May 312011

Things have been very quiet here for the last few weeks due to some very long hours at my day job. I love my work as a public health microbiologist and molecular epidemiologist but it can be very intense at times. I also love my genealogy, presenting and writing and am very lucky that I can use many of my research skills in both areas. Shame I can’t split in two and do both concurrently. Hmmm, cloning anyone?

Combined with this has been the many. many conversations with insurance companies about the results of being flooded in January. Great news is that things are looking very hopeful  there and renovations start next week with conversations ongoing.

I will be presenting this weekend at the  Unlock the Past NSW Expo on strategies for ‘Breaking Down Brick Walls’ in your genealogy.I am really looking forward to the many great presentations on a fantastic range of topics including:  

When widows and brides wore black – Dr Leigh Summers
Asylums: looking for the sick, the poor & the aged – Shauna Hicks
Soldier settlement in New South Wales, 1916-1939 – Dr Melanie Oppenheimer
Social media for family and local history – Carole Riley
How to write and publish your family story in easy steps – Dr Noeline Kyle
Back alleys and research byways: Tips and tactics for chasing elusive ancestors in the NSW State archives – Christine Yeats  
Finding the address isn’t enough: the links between local and family history – Dr Carol Liston

German research – Eric Kopittke

And these are just a selection of the range of talks available!

There will also be free 15 minutes consultations with a range of experts. I love doing these as it is always exciting talking to people about their family history and sharing strategies for solving problems.Defintiely check it out and book early as these sessions fill up fast.

The exhibitor range is also good and I can see some goodies coming home with me!

I have been (in the spare time) working on another book which is on Breaking Down Brick Walls.

 Mentioned recently was Wordle .

This is a site where you can put in a list of words and get great graphics back and I have been playing around with it for a possible cover for the book. Lots of fun and amazing how much difference fonts and colours can make. I can think of a number of uses for this site, what do you think?

May 082011

From an attendee’ perspective what would I like to see in a conference?
First let me say I love conferences, the excitement, anticipation, joys of speaking with like-minded people, finding out new things, suddenly having an A-ha! moment as you realise you may have been given the clue to demolish that brickwall. Finding a new resource at an exhibitors table.Having the uninteruptd time to immerse myself in history:family and social.

These are in no particular order.

  • For it to be organised, this sounds self-evidentary but it can make or break a conference. This includes starting on time, running to time in a session, having enough time between sessions particularly if there is a distance between rooms.
  • Having enough time available to see the exhibitors as well as eating
  • Having access to  break-out room if you want to hold a group meeting eg Guild of One Name Studies
  • Having  a noticeboard/private mail-list  for messages so you can organise to meet-up with people with your interests
  • Having a range of topics at different experience levels (ideally if it is a basic/beginners talk label it as such!)
  • I like to use my laptop or at the least to take notes so like access to a table or chair with flip-up table as used by universities
  • At the last Congress in Auckland we had access to computer labs and had some workshops which were great
  • Having streams/tracks is good. You can also have a beginners/intermediate talk followed by an advanced one on the same theme. You can have say all afternoon on one theme, perhaps with three or four talks
  • I prefer talks at the 45 minute length as it gives a chance to go into depth.
  • Having the conference abstracts on a flash drive is excellent or as a PDF download
  • I would love the ability to buy recordings of presentations particularly of those you can’t get to as you have a clash of sessions or you simply couldn’t attend the conference.
  • It may be with the increased numbers of genealogy researchers who use the Net and don’t join Societies that this is the first social occasion where they meet family historians so it has to be friendly. 

How do I choose which conferences to attend? I always try to get to the big three yearly congress and will be going again in 2012 Congress 2012 and also try to get to a number of smaller day conferences.This year I went on a cruise conference combined and enjoyed it tremendously. I would have loved to have gone on their next one which has an Irish-Scottish theme and is visiting some beautiful New Zealand ports but unfortunately I work full time. Te majority of the conferences are at a fair distance as Australia is a big country. I have done two international conferences but they took a lot of planning and money and maybe in the future.

What do I see happening in the future?
I see more presentations at the conference being done as webinars.

