Monday, April 16, 2012

Genealogy Conference, 101!

Over the past several years I have attended a number of genealogy conferences. I remember my first conference being a bit of an overwhelming experience and it was not even a particularly big event. In a few weeks I will be attending the NGS Conference in Cincinnati. Since I have to be there early for a volunteer training session, I will begin posting a couple of days early in order to keep you informed about what to expect when you arrive.

Conferences are a place to learn, network, shop, and have fun. Everyone is focused on the same thing -- finding ancestors and living, breathing cousins. I have never met anyone who wasn't friendly, helpful, and more than willing to talk about their research. So, if this is your first conference, relax -- it is going to be a great experience.

Sometimes a lecture will be offered on the first day for beginners who are attending their first conference. I highly recommend attending, even if you think you are totally prepared for the event. There might be a last minute change in the program or something unique to this particular conference. These sessions are not limited to beginners and can benefit everyone.

The main focus of any conference is the selection of programs offered daily. Usually these run from 9am to 5pm with a break for scheduled luncheons. They are usually based on skill level -- beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Naturally if you are a beginner, you will want to concentrate on the basic skills lectures, but don't be afraid to venture into an intermediate session if it is something that interests you. 

Since several lectures can be scheduled at the same time, you will want to make a list of all the ones you are interested in and rate them by importance. After you receive your syllabus at the Registration Booth, you will want to check all the handouts offered. Some will be in great detail, while others will offer only a brief outline. If you find that two lectures are scheduled at the same time, choose to attend the one with the brief outline. You can "read" the other one in the syllabus. Also, check for any speakers who have cancelled so you rearrange your schedule. 

Make a list of questions you need answered. If these points are not covered in the lecture, ask questions. Remember not to go into detail about Aunt Minnie's husband's three times removed first cousin. If the speaker wants to know that information, she will ask. 

Lecture Etiquette.
There are a few simple rules you need to be aware of. First of all, you may not tape a speaker or take pictures (not even with your cell phone). JAMB, Inc. will record many of the sessions and the CD's will be available to buy. Also, make sure you turn off your cell phone. I always turn mine off when I enter the building and just check my phone for calls occasionally. Having a cell phone go off in a large room of people can be extremely embarrassing!

Some speakers are very popular and their sessions fill up early, so make sure you know exactly where each room is located and be there ten to fifteen minutes early. Sit up front if you have difficulty hearing and you are in the grand ballroom! After the lecture begins, do not leave unless it is an emergency. Do not bring your lunch with you. Please do not save seats for others. It is irritating to walk all the way to the back of a room because there seems to be a seat available, only to find that it is being saved! Always sit next to strangers; they could be your cousins!

(While we are on the subject of strangers. If you are waiting for a table in the hotel restaurant and you are alone, offer to share your table with other conference attendees. Aside from the fact that you won't be guilty of hogging a table all by your self, you will meet new friends with a common interest and exchange research tips.)

Wear comfortable shoes! I have found that all conferences attract different people. Some will wear their finest outfits; others will show up in jeans and a t-shirt. At one conference I was heading for the hotel when a woman in jeans, boots, western shirt and a cowboy hat started walking with me. We talked all the way back to the hotel. Of course, the next day I picked up the newspaper and found out she was a country music star in town for a concert! Normally that doesn't happen. I would say if you stick to nice casual clothing, you will fit right in with the crowd. For the special events in the evening, you will want something a little dressier. Also, some people who are being inducted into lineage societies will dress up as their favorite ancestor. 

Exhibit Hall. 
Always make time for the exhibit hall and make sure you packed that extra tote bag. Use this time to compare new products you are thinking of buying. Look for freebies and sign up for raffles. Sometimes that book you must have is being offered as a door prize or an organization is giving away excess books after cleaning out its library. Make up self-adhesive address labels with your name and contact information. These can be quickly stuck to raffle tickets, saving a lot of writing time. Also make up business cards with your name, contact information, and a list of the surnames you are researching. Most exhibit halls have a bulletin board where you can post your cards.  

Rest, pace yourself.
There is an awful lot of walking involved in attending a conference. If at all possible, I like to stay at the conference hotel. That way I always have a place to retreat and relax. Also, it gives me a place to store all my freebies, handouts, and samples during the day. Conferences are exciting, fun, and at times exhausting. And, usually you do not realize how tired you are until you stop moving!


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