Mar 17, 2011

Genealogy Conference Ideas

The topic for today's Open Thread Thursday at GeneaBloggers is building a better genealogy conference. Since RootsTech, lots of bloggers have posted reviews with their own ideas, so I'll just suggest a few of my own:

Conference scheduling
  • The Morrison County Genealogical Society is sponsoring a one day conference in Little Falls, MN on Apr 30. Unfortunately, that's the same time as a two day conference by the Minnesota Genealogical Society (MGS): British Isles Family History Days, Apr 29-30. It's possible they scheduled it before MGS, but I wouldn't know, since there's no information online. The conference fliers don't even have an e-mail address. I know we study the past, but what century are we living in?
  • Another consideration is what else is happening during the scheduled dates. Holding RootsTech in February was perfect for people who also wanted to conduct research at the Family History Library (FHL). There were virtually no lines for microfilm readers or scanners. I'd anticipated lots more crowds during a major genealogy conference, but was pleasantly surprised. I once attended a gigantic conference in St Louis during the middle of the work week. It so overwhelmed the downtown area, the scheduled time for lunch was entirely inadequate.
Session scheduling
  • This is almost an unsolvable problem (NP-hard for CS geeks), but there are things conference organizers can do to optimize scheduling. Some people try to sample a wide variety of sessions at conferences. Others attend every session on a specific topic, which are sometimes organized in formal tracks. I tend to the former, but the same scheme can help people of both persuasions. At past conferences, there were a few time periods with multiple sessions I was interested in, while other periods had few or none. Sessions of a similar nature should be spread out over different days and time periods. Popular sessions can even be repeated, if there's sufficient demand. Then, it's easier to choose between competing sessions.
Exhibit area
  • Most large conferences I've attended have separate prices for people attending one day, multiple days, or just entrance to the exhibit area (without attending any of the sessions). At RootsTech, the exhibit area was completely free for the public! I imagine they had major support from the larger vendors or FamilySearch itself. I don't expect that to be duplicated by many other conferences, but there should at least be a reduced price. The more people who can be reached, the better. I honestly don't know how well past genealogy conferences have done in this respect, but I have experience from other conferences I've attended, worked or volunteered at.
  • Prices for booths should also be tiered. That's already done to some extent by the size or number of spaces reserved, but they should also be differentiated by the nature of the exhibitors. I've been to conferences in the past that essentially shut out non-profits by charging them the same price as commercial vendors. We need to recognize the significant contributions made by volunteer organizations, and the limited resources they have at their disposal. I've also seen past conferences where non-profits' booths were sponsored by major vendors. Since they might not have the idea to approach vendors for support, conferences could solicit contributions on their behalf. It's win-win situation: more participation by volunteer organizations, and advertising and community goodwill for the vendor.
  • It could also be helpful to charge different prices for vendors making sales at the conference. Big businesses already budget for exhibits at the various trade shows and conferences. But many small businesses can't afford booths at multiple conferences, especially if there's travel involved. However, they might be willing to pay a commission to the conference on each sale conducted there.
Finally, to beat a dead horse, the conference program needs to be published far enough in advance, and be sufficiently detailed. Upcoming conferences like NGS and FGS seem to be doing a pretty good job at communication. They've both got highly detailed session information on either their websites or downloadable brochures, and even post on conference blogs already.

1 comment:

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