Monday, March 30, 2015

And March Flew By - But Not Without a Great Conference!

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I had plans to be really efficient and get lots done in March - and then I remembered that I had a panel presentation and a session that I agreed to do for the Guild of One-Name Studies' 36th Annual Conference held during the last weekend in March. So my free time for the month went into that project/obligation.

Don't get me wrong, I was asked to and more than happy to present. It is just that lots of time and effort goes into preparing a session if you want to have helpful and clear slides, a coherent presentation, and make an effort to go in-depth rather than just skim the surface. Thankfully it all turned out well. Since the Guild Conference was held in England and I was presenting from the United States - there was a time difference. The panel and session made for an early morning! Kudos to the Guild for thinking about its distance members and live streaming several sessions as well as the annual general meeting. Since the Guild has a YouTube channel, the recordings will be available to its worldwide membership. This is another great benefit of membership in the Guild.



The theme of the Guild Conference was collaboration, cooperation and communication. Sessions were held on webinars, blogs, websites, social media, subscription services and how to "put it all together" to take advantage of tools and techniques available in the 21st century to assist us with our one-name studies. The Guild held both lectures and interactive sessions. As one member said - there was something interesting going on all day, both days.

Something that I really enjoyed as a distance member was watching the presentation by the chair of the constitutional review committee. This review has been ongoing and the reasoning behind all of suggested changes was shared with the membership. A discussion of the review and voting procedure that will be in place when the final draft gets it up or down vote was also discussed. What a wonderful way to keep everyone - those who physically attended and those attending from a distance - in the loop.

I was very impressed with the annual general meeting. The chairman did an excellent job of preparation and presentation. I always appreciate it when a presenter goes beyond the slides and we had an opportunity to understand how the Guild ran during the past year, the accomplishments and deserving members who received awards for their efforts and projects.

My takeaways -

  • really well done preparation to come up with a great theme and clever use of lecture and interactive workshops
  • a sense of fun and collegiality - I saw a number of members with wine glasses, they engaged in a fun quiz (with winners and prizes!), lots of photos were shared on social media, and there were lots of smiles!
  • excellent system in place for live streaming and recordings
  • members who took their topics seriously and put together some excellent presentations that were interesting and fun
  • committee members who worked so hard throughout the year on the Guild's behalf (Corrinne Goodenough, Anne Shankland, Cliff Kemball, Bob Cumberbatch all immediately come to mind because I have had personal experience with them and know just how much time, effort and commitment they put into their duties - it is often a thankless and demanding job, but I am thankful for their dedication!)
  • to the few who seem to enjoy complaining for no purpose - we all know the type, they have no constructive comments, no helpful suggestions, they oppose any change just because, or they seem to have personal grudges - I am sorry for you. It must be tough to be that negative and dismissive of others' efforts. I refuse to water that tree of discontent and encourage others to do the same.
  • congratulations to those members who stood for committee and the additional members who were co-opted. Our 2015/2016 Committee will have some new members and our returning committee members will be able to manage the turnover in a professional manner (a passing of the torch and sharing of institutional knowledge is always a nice touch).
  • a thank you to those postholders who are continuing in their volunteer positions and are willing to devote the time and effort to performing their duties on behalf of the Guild.
Now that the 2015 Conference/AGM is history and we are all moving forward with a sense of purpose and renewed energy - let's make 2015 the Guild's best year. I would like to encourage other distance members to consider presenting from afar at the 2016 Guild Conference/AGM - I enjoy learning from our worldwide membership!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Looking Back on Tessa’s Excellent RootsTech/FGS Adventure

Everything has been unpacked and the luggage put away (a few things are still on the floor in the guest bedroom!), the laundry and grocery shopping got done, the emails were sorted (and ruthlessly archived or deleted), telephone catch-ups were had with siblings and friends who wanted to hear all about it, and I caught up on my sleep. Last week I did reasonably well writing posts about my week in Salt Lake City and then, the weekend came early. 

The Pacific Northwest has been blessed with lovely weather – beautiful blue skies, unseasonably warm days and very little rain (of course those who like to ski would disagree with me as it has not been a good ski season). I know that much of the rest of the country continues to host the winter from hell, so I am happy that my recent travels have kept me out of the Nation’s capital (or anywhere in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest or even Southwest). Now it is time to get back and finish up my posts about RootsTech/FGS 2015 by sharing my experiences as a first time speaker for RootsTech and my final thoughts on the whole experience.

Image made with wordle.net - thanks


RootsTech and FGS put on an excellent conference

I was impressed with the efficiency and professionalism of those who put the conference together and who were there volunteering day in and day out to give us attendees a great experience.  The signage was excellent, the ballrooms and session rooms were comfortable and well lit, and the conference guide contained everything you needed to navigate the Salt Palace, the Exhibit Hall, and the Session choices. As with any guide you needed to take the time (in advance) to understand the layout, but the color-coding and maps were well done.

I had to remind myself that although some sessions seemed basic or old hat to me (sessions I have seen before in person or as webinars) the vast majority of genealogists do not attend seminars and conferences or webinars, and many haven’t used FamilySearch.org or any of the other big players (Ancestry, FindmyPast and MyHeritage), except perhaps as a quick free trial. It would be interesting to see the demographics on the attendees because I noticed a tremendous variation (experience level) between the people attending RootsTech sessions and those attending FGS sessions. Kudos to RootsTech for encouraging beginners to join in and have so much available to engage them.

Both RootsTech and FGS did a good job of including a variety of skill levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced). Of course the actual delivery of information via sessions was done by the speakers and a huge thank you to those who took the time and effort to prepare, provide useful handouts, and share entertaining and applicable slide presentations. Those who took the time to switch up sessions they had given before (adding new information, new websites, or new technology) or who stayed in the hallways and exhibit areas to answer questions – you really paid it forward and encouraged so many new genealogists.  

