Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Planning Genealogical Seminars - My View

In Genealogical Conferences - The Magic Recipe, Thomas MacEntee encourages genea-bloggers to write posts this week about genealogy conference issues.  The topic for Tuesday is supposed to be:

"Setting the Space – on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 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."

My only experience with planning seminars and conferences is with my local society - the Chula Vista Genealogical Society.  As the Program Chairman and the President in past years, I had the lead in planning one-day seminars for four years.  Fortunately, we had a free venue at the Chula Vista Civic Center Library with over 150 seats in the auditorium and decent audio-visual equipment.  For three years, we concentrated on having a FREE four to six hour event on a Saturday, usually in both April and October.  We provided a free lunch - a make-your-own sandwich, salad, fruit platters, chips and dip, dessert cookies and water, and asked for donations to allay the refreshment cost. 

With two one-day seminars each year, we used between our own society speakers on useful genealogical topics (I did one of them myself on Online Resources) and two had an "Ancestors Road Show" format with a panel answering attendee research questions.  In October 2008, we brought Jean Wilcox Hibben in for three wonderful talks.  Attendance at these events ranged from 40 to 60, with 10 to 20 non-members in attendance.  For events at the library, we could not charge registration fees due to library policy.

Because the library hours were reduced in early 2010, we lost our free seminar venue.  For the October 2010 seminar, we used a local senior center with sufficient space for a fee.  Jean Wilcox Hibben gave three presentations, and Alberto Pena gave one.  For the first time, we charged a registration fee to cover the speaker, venue and refreshment costs, and made some money for the society.  However, there were significant venue problems - the venue was crowded, and the kitchen noise intruded on the speakers, and the food wasn't great.  This venue is not available any longer due to budget cutbacks.

Some lessons learned in planning these one-day events:

1)  A separate seminar committee needs to start planning two years before the event.  This needs to be a committee with a number of team leaders, a master action list, and scheduled decision-making.  The committee chairperson needs to be team-oriented and able to delegate well.  Continuity and accountability is vital. 

2)  Lessons learned from earlier events need to be documented and applied to future events.  Venues should be visited and tested for seating, audio/visual limitations, etc.  Seat spacing is important.  Soft seats are better than hard seats.  Having readable visuals, with clear sight lines and clear audio is critical.  Meetings should not be scheduled on community event days, or on days with significant competing genealogical events.

3)   A Seminar theme should be responsive to the needs of the prospective attendees.  An event with three or four disparate topics really doesn't work well.  It is painful to sit through a presentation on a specialized topic of interest to only 10% of the attendees.

4)  Seminar speaker(s) with known capabilities and expertise need to be selected to fit the seminar theme.  It is painful to sit through a presentation by a first-time speaker unfamiliar with his topic, or talks that are too short or too long. 

5)  The seminar date, speaker(s), topics, venue, program publicity and costs should be finalized at least six months before the event, and for larger events one year before the event. 

6)  Program publicity should include flyers to local libraries, local senior centers and schools, and posted on grocery store and other community bulletin boards.  Publicity should be posted on genealogy-oriented blogs, web pages, and message boards.  Notices should be sent to local and regional genealogy societies far enough in advance for publication in monthly newsletters. A press release should be released several weeks in advance of the event to local newspapers.  

7)  Seminar fees should be set to encourage attendance, with a cost break for early registration, but be sufficient to cover the venue, speaker and other costs.  Ideally, the venue should not limit the number of attendees.  Setting fees needs to account for the society demographics - what are the members willing to pay?  What are non-members willing to pay? 

While CVGS is relatively "small potatoes," we are actively serving the needs of our society members and trying to attract new members from the San Diego genealogy community, especially those that are not society members and live in the Chula Vista area.

I will be interested in seeing how other genea-bloggers address this topic.  hopefully, we can all learn some lessons learned and adapt the success stories of other societies to our own events.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Great Ideas & suggestions, Randy!