Maybe more workshops before the conference maybe at an extra cost (this occurs in a number of my Microbiology conferences and they get a good attendance)

I’d foresee see more hand’s-on workshops by vendors with their new products and from what I have heard this was very successful at RootsTech. Having a computer lab set-up for workshops with the cost shared by a number of vendors could be practical.

Definitely see more Blogs and Tweets (and social media currently unthought of!) about the Conference. I see this happening as a major promotion before the conference, during the conference and also after the conference.
It would be nice for the presenters if you happen to break down that brick wall becasue of something you heard that .you then tell the world the benefit of conferences.

After thinking about this I want to go right NOW!

May 052011

I enjoy presenting ( friends have mentioned something about talking and wet cement<G>). I especially enjoy sharing information on my topics with an interested audience. 

Before you get to the point of giving the presentation a lot of things have to have happened on your side:

  • You have developed a specialist knowledge of field of interest maybe a specific repository, range of records, FH program or technology. Usually it takes a number of years to develop this expertise. 

  • You have spent 20-30 hours putting together a one hour presentation. 

  • I use Powerpoint with a plain background. 

  • It is important that the presentation can be seen in both a bright room as well as a darkened room, be careful in choice of colours and fonts, remember your audience. Look at other presentations critically, what do you like/dislike about the actual presentation, fonts, colour, amount of information on each slide?

  • A presentation is not the time to be ‘clever’ about how many fonts, special effects you can use on one slide. In fact I would rarely use special effects because they can become distracting and even boring very quickly and if anything will go wrong during the presentation this will be it.

  • I take my own computer, projector, extension lead and powerboard so if there is an issue with the audiovisual equipment you have options (ideally always be there a while prior to the presentation so you can set your equipment up if required).

Speaker Topics

  • Have a list of topics available, on a web page is good (with up to date contact details!)
  • Are you able/prepared to travel? How far and when?
  • Can you speak at nights or weekends only?

Communication with the conference organisers

  • Which topic?
  • Are you the only speaker?
  • Is it a themed conference ie is there any crossover on your topic?
  • Do they want a presentation aimed at a beginner, or experienced researcher?
  • What is their desired presentation length? Are you able to accommodate this?

The more you communicate the less surprises occur on the day.

For other speaker points of view I recommend reading these excellent posts by  Judy, Randy  and Thomas

There will be continue to be changes in genealogical presentations. I see a lot more webinars in the future, either attended by individuals or where a society meeting attendees log in,  is due to increased travel costs and conference orgainsation costs, along with the difficulty of getting volunteers to organise these conferences. 

Another issue is the busyness of modern life. The ability to attend lectures at any time you have free because more presentations will be available for download or on CD (for a fee) will be a major plus (a lot of my best research has been done at 1am!).

The Internet has enabled a lot more self-directed learning so online courses with oral presentations as many people learn better hearing as well as seeing key points. There will also be many more podcasts available, ideal for listening while you drive or do your daily walk/run.

 Due to the Internet these presentations are available to a worldwide audience.

Being a speaker is very rewarding  in that you are speaking on a topic that excites you to an audience who wants to hear what you have to say and are enthusiastic and involved.

May 042011

Setting the Space – the series beings by looking at genealogy conferences from the perspective of the planners – those who plan the events, secure the space and manage all the details that many attendees don’t get to see. We encourage those who have held genealogy events – from one-day workshops for your local genealogy society to multi-day national events to weigh in with their opinion.  Tell us your frustrations, your successes, and what changes are taking place or should take place when it comes to genealogy conferences.

I have organised a number of  workshops over the years and  have helped in orgainising a National Australian Microbiology conference in my professional life so here are some of my musings on this topic.

There are a number of questions which need to be clarified very early and agreed by everyone as if the planning is done well at the early stages things will more smoothly (never totally smooth but hopefully a few steps away from insanity)

1. Getting enough willing people to do all the background work required without burning out your regular volunteers

2. Determining what the purpose of the conference will be, perhaps as a way of publicising the society to gain new members, or as an educational program for current members, are you going to have it set for one level of experience or a range of different levels of knowledge,  are you going to have a theme eg Scottish research or a range of topics,.

3 Is it going to be a one day workshop or more, if more than one will it be Friday to Sunday to allow for employed people to attend? Does the planned time clash with any other similar conference that could decrease attendance?

