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!


  1. Some excellent suggestions for the Rootstech Organisers who do a great job. The organisation has improved into a slick operation from the first Rootstech when we had no room monitors and very little tech assistance. With positive suggestions like yours the event will continue to improve.

  2. I enjoyed your session! I also think tickets are a better option. In 2014 I got a bad cold so avoided crowded sessions and gave away tickets to some events. I made one ladies day when she was seeing if she could go to a lab and I gave her my ticket. Giving them away when printed on your pass would have made this difficult and required my attendance. Great round up.


Welcome - thanks for sharing - just so you know, all comments are moderated.