Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Society Do-Over (or Do Better) - FGS Society Day 2015

One of the reasons I wanted to attend RootsTech/FGS 2015 was that it was billed as a genealogy extravaganza (two - two - two conferences in one!).  I don’t know how the powers that be originally envisioned it, but in my mind I pictured two days focused on FGS offerings and two days focused on RootsTech offerings with a big bang finish of the two conferences coming together on the last day.

It did not quite turn out that way – with the exception of FGS Society Day on Wednesday. FGS and RootsTech together was just that – sessions offered by both overlapping on each of three days (Thursday, Friday & Saturday). There was a wealth of choices every hour (too many in my humble opinion - decisions, decisions). My first pass through the selections on the RootsTech mobile app often resulted in three must-see choices. Unfortunately I have not learned how to clone myself and I had to make some tough choices. Added to that was the always open Exhibit Hall with its siren song that kept calling to all of us – “skip the sessions, visit with us, get a button, badge or ribbon, watch a demonstration, have a glass of lemonade, buy a book or DVD, stay here and play with us!” Did I mention that I can be easily distracted?!

Thankfully the Exhibit Hall was not open on Wednesday and as a first time conference attendee I had not been corrupted (yet!). I attended the FGS opening session, three sessions, the FGS luncheon, and the evening session which promised a “behind the scenes” look at genealogy and television, together with some food and drink.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net - Stuart Miles
The FGS Keynotes and  Sessions provided solutions to Societies

The opening session’s keynote speakers were all excellent – kudos to FGS to including Denna Coutant (a new-to-me speaker who reminded us of the importance of tending to our society like we tend our gardens – with some humorous reminders that we have to prepare, plant, water and prune as necessary to have a great garden society – her references to thorns or troublesome plants that suck up all the water drew chuckles and several knowing nods!); Jen Baldwin (who addressed the need to be mindful and thoughtful in coming up with and implementing our society social media – planning, flexibility, being realistic and detail-oriented is key); and Curt Witcher (who with tremendous enthusiasm and energy – I want what he’s having! – reminded us that our society has to continue to grow and evolve if we want to not only survive but thrive in the future).  

I had planned to attend the first session but ran into a fellow Guild of One-Name Studies member and he offered to buy me a cup of coffee so we could chat. Anyone who knows me – knows my love of coffee (I come by it naturally having been born and raised in Seattle – the coffee mecca and home to Starbucks and Seattle’s Best Coffee). We talked about our society, its trials, tribulations and triumphs in 2014, how we met and missed some of our goals, improvements to consider for 2015, and how our society fits the models discussed during the opening session. It is always helpful to take what you learn and apply it right away (I made notes in my bullet journal, we discussed networking opportunities while at RootsTech/FGS, and confirmed our Saturday morning FGS volunteer activity at the Exhibit Hall).

I got back on track and attended Joshua Taylor’s “New Kid on the Block” session. I am a huge fan of Joshua Taylor (fast talkers have to stick together!) and he brings aha moments to any topic he addresses.

The key takeaways from Joshua’s session:

We need to do a better job as a society in welcoming, encouraging, supporting and communicating with our volunteers
Invest time and effort in training our best resource

Treat our society more like a business in certain respects:
  • Place a volunteer where s/he can do the most good and enjoy their job
  • Job descriptions and training are important for a volunteer – pay attention at the outset so the volunteer does not wander in the desert, become discouraged, and quit.
  • Check in with a volunteer to see how it is going, offer assistance, and celebrate the volunteer’s accomplishments.
  • Move a volunteer around – a society is the sum of its parts and people, not the province or plaything of one or a few people (my first thought was “we should use musical chairs” – complacency, entitlement, or treating a society like a clique is never a good thing).
  • Get ideas from all your volunteers - don’t judge or dismiss the ideas out of hand and banish “we have never done that before” “we tried that once 10 years ago and it didn't work” and “you don’t know how things run” from your vocabulary.
  • The key to smooth transitions is to shadowing a postholder or officer position. Make sure your volunteer realizes that it is about the society and not about them – temper tantrums or ultimatums have no place in a society and people who use that type of behavior need to be removed (difficult but much better for the society in the long run).
  • Good recordkeeping and centralized recordkeeping is essential for smooth society transitions. Never allow one or a few people to control the society’s lifeblood – its membership lists, treasury, contacts, and projects.
  • Offer distance members an opportunity to be part of the team. With the advent of some amazing Internet features, distance is no longer a barrier to being an involved and integral member of a society.
  • Learning how to work together for the benefit of the society is important. We all have different personalities, learning and working styles. We need to learn how to lead and follow – how to work with others and value their contributions. We need to know when to step back, take responsibility, and shine the light on others – building up a strong and happy group of volunteers is the key to each society’s survival.

