Wednesday, 4 May 2011

GeneaBloggers: Genealogy Conferences – The Magic Recipe

Setting the Space – the series beings by looking at genealogy conferences from the perspective of the planners – those who plan the events, secure the space and manage all the details that many attendees don’t get to see. We encourage those who have held genealogy events – from one-day workshops for your local genealogy society to multi-day national events to weigh in with their opinion.  Tell us your frustrations, your successes, and what changes are taking place or should take place when it comes to genealogy conferences.

I have organised a number of  workshops over the years and  have helped in orgainising a National Australian Microbiology conference in my professional life so here are some of my musings on this topic.

There are a number of questions which need to be clarified very early and agreed by everyone as if the planning is done well at the early stages things will more smoothly (never totally smooth but hopefully a few steps away from insanity)

1. Getting enough willing people to do all the background work required without burning out your regular volunteers

2. Determining what the purpose of the conference will be, perhaps as a way of publicising the society to gain new members, or as an educational program for current members, are you going to have it set for one level of experience or a range of different levels of knowledge,  are you going to have a theme eg Scottish research or a range of topics,.

3 Is it going to be a one day workshop or more, if more than one will it be Friday to Sunday to allow for employed people to attend? Does the planned time clash with any other similar conference that could decrease attendance?

4.  Is the conference meant as a  city, State or National conference? This will have a major impact on how early before the conference you should start planning, for a national conference a minimum of 2-3 years before the event.and how you plan to publicise the event.Today using social media is very important for publicity, a web site is essential, Twitter, Facebook, blogs as well as the traditional adverts in the family history magazines, articles etc.

5. How are you going to choose your speakers? Personal recommendation? Try-out tapes?Remember to ask for submissions well ahead of time as your presentations and topics are some of your best adverts for the conference also you need to give your panel time to choose the presentations and time for your presenters to organise the talks, the abstracts and their holidays etc. .

6 What range of speakers are you aiming for? Some well known internationals? They are likely to be booked 18 months plus ahead. What payments will you need  for them? Will they be a major drawcard for your conference, will this attract different attendees? Are they willing to give more than one presentation? Are they willing to be available throughout the conference? Do they have some applicable products to sell to the attendees? Is there a possibility that you could do a webinar style presentation where the international doesn't actually have to be physically present at the conference?

 Some interstate presenters? Same things apply although their calendars less likely to be booked as far ahead.  (Be careful to also not offend your local presenters as you will probably want to work with them again!)

7 Are you just having lectures or some hands-on workshops?

8 How big a venue do you need? If a big one the conference centres tend to be booked a couple of years ahead. A conference centre has a number of advantages, the rooms are closer together which means you don't need as much time between sessions to allow people to move from one lecture to the next, the audio-visual setup tends to be more cohesive which can mean greater cost to hire but does mean less of your people involved in audio visual on the day. You may have a master set-up where presentations can be loaded in a central point and networked to all rooms. You may also have an option to record some presentations (with permission of the presenters of course)

You need to determine who owns the recording and how any money will be split etc. The presenter has put in a lot of work into their presentation so the split has to take this into account. Selling copies of presentations is potentially a way to gain more funds from the conference and a way to allow people to attend more presentations, particularly applicable for conferences where there are concurrent sessions. For an increased fee are you willing to sell the presentations to people who were unable to attend the conference?

9 If a smaller venue is needed perhaps a University/college campus out of study times. There should be reasonable audio-visual equipment available. There may be a greater distance between the lecture theatres. Often universities also have available accommodation at reasonable rates.

10 Regardless of whether you record the presentations for sale you need to make decisions about how many ways you will publish the abstracts. The printed copies are good to use at the conference when you make plans on which presentation you will attend but they can be quite bulky and heavy to take home. Ideally an electronic copy should be available best on a website so you can do some reviews before you leave home. At the conference perhaps provide them on a USB drive (CDs can be an issue with some of the new netbooks that don't have a CD/DVD drive) .

I recently saw the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree who announced an iPad app which gave the program with links to the speakers bios etc.(http://bit.ly/m79LWB)  I was very impressed and feel this is a great step forward.

You will need to have a few publication options (with a range of costs) as one method will not suit all.

11 You will also need to make some decisions about whether you have a computer side and non computer side in the lecture theatres as some people find it very distracting having someone typing near them when they are trying to listen (and they may have a hearing impairment)  and some presenters don't like it either.

12. What catering are you providing? Hot, cold, sandwiches, a lunch box?


13 What social events are you planning? Any pre- or post conference research trips? Are you doing a social program for non-genealogy addicted partners?

14 No conference survives without trade tables. You need to get the suppliers on board. You have to have a liaison officer to deal with any issues that the trad requires, such as powered tables a separate catering option that provides food prior to the the standard breaks as those breaks will be their selling time.  Try to organise morning tea/afternoon tea near the trade tables.  The trade tables are also major draws to your conference  so you want o use them in your advertising as early as possible.

15 We found that having separate sub-committees worked well with regular meetings of each of the chairs so everyone knew what was happening. We used Dropbox so documents were always available to everyone. We also used Skype for some of our meetings as well as having face to face meetings.

16.  Make sure after the conference you debrief, write down what worked , what didn't go so well. Keep a list of suppliers that were good. Make sure you get these notes from each person as everyone will see different points and these need to be documented for the future and the next conference you organise. They are a lot of work but are also a lot of fun.

Most importantly whatever you do enjoy yourselves!