How to Make Conferences 73% More Fun

How to Make Conferences 73% More Fun

by Kerry Scott on 18 May 2011

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It’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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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

JL May 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

“most genealogists are introverts” – oh, god, that just cracks me up. We spend our days with dead people and/or writing (not talking) online to people we mostly don’t know, have never met, will likely never meet. I’m thinking Introvert of the Year prizes, trophies, T-shirts …


Kerry Scott May 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Yep. I’m sure there’s an extrovert out there somewhere, but it ain’t me.


geniaus May 18, 2011 at 5:20 pm

How true.

Instead of feeling lost and overwhelmed at the Rootstech Conference I felt that I was amongst friends. I already knew a number of the bloggers via social networking sites before I got on the plane from Australia.

These GeniMates of mine helped me with pre-journey advice, offered to meet up with me in Salt Lake City and welcomed me with open arms on my arrival.

We do not have such huge events in Australia and I would have been totally lost without the support of my virtual friends. That I had such a positive experience at Rootstech was due to the pre-conference connections I had made via social media.


Susan Tiner May 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm

We meet two bloggers over the weekend and that’s exactly what happened. Hugs! Then immediate effusive conversation as if we’d been friends for years. It is so much fun to meet bloggers in person :-).


Cheryl Cayemberg May 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I agree with you, Kerry! And one of the most important things is to take the plunge and just go. I’m certainly an introvert (everyone that meets me laughs at that but friends don’t count because they make you feel comfortable enough to come out of your shell), but one thing to remember is that you’re going somewhere to join the biggest clique…genealogists. Most don’t bite :)


Lynn Palermo May 19, 2011 at 7:15 am

Kerry, I look forward to meeting up with you at a conference, and I’m hard pressed to believe your not an extrovert!!


Kerry Scott May 19, 2011 at 7:34 am

Nope. I only play one on the internet.


Brenda May 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Great advice, Kerry. Being involved in social media makes everything so much easier now. Knowing some online friends will be at a conference doubles the anticipation.


Taneya May 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm

great suggestions. I have never been to a gen conference really b/c I have too much family stuff/work stuff, but I know if I ever do then I’ll have plenty of friends already! love social media :-)


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