Wednesday, June 8, 2016
The unseen stage of conference attendance is the final stage: that of cleaning up afterwards.
Afterwards: when the last word from the last session has faded into silence, the exhibit hall has been taken down, and the only lingering sign of all the activity is the litter scattered down the walkways. I don't envy the coordinators behind the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, for instance—the cleanup stage is surely exhausting. We're fortunate the decision to continue the conference yet another year doesn't hinge on how these organizers feel during that cleanup stage.
There is a corollary for individual conference attendees, too. Not on as grand a scale as that undergone by the societies behind these statewide events, of course. But we have our own unpacking and organizing to do, too.
This year, I had opted to go paperless for syllabus and note-taking material. I received my syllabus on an external drive hanging off the end of a lanyard. Certainly nothing to trigger concern about bumping up over the weight limit of our luggage, if we had flown to Los Angeles instead of driving. But it somehow came across in the presentation with a bit less gravitas, as well. Ah, the psychological advantage of Webster's Unabridged. Bulk = imposing. I'll have to get over that. But not so much as to forget the volume of value tucked away in that slim techno device; there are notes inside that could stand some review, from time to time.
Even though I did bring a notebook with me, one thing I've noticed over the years is how infrequently I consult those conference notes, after the fact. I'm a listen-and-learn type. Notes scribbled in the margins, reminding me of tasks I need to follow up on are much more useful—and used—than actually copying down, rote, the message given by a conference speaker.
Once I learned those things about myself, I finally decided to put that into practice. My "notes" are really an actions-to-take page, which I'm more likely to refer back to. This year, I decided to make the shift to paperless, so my to-do list from the conference now resides on my ever-present iPad. While I'm not yet sure this was a comfortable switch—I definitely write faster than I hunt-and-peck on my iPad keyboard—I'm sure I'll be testing this method again. It may have to grow on me, but I can see how the winning ways of paperless can be beguiling.
In addition to reviewing my notes-cum-action list, a short stack of business cards awaits my follow through, as well. There's no sense insisting on attending conferences in person—"to meet other researchers"—and then not secure that connection with a well-timed follow-up, after the event is over. There are thanks to be given, comments to share, promises to keep. These after-event commitments have a limited shelf life; now is the best time to attend to those good intentions.
This year brought one new item to the post-conference spectrum. This event turned out to be a working meeting as well as a time for learning. With all the help provided to enable me to launch a DNA project at Family Tree DNA, I've now found myself with an ongoing commitment in an area new to me—thus unfamiliar territory to conquer. There's a steep learning curve here, which translates into a time commitment to sit down and read background material, ask questions where needed, and get some practical work done.
I wouldn't go so far as to say the reason why people are less inclined to attend in-person events like genealogical conferences is because of all the work that attendees bring back home with them, but it is a sure thing that the job is far from over, the minute the last session is completed. We don't really get the full value of the learning experience until we attend to all the tasks that don't really pop up until after the conference is over. It's not until we clean up in the aftermath that we sort things out and put them to the good use for which they were always intended.