How to Make Conferences 73% More Fun

3842023327_59b043661e_zIt’s that time of year.  Conference season is heating up.  The NGS Conference just ended, the FGS conference is coming in September, and there are a bunch of smaller conferences in between.  This is the time of year when people share their conference experiences, and when some begin to get nervous about upcoming events.

One of the things that often comes up during conference season is the idea that there are cliques in genealogy.   I hear this in other fields too; it was common in my old HR life, and it comes up every year in the mommy blogger world too.   Facing a crowd of hundreds (or thousands)  of strangers can be intimidating, especially when they all seem to be old friends (because in many cases they ARE old friends). It can feel like crashing someone else’s summer camp reunion.  In my experience, a “clique” is any group you’re not in that looks cool.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a gathering of humans that didn’t somehow include a group or two like that.

One of the ways you can make your conference experience more fun is by making sure you already have friends there before you arrive. I remember my first NGS conference in 2002. I felt like everyone knew everyone already, and I didn’t know a soul. It was a little isolating.

Fast forward nine years to the RootsTech conference last winter. There, I had no such trouble. The difference was that I had already made friends via social media before I ever got on the plane to Salt Lake City. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging had introduced me to hundreds of other genealogists over the previous 13 months, and when I arrived at RootsTech all I had to do was give them a hug. We already knew each other, even though we’d never met in person.

Social media allows you to get to know people a little at a time. It’s much easier to have a conversation with the “stranger” if you’ve already seen pictures of the stranger’s kids, or know all about their recent kitchen remodeling adventures, or heard about their awesome anniversary cruise. Back in the day, genealogists mostly got to know each other at conferences. If you hadn’t already been to a bunch of them, you were the odd person out. No more. You can get to know people throughout the year via social media.

If you’re feeling isolated or you’re nervous about an upcoming conference, consider connecting with bloggers or other genealogists who are attending. You can find many many like-minded researchers on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or via Geneabloggers. You don’t have to know necessarily know someone already to follow them. It’s perfectly acceptable to just introduce yourself, say you are a fellow genealogist, and let them know that you’re trying to meet other genealogists and would like to connect. Most people are cool with that.  In fact, I’ve been stunned to find how approachable and friendly even famous genealogical glitterati are online.  Our field has some really nice people, and you can’t judge them by what you see at conferences, where they’re rushing from speaking gig to banquet to meeting to interview to the bathroom. Catch them online, when they’re not in the middle of a work-crunch, and you’ll see a whole different side of them.

If you are an introvert and you’ve held off attending conferences because you were intimidated by the crowds, try this. It really helps. In fact, in my experience, most genealogists are introverts, and nearly all are happy to talk about their research to anyone who will listen. This is one crowd in which it’s easy to make friends; you just have to get out there a bit.

Photo by edu_fon

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