Sunday, May 1, 2011

Getting More Out of Conferences. I Need Help!

Previously I wrote "How to Attend the Perfect Conference" which touched on how to make sure you fulfill your research needs at a conference.

But there's been something about attending conferences that won't let go of me.  When I attend a conference it's wonderful to see old friends and meet new ones.  But I am always bothered that I never really have the time to connect with certain people.  And I would like to have more conversations.  I mean actual conversations not just the two minute meet and greet between talks.

For instance, Denise Levenick, the author of The Family Curator blog, came all the way from California to attend the New England Regional Genealogical Conference.  Despite the fact that we were at the same conference for at least three days we never managed to connect. I think part of the reason was that we were staying in different hotels.  Regardless, I was very disappointed at not being able to meet her.  And unfortunately I probably won't be heading to California anytime soon.

So how can I fix my problem of not being able to get real face time with other genealogists? I'm looking for suggestions to hear what other people do.  The best opportunities I had for talking with seemed to be at meal time.  I did get to talk with a number of my colleagues at dinner which was nice.  But it wasn't really enough because many of the folks I dined with were colleagues that I see quite regularly in New England. I love them dearly but I know I'll be able to talk with them throughout the year.

How do you make a point of connecting with folks at a conference? Do you go so far as scheduling appointments?  Either time for coffee, meals or just plain old meetings?

If I could solve this problem I think I could say that I really attended the perfect conference.


  1. Linda Woodward GeigerMay 1, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    How about creating an open group on Facebook such as 2011 NGS attendees. Hopefully many would sign in and then individuals could make specific individual contact to meet for coffee or whatever.

  2. I put out the call a couple of times on Twitter during RootsTech saying I was looking for a lunch buddy. The blogger area at RootsTech was a great place to catch folks -- not sure if other conferences have or will have a similar area. Meals and breaks are definitely the time to catch people -- I spend a lot of time strategizing these moments when I attend conferences.

  3. I know preset appointments may seem to formal but that is the best way. I attened conferences for 3 purposes, I'm the exhibit manager for my company when I attend as an exhibitor I ABSOLUTELY preset appointments as do the sales reps working the booth. Every breakfast , lunch and dinner is to be spent wth a client or potential client. I've yet to have a genealogy conf exhibitor approach me for a preset appt, I must not be in anyones target market :-). I also attend conferences for professional education purposes. Before attending I review the exhibitor list to see who I may want to talk to and reach out to them. LinkedIn comes into play for the prof conferences also with so many conferences and attendees using the Events option (although this feature has not been found or utilized by some conferences and that's a big mis-step). For personal/hobby conferences I rely on FB, and Twitter to find if there are others I know attending (search on the conf hastag). Once you get past the point of knowing who it is you want to meet a meeting point has to be set there is too much going on to count on just running into that person. At the Midwest Expo in 2010 we had the luxury of having the Bloggers Lounge which gave us our preset meeting point and location. Setting up groups or invites on FB is fine but you need to take it one step further to set up a time and location to meet. So, that's my take on this and sorry for the blog post on you blog post! ;-).

  4. Marian

    A great topic and one I might pick up at GeneaBloggers if I have time. One thing you might want to do is pro-actively organize a social event while at the conference. I know ProGen does this, GeneaBloggers does this, etc. I know it is not easy but it can be as simple as a breakfast meeting or a "meet for coffee". Also don't be shy about looking for a sponsor. I know it is easy when you do so under a recognized organization like GeneaBloggers, but I'd be willing to help secure sponsors especially for conferences where I can't attend!

  5. Marian,

    Great Topic. Here I thought I was the only one who had a 'time management' issue.

    For my first conference, I don't think I did too bad of a job. But, that may have been by accident. I didn't schedule 2 time periods for classes. One in each day.

    The trick that worked, at least for me, what the FB Message that you sent to me, so that we could walk between the two buildings. I could see how busy YOU were, with all of the PR work that you did, so it was an honor to be able to spend that couple of minutes walking between the buildings and chatting along the way.

    My time management issue was the timing of the Volunteer work that I did. I did the two breakfast ticket taker job, but hadn't realized that the first class started before the breakfast was over.

    By not scheduling the two sessions, I was able to spend a couple of extra minutes in the Exhibit Hall, when there weren't so may people in it. One of those extra minutes gave me a hint to break down one of my brick walls. The New York Genealogical & Biographical Society booth, had a minute, where I asked a "where to look" question, and in explaining what I was looking for, I was reminded of a record type that I hadn't looked at for this 'brick wall'.

    I did miss one session, that I really should not have, but I was busy catching up with someone else and missed the "first timers" workshop. I'll get to that one the next time.

    This is a really interesting topic.

    Thank you,


  6. Linda, Missy, Thomas, Jenna & Russ,

    Such great suggestions and comments! Thanks!

    Linda - I won't be going to NGS unfortunately but your point is well taken. This could be done for any conference.

    Missy - the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that Twitter is a good way for me to go. I did tweet about talks during NERGC but I didn't really use it to connect and I should have.

    Jenna - this is where I really failed in regards to my last conference. I should have given more forethought to whom I wanted to meet and talk to and I should have pre-arranged a way for us to meet. I think your point about a place to meet is critical. A blogger lounge would be perfect for me but we didn't have one at NERGC. Regardless, I should have tried to identify a good meeting place and that didn't occur to me before getting to the conference.

    Thomas - having a sponsored event is a great idea. I know how hard it can be to arrange because I see what Dick Eastman goes through each time. Also, NEAPG is forced to meet at 7am for breakfast because there are so many competing events. I'll seriously consider this for the next NERGC and will really have to give some thought as to when it should happen within the schedule.

    Russ - We got lucky! I saw you at the same talk and also noticed that you were on facebook during the talk :) so I had a pretty good chance of getting your attention. Because the walk back was so long we had at least a little time to talk. But you are right that part of my problem was that my schedule was so hectic. Going into NERGC I didn't know that was going to be a problem. I didn't realize so much of the press was going to respond to our event much less call me and keep me busy throughout. Good for NERGC but definitely less time for me to meet up with people in a scheduled sort of way.

    I could really see a blogger lounge at the next NERGC and Twitter really helping me out. I'm going to seriously keep that in mind for the next conference I attend, whatever that will be (likely NERGC in 2013).

    Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts! I hope to hear from more folks with their ideas also.

  7. I have the same problem as you Marian. Each year, I want to meet certain people and I end up missing them. I go through the list of attendees afterwards and realize who was there and can only hope for a reprieve the next year.

    I don't know about the conferences you go to, but at IAJGS we get a Family Finder that lists just about everybody who goes to the conference. My goal this year is to look through that first instead of last and hopefully connect with the people I keep missing.