My RootsTech Speaker Experience

The online proposal process was excellent and very clear to this newbie. We learned on a timely basis whether a proposal was accepted and what the RootsTech deadlines were. We had a contact person (Amy Smith the RootsTech Content Manager) who hosted two recorded webinars to explain the logistics for our presentations and provide suggestions/tips. Having a clear understanding of the requirements, technology and deadlines was very helpful and having the speakers’ area on the RootsTech website to check off our deadlines was excellent. On a few occasions I had questions and Amy was always quick to reply with the information needed. I appreciated meeting Amy in person before the conference started and the personal thank you note and gift in our conference bag was a thoughtful touch.

Having not presented at a national conference before I was a bit nervous – but having all the equipment set up (projector, computer, and mics) as well as the tech guy (sorry I didn't get his name) who performed the sound check and confirmed I was “good to go” and that he would be around if anything glitched, put me right at ease. My room monitor Karen gave out my handouts, provided timing prompts, and collected the surname cards I asked the attendees to fill out. Knowing these two RootsTech personnel had my back let me concentrate on the content of my presentation rather than the logistics - thanks. The projector set-up was perfect, my slide presentation took advantage of Amy’s tips and suggestions, and everything went smoothly during my session. A huge thank you to everyone involved behind the scenes who made me look good!

Thoughts on Possible Improvements

Please leave the after conference surveys open for two weeks – I saw it in my email and simply needed to get caught up with real life and process the experience before I shared my thoughts/opinions (and I do have them!). I starred it in Gmail and tried to respond last weekend – and was met with CLOSED. Say it ain’t so RootsTech. I think a subtle reminder and giving attendees and speakers enough time to share a thoughtful response would be a very good thing.

Please revisit the concept of unconferencing or short demonstrations/labs that are not tied to having an exhibitor’s booth. It would be nice to have a place where 5-15 people could gather and work through something we learned at a session or try a practical application of a website or piece of technology. I have seen this in action as medical and legal conferences and it works well (often these sessions are 10-15 minutes and require a sign up with 24-hour advance notice – it can work well for attendees). I found the Demo Theater a bit loud and distracting, especially for those with booths nearby who were often drowned out by the microphoned presenters on the Demo Theater stage).

Could we have a return of tickets for luncheons and events – I signed up for a luncheon that turned out to be scheduled the day of my session (and my session was right after lunch). Needless to say due to logistics, I could not attend. No one could attend in my place because I didn't have a ticket that I could give them. This year our events were listed on our registration card (and mine did not have all my events and had to be rerun twice – glitches happen, no worries as it was handled fine). But if I had a ticket for the event I could have easily given it to another member of our group (the Guild of One-Name Studies) and s/he could have attended in my place. I noticed a number of people who had these type of conflicts (luncheons and speaking schedules was one, being just too tired to attend an evening function was another). I watched a few attendees trying to switch, return or give away their event and it was not easy. You might want to rethink the ticket idea.

It would be nice to have simple boxed lunches from places like Panera, Subway, Nordstrom, Harmons, or any local equivalents (sandwich or bakery shops) available at the Salt Palace – I was less than impressed with the choices available from the food vendors and there were a few who did not seem to enjoy the experience either (and they were happy to share, odd when you consider we were a captive audience and paying a premium for marginal service and food). Also when you are traveling, sometimes the tried and true is the best choices for meals.

Encourage the use of the RootsTech Mobile App – perhaps have some prizes or giveaways based on using the mobile app (a treasure hunt or points for people you add to friends and then contact, or some such). Please encourage attendees to use the app (opening sessions that include something about it - maybe everyone rating the session before they leave), rate the speakers and sessions, make suggestions and share one or two aha moments from any of the sessions (with prizes or announcements of the funniest, most entertaining or most touching). The RootsTech mobile app continues to improve each year and it was constantly updated which was helpful (except for that one time when I walked a rather far distance only to discover a session canceled with no notice on the mobile app – back to Siberia the FGS classrooms on the other end of the Salt Palace). Ramp up the user experience and RootsTech will have itself a winner!  

My Final and Very Personal Thank You

A shout-out to my biggest supporter – my sister Kris who encouraged me to send in proposals, offered support in (very) big and small ways that made it possible for me to attend and speak at RootsTech rather than view it from a distance, sent “good vibes” text messages to me throughout the week, said a few prayers (and reminded me of the one that got me through many exams) right before the start of my session, reminded me to “have fun,” and who was the first one who wanted to hear all about my excellent genealogy adventure after my return. Kris is an amazing sister (and I have a few more of those) and a really good friend who always has my back and who gets the importance of family and family history.

Kris – you are simply the best!  Go raibh mile maith agat & Grazie mille  

Sisters in Springtime - boy our bangs are short!

Well that brings us to the end of my blog posts sharing my experience at RootsTech/FGS. 

In the next week I will put the finishing touches on the recorded version of my presentation (and I do remember that I promised the session attendees I would do so) which will be posted on my YouTube Channel TessaWatch.

This month I am working on those responses to the surname cards that 75 of you filled out. We had a variety of surnames - with Czech, Irish, Hungarian, Italian, English, Russian, Welsh, Scottish, German, Polish, Slavic, French, Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Native American origins. Attendees wanted to know about the meaning, frequency, migration, and resources associated with their surnames. 

Over the next few weeks here at the KeoughCorner, I will take a look at a few of the most interesting surnames (as well as a few that stumped me!). Each attendee who turned in a surname card will receive an email with some information, resources, and suggestions for "learning more about it" - this is an ongoing process, so be sure to watch your email later this month!