Those were just a few of the highlights from Joshua’s session – this session was recorded and I would encourage every society to order a copy, train your postholders and officers, and then use it with your volunteers!

The FGS Luncheon was a great opportunity to visit with FGS delegates and ask about their societies, what was working and what wasn't – and then hear the “state of genealogy societies in 2014” from the speakers. There were some interesting statistics about societies and social media. It was a great reminder that not everyone is online and we need to do a better job of keeping our current members while attracting new members. I think it would have been nice for an FGS board member or postholder to be at each table rather than grouped together at a few tables. As delegates it would have been nice to meet them and have them encourage the conversation at each of the tables.

Big fan of dessert and the chocolate
kept me going in the afternoon!

Stacie Newton’s session on “Creating a Dynamic Educational Program” was interesting and she provided a number of suggestions on how any society could plan, implement and publicize an educational program. Her examples related to her society (Daughters of the American Revolution) but I found her “in the trenches” approach useful and immediately considered how some of her ideas could translate for my society.

The key takeaways from Stacie’s session:

  • Know your society and your membership – learn what is important to them and what are they willing to work on.
  • Spend the time looking into grants or scholarships or internships – if your society needs funding and expertise you can find it in these programs. Make use of high school and college students who could work with your society for school credit.
  • Planning is the cornerstone to success – give your society enough time, resources, and a mission – if everyone is on the same page you will be able to accomplish your program goals.  Working in fits and starts or not keeping everyone on the team informed is a recipe for disaster.
  • Work with your community, your local or regional newspapers, and other societies. There is strength in numbers and you can share the workload.

My last session of the day was Lisa Louise Cooke’s "Video Marketing: Killer YouTube Strategies for Societies." Lisa is one of my personal favorites as a speaker, writer, podcaster and blogger. Lisa does it all, she does it well and with grace. Although her topic (YouTube) is something I am already comfortable with – we can always learn something from someone else’s experience (we don’t know it all – keep an open mind and be willing to learn).

The key takeaways from Lisa’s session:

  • Be authentic – don’t try to be something you aren't and don’t copy others – it shows when you are authentic and people respond to the real you.
  • It is all about the content – have something to say and think about how to share it (clear, concise and positive).
  • For a society – if you don’t know what your members what to know or learn – ASK THEM! And then, give them what they want.
  • Learn the basics, practice and then build your following on YouTube. It is about providing quality not quantity.
  • Plan and then DO – get started, don’t just think about it.

Lisa had several examples and resources that she shared with the attendees – again another excellent session that was recorded. If your society is thinking about or already on YouTube, this would be an excellent training video. And did I mention that Lisa is a pro at answering questions, chatting with attendees, and just being such a positive influence in the genealogy world.

I enjoyed the FGS evening session "Behind the Scenes" (and the food and drinks were especially welcome at 7:00 pm after a full day) but I think tables and chairs rather than classroom seating would have been a better choice. Classroom seating did not provide for conversation or ease of plates and glasses at place for the attendees. We watched three clips from Genealogy Roadshow, Finding Your Roots, and Who Do You Think You Are during the first two-thirds of the program. The final third of the program was for questions from the audience to the panel. I would have preferred more panel discussion and shorter clips. I had previously seen (and many others had as well) two of the clips – the third had not aired yet. However, it was a long and busy day for FGS and their people were working the entire day to bring us great functions and sessions. All in all, FGS Society Day was entertaining and educational – I took away lots of ideas and suggestions for my society, the Guild of One-Name Studies

A huge thank you to all the FGS volunteers and speakers for a great day and nice kick-off to the rest of the week. 

Tomorrow – RootsTech begins and the number of attendees and sessions multiplies!


  1. Thanks, Tessa. I particularly appreciate your precis of Joshua's session about volunteers. As the secretary of a society, I am conscious of how we work with our volunteers - thanks for these reminders.

  2. Tessa I love your post. I'm loving reading about what everyone did and how they found FGS/RootsTech. It was such an enormous event, with so much was happening that no-one could do everything. And it sounds like the talks you went o were great. Thanks for the writeup, and I look forward to reading more.


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