some serious money to take in per session (even at 1,000 viewers).

    I did prefer the live stream over the Legacy Family Tree webinar of that final blogger session - I had registered for that some time ago, probably before Family Search said they would be streaming some of the presentations, but about 10 minutes in I left the webinar and hooked on to the live stream - the visuals were MUCH better :-)

    And watching on my Mac Pro, while watching Twitter and facebook on my MacBook Pro right beside it added to the enjoyment and excitement and went at least some small way towards the feeling of "being there".

    Hello FGS and NGS - are you listening?

  9. Count me in for blogging before, during and after NERGC. I think it's a brilliant idea, and I want to get good use out of that "official blogger" badge you sent me!

  10. Excellent post, Marian! RootsTech has thrown down the gauntlet. Will be interesting to see who else rises to the challenge and how soon.

  11. Great points, all. I would certainly pay to be a virtual attendee. The streaming sessions were wonderful and an enormous incentive to find a way to be more involved next year.

  12. Marian,

    What a great post! I would love to be able to attend "virtually" and would have no problem paying a fee for the sessions. It is always great to "attend" conferences, but there are so many reasons why we cannot "physically" attend, cost, location, other commitments. Conferences need to merge the traditional with the non-traditional with respect to what sessions are available and how they are presented.

  13. Hello Marian,
    Well said! I look forward to meeting you at NERGC and hope we will find wi-fi available for the blogging, tweeting, fb-ing attendees.

  14. WoW! I wish I could have been there. I was there for several of the live streaming sessions and really enjoyed being "a part" of the conference. I sincerely hope conference organizers will sit up and take notice. Very welll put!

  15. Thanks! We'll be passing this around UGA and implementing it into our conferences. Appreciate your opinion.

  16. THANKS for a thoughtful blog post. You can bet Ol' Myrt here supports the use of technology at genealogy conferences.

  17. I love the points that you have made!!! I appreciated being a blogger at the FHExpo in Atlanta this past fall, I also appreciate reading the tweets and blogs from those who attended events that I have not attended. I hope that many of your suggestions will become standard fare, and that conference planners will get it! I appreciated so much watching the live streams from Roots Tech, and I also enjoyed reading the blog posts from those who were blogging from the event as well. I think I might pass some of your suggestions around. Thanks for this great post!

  18. Excellent post Marian! I will be right in line behind you to sign up for online access to Roots Tech next year. Thank you for putting into words what I so many are thinking.

  19. Excellent post! I really think the future is in virtual meetings and a combination of virtual/actual attendance at conferences. If we could get the genealogical societies connected either statewide or regionally and then pay to attend with them providing local experts it would be a boon. The cost of attending is so prohibitive for many that combining real and virtual can only be a win/win situation.

    Also - it will help move speakers beyond basic powerpoint presentations. There is such an opportunity to grow and have lots of interaction. We also need to give the ability for some more new faces and some breakout groups to address what genealogists want in terms of technology. At the rootstech conference, there was some sort of challenge or new idea project. The challenge idea sounded like it fizzled due to timing issues - what was involved and how could they get that to work?