Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Conferences, Institutes and the bottom line

Fellow genealogy blogger Marian Pierre-Louis started a topic on Facebook and has upgraded the discussion to her blog as I hoped she would. Please read How Do Y'all Manage to go to Conferences All the Time?! wherein she weighs the cost of genealogy conference attendance and was almost immediately inundated with 65  responses about class content, networking and personal finances.

I'd like to expand on some of my replies to her question.

FGS = Federation of Genealogical Societies
NGS = National Genealogical Society
For years Ol' Myrt here didn't attend national conferences or institutes because I was teaching, and found the administration expected instructors to show up for class. A higher priority to spend time with family informed my travel decisions during the six weeks of summer break.

For me, attending regional, all-day conferences fit the bill. Fortunately, here in the US, we have those sponsored by larger state genealogy societies and organizations like Family History Expos.

As an active genealogy presenter, I have found $150 with travel reimbursement for each sixty minute session doesn’t begin to cover the cost of developing the presentation usually requiring weeks of advance preparation. I give seminars because I love the interaction with other researchers – it is amazing to see how creative folks are when it comes to getting around brick walls. I certainly am not in it for the money.

I taught several computer lab classes at NGS Nashville back in the 1990s, two Nashville conferences ago. I drove with friends and we shared a tiny non-conference room at a much cheaper rate. We didn’t mind the walk up a steep hill. We were younger then, and I had a wheeled bag to carry Audrey’s book purchases. I didn't break even on that trip and thought I'd done something wrong.

Elizabeth Shown Mills and Marian are spot on in their Facebook comments about the amount of time it takes to develop a presentation and to tweak it for reuse in another setting. There's a lot to be said for the loss of client research or writing time spent traveling to present. I won’t  even mention the time I presented during the 12-day Baltic Sea cruise with the Legacy Family Tree folks, without luggage. It took 30 days before the airlines found it again. [Apparently, there are strong lingering feelings about that adventure!]  

The world economy has suffered for years, and the question remains: Is our money better spent doing research? The $1,000 to $1,500 Marian estimates it would cost to attend a national conference, goes a long way toward paying for high-speed Internet, and annual memberships to genealogy societies and websites of choice. Drusilla Pair writes Myrt, in addition to spending the $1,000 on ordering a lot of microfilm, it can also be used to order CDs of conference workshops as well as genealogy and historical books.

Balancing ‘growth through education’ with ‘research needs’ must be carefully considered.

Sometimes the records we require aren’t digitized or on microfilm. Mr. Myrt and I dovetail onsite research with travel to NGS and FGS. As a school teacher, I never thought I’d get to the Midwest several times for research. I’m just lucky that Mr. Myrt is also now retired and loves tracking down elusive ancestors as much as I do.

I think conferences are better for newbie researchers when one is offered in their area, while institutes better meet the needs of advanced researchers. Conferences offer 6-8 classes per hour, with breaks for touring the vendor hall and eating lunch. Institutes offer intensive instruction on a single topic over a week’s time in a less expensive college campus setting, complete with affordable dorms. For more about institutes, see: Samford IGHR, NIGR, GRIP and SLIG.

On 17 Feburary 2011, I wrote NGS and FGS: Rethink your policies in light of RootsTech about how I wish NGS and FGS would combine into one conference, with FGS focusing its energy on the one day of society support classes and workshops. Aside from that track, a FGS conference is just like a NGS conference. My friend Roger Moffat set me straight by explaining if the rotation of national conferences is cut in half that would mean more years before another national conference would be within geographical reach.

I still believe webinars can take up the slack, but NGS and FGS aren't incorporating webinars into their business model in the truest sense as the main way to distribute information to meet FGS’ society management support goals or NGS’ researcher education support goals. 

Bravo to RootsTech and Southern California Genealogical Society for providing live streams of a few  sessions of their annual conferences.

Mr. Myrt has long held the belief that conferences could find less expensive venues such as unused university classroom space, where AV equipment doesn't cost $350 per day per room, but comes built-in. I think the problem is conferences of necessity are booked so far in advance that it is hard for NGS and FGS to switch gears.

Webinars and online classes abound. The centralized calendar at GeneaWebinars.com points to hundreds of hours of high quality, usually free webinars with presentations from a diverse set of software vendors and speakers. Additional language and ethnic group webinar series are in the pipeline. FamilySearch hosts over 150 online genealogy courses and the FamilySearch Wiki is growing with how-to and record group info encompassing resources beyond the scope of the FamilySearch collection.

Technology has changed since NGS and FGS first started holding annual conferences. Speakers aren’t there to read their papers, as at some scientific conferences. Dynamic multi-media presentations have become the norm. Even John Coletta has switched from overhead transparencies to PowerPoint.
Can NGS and FGS change with the times and embrace technology even more than they have?

While encouraging Marian to blog about this, I wrote on her Facebook wall: Somehow NGS and FGS must hear this. Last time I brought this up I was called on the carpet by a board member of a nationally-ranked organization that holds annual conferences. That person reported many other board members felt I did not appreciate the volunteers who go to such effort to put on these conferences. Of course, that isn't true.

My real point was overlooked completely -- that none of us have unlimited resources.

Let’s use technology to meet our goals.

I wonder what would happen if speakers and vendors decide to back out of less-than-break-even conference scenarios? If you notice, even Ancestry.com has downsized it's footprint at exhibit halls lately.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DearMYRTLE
Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont 

1 comment:

  1. I've attended non-genealogy virtual conferences that were quite satisfying - even including a virtual exhibit hall full of vendors and a virtual lobby for chatting with other participants. I think the only thing keeping something like this from happening in the genea-world is concerns about attendance. I don't have a problem paying a registration fee for a workshop/seminar/conference, but the travel time, expense - and TSA - are another story.