01 June 2009

Getting the Most out of a Genealogy Conference - Part 3

Read earlier installments of this series here.

A month away from your conference and it's getting time to get serious about your planning. If you haven't plotted out your plan of attack and decided on the sessions you want to attend, do it now. Look on the conference website for announcements of schedule changes, including sessions that may have been added or cancelled.

Check the list of exhibitors for additions or deletions there, too. Update your shopping list, burn several copies of your genealogy database file or GEDCOM. Include photos of your family members so you can show them off to the new friends (and maybe cousins!) that you'll find at the conference. Print out copies of your family group sheets and highlight or put sticky notes on the ones of greatest interest.

Are there any vendors who will provide services on the spot or shortly after the conference? If there is a book binder, for example, you might want to write ahead and see what they recommend about that family Bible. If there is a photo restorer, bring the photos and get a price quote and recommendation during the conference.

Look to see if any of the sessions are going to be audio or video recorded. You actually *can* be in two places at once. Many conference attendees suffer from a wealth of opportunity, and taking a few recordings home with you can help to cover more sessions and keep a particularly good session alive for a long, long time.

Write down questions you want to ask of the speakers, including those whose sessions you will miss.

At the conference:

1. Don't Be Shy!! Introduce yourself to others who are seated nearby. Network, network, network. What surnames are they searching? What areas of the country or world? What is their most interesting family story?

2. Use the break time and meal sessions to gather information. Ask if anyone has ever researched black sheep relatives. Or requested a full Civil War pension file from NARA. Or obtained genealogical information using the Freedom of Information Act provisions. Or used a software program or subscribed to an online service. You'll find a wealth of knowledge -- and maybe avoid the mistakes that others have made -- through informal conversation.

3. Be comfortable. Dress in layers. It's notoriously difficult to manage room temperature to everyone's liking, especially in a hotel conference area with a thousand or more people. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing.

4. Familiarize yourself with the layout of the conference center. Where is the lecture area? The exhibit hall? Freebie table? Where are the rest rooms? Where do you get your parking validated? Don't be afraid to ask one of the conference volunteers if you need directions.

5. Go through the registration bag. Check to see if you have your tickets for meals or special events you are attending. Exhibitors and vendors often put freebies in the registration packet, so see what goodies are there for you. The conference sponsors may provide information on area restaurants, activities, etc.

6. A conference isn't like church. Go ahead and sit in the front of the lecture room. You'll be able to see better, and hear better, and get more out of the presentation.

7. Eat light meals and be prepared to munch a light snack between sessions. Many conference planners leave 30 minutes or more between sessions. Step outside for a few minutes to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.

8. Take a turn around the exhibit hall before you start spending. Consult your shopping list for the books, software, indexes, magazines, research tools, and other products. Some exhibitors will offer special conference price discounts and may offer special last-day mark-downs. Some vendors refresh their products throughout the conference so check back often.

9. Speakers are usually glad to stop and chat informally with conference attendees. Although it's tempting to try to talk to a presenter immediately at the close of a session, you might consider waiting for another time. The speaker and conference staff members are concerned with packing up their equipment, clearing the meeting room, gathering the evaluation forms, and preparing the conference room for the next session. You'll get more attention and better responses if you approach them when they have more time to devote to you.

10. Fill out the evaluation forms honestly and completely. The conference planners really do look at each and every comment and use your suggestions to improve future years' conferences.

11. Be considerate of your fellow attendees. Turn off your cell phones during the sessions. If you use a rolling book carrier for your belongings, or use a walker or other equipment to get around, please put them aside, out of the aisle, so that others can walk safely. Avoid the temptation to save the seat beside you just to give yourself more room.

12. Keep your sense of humor and flexibility. Sometimes the schedule changes at the last minute, or the food concession runs out of your favorite soda, or there's a technical glitch with the audiovisual equipment. Conference organizers do everything possible to prevent such occurrences, but they do happen. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

13. Thank the volunteers for the time and effort they put into producing the conference. Speaking from experience, this is a labor of love. But it always feels great to have someone say that magical "thank you." It works better than Red Bull in lifting flagging energy.

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