4.  Is the conference meant as a  city, State or National conference? This will have a major impact on how early before the conference you should start planning, for a national conference a minimum of 2-3 years before the event.and how you plan to publicise the event.Today using social media is very important for publicity, a web site is essential, Twitter, Facebook, blogs as well as the traditional adverts in the family history magazines, articles etc.

5. How are you going to choose your speakers? Personal recommendation? Try-out tapes?Remember to ask for submissions well ahead of time as your presentations and topics are some of your best adverts for the conference also you need to give your panel time to choose the presentations and time for your presenters to organise the talks, the abstracts and their holidays etc. .

6 What range of speakers are you aiming for? Some well known internationals? They are likely to be booked 18 months plus ahead. What payments will you need  for them? Will they be a major drawcard for your conference, will this attract different attendees? Are they willing to give more than one presentation? Are they willing to be available throughout the conference? Do they have some applicable products to sell to the attendees? Is there a possibility that you could do a webinar style presentation where the international doesn’t actually have to be physically present at the conference?

 Some interstate presenters? Same things apply although their calendars less likely to be booked as far ahead.  (Be careful to also not offend your local presenters as you will probably want to work with them again!)

7 Are you just having lectures or some hands-on workshops?

8 How big a venue do you need? If a big one the conference centres tend to be booked a couple of years ahead. A conference centre has a number of advantages, the rooms are closer together which means you don’t need as much time between sessions to allow people to move from one lecture to the next, the audio-visual setup tends to be more cohesive which can mean greater cost to hire but does mean less of your people involved in audio visual on the day. You may have a master set-up where presentations can be loaded in a central point and networked to all rooms. You may also have an option to record some presentations (with permission of the presenters of course)

You need to determine who owns the recording and how any money will be split etc. The presenter has put in a lot of work into their presentation so the split has to take this into account. Selling copies of presentations is potentially a way to gain more funds from the conference and a way to allow people to attend more presentations, particularly applicable for conferences where there are concurrent sessions. For an increased fee are you willing to sell the presentations to people who were unable to attend the conference?

9 If a smaller venue is needed perhaps a University/college campus out of study times. There should be reasonable audio-visual equipment available. There may be a greater distance between the lecture theatres. Often universities also have available accommodation at reasonable rates.

10 Regardless of whether you record the presentations for sale you need to make decisions about how many ways you will publish the abstracts. The printed copies are good to use at the conference when you make plans on which presentation you will attend but they can be quite bulky and heavy to take home. Ideally an electronic copy should be available best on a website so you can do some reviews before you leave home. At the conference perhaps provide them on a USB drive (CDs can be an issue with some of the new netbooks that don’t have a CD/DVD drive) .

I recently saw the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree who announced an iPad app which gave the program with links to the speakers bios etc.(  I was very impressed and feel this is a great step forward.

You will need to have a few publication options (with a range of costs) as one method will not suit all.

11 You will also need to make some decisions about whether you have a computer side and non computer side in the lecture theatres as some people find it very distracting having someone typing near them when they are trying to listen (and they may have a hearing impairment)  and some presenters don’t like it either.

12. What catering are you providing? Hot, cold, sandwiches, a lunch box?

13 What social events are you planning? Any pre- or post conference research trips? Are you doing a social program for non-genealogy addicted partners?

14 No conference survives without trade tables. You need to get the suppliers on board. You have to have a liaison officer to deal with any issues that the trad requires, such as powered tables a separate catering option that provides food prior to the the standard breaks as those breaks will be their selling time.  Try to organise morning tea/afternoon tea near the trade tables.  The trade tables are also major draws to your conference  so you want o use them in your advertising as early as possible.

15 We found that having separate sub-committees worked well with regular meetings of each of the chairs so everyone knew what was happening. We used Dropbox so documents were always available to everyone. We also used Skype for some of our meetings as well as having face to face meetings.

16.  Make sure after the conference you debrief, write down what worked , what didn’t go so well. Keep a list of suppliers that were good. Make sure you get these notes from each person as everyone will see different points and these need to be documented for the future and the next conference you organise. They are a lot of work but are also a lot of fun.

Most importantly whatever you do enjoy yourselves!