This year for the first time I attended a full genealogy conference, the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC), held in Manchester, New Hampshire. [See my previous three posts for my three days there.] I wanted to take the experiences of myself and of people I knew there and met there to provide some advice for genealogy conference attendees. If you are an old hat at conference-going, these may seem basic to you; that’s OK.
- Take along business-sized cards to give to people you meet. It doesn’t matter whether you are a professional in the industry or not; these are a fast way to ensure you are able to keep in touch with people that you meet there. I recommend that, at a minimum, you include your name, email address, and (if applicable) the URL of your blog and/or your other genealogical/historical website. Many people include such additional items as their phone number, their mailing address, and/or ways to contact them on social media. Some people compile a list of major surnames and/or areas of research and include it on their card, which I think is great, but my research is so scattered and the number of surnames I am researching so large that I personally would never be able to fit it all on a business card.
- Don’t hesitate to give your card or other contact information out the first time you meet someone in person. There were a number of people at NERGC for whom I did not do this, assuming I would see them again, but then I didn’t.
- Bring along some of your research for connecting with possible mutual researchers. This can be as basic as a brief list of the major surnames, locations, and time periods you are researching or as comprehensive as your entire computerized database on a device you have brought with you.
- Wear layers. While many advise that U. S. venues tend to run cold year round, in my experience at NERGC, some of the rooms were stuffy, some were chilly, and some alternated between stuffy and chilly depending on whether the air was on at any given moment.
- If you have a technology device on which you plan to take notes, bring a back-up pen/pencil and paper just in case. You never know when or how technology might fail.
- Circle your “must-attend” talks in advance, and then discuss the talks you are considering attending but undecided with others before and during the conference. There’s little better than getting a glowing recommendation for a specific talk or speaker from another attendee!
- Don’t be afraid to sit a session out. If there’s a time slot when no lecture seems compelling, or you’re just feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to skip a session to socialize, visit the vendor hall, spend time updating online, and/or simply recharge your mental and physical batteries.
- Keep in mind that the only way to be relatively sure (though still not 100% sure) that you will not run into others who want to talk is to completely leave the venue. A number of people I know who were staying at hotels in Manchester took breaks by literally returning to their hotel rooms. As someone who wasn’t staying over, I didn’t have that option. The one time I tried to find a quiet place to take a break by myself, in the most out-of-the-way spot I could find, I still saw several people I knew. Accept this as an innate possibility beforehand.
- Take as little along as you think you will need, but also be careful not to weed out too much. Someone I knew at NERGC felt they’d had too much in their bag on their first day there, and had taken a lot of papers out of their bag before their second day. They discovered after arriving at the conference that they had accidentally removed the schedule they had made for what they wanted to attend at the conference. They said with a rueful chuckle that their hotel maid would know where they had planned to be during each session that day.
- Bring along a reusable water bottle. Many people got very thirsty at NERGC, and the water dispensers kept running out of water. Others asked me to help, but a number of people I asked did not even know whether the venue or the conference was responsible for refilling them, and kept deferring me to others to deal with it. The easiest thing is to just have a reusable water bottle along so that you can refill it at a water fountain or sink and carry it with you.
- Bring your checkbook along. Most vendors at NERGC took personal checks and, at least at NERGC, many expressly preferred it to a credit card.
For those of you that have attended genealogy conferences before, what would you add to my list? For those of you that are planning to attend your first one within the next year or hope to attend one sometime in the future, what is going into your planning?