Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Trouble With Conferences

And no, I'm not talking about the expense. Or the preference to just stay home and bypass the crowds, now that there's live streaming of hand-picked features. The problem with conferences, in my book, is that while you can't do it all—there are too many simultaneous best picks—sometimes, you can't do any of it.

It is so hard, from an organizer's standpoint, to arrange an event where there is something for everyone. Many conferences—and this is not just relegated to the world of genealogy; I've experienced it elsewhere—seem to focus on narrow strata of interests or skill levels. The majority of sessions are geared to the entry level, convincing potential attendees there is nothing to return for, the following year. Or plans pinpoint the far-advanced, and soar over everyone else's head. Even selecting a roster of speakers on the "track" approach—beginners, intermediates, and advanced—can backfire, when speakers, themselves, slate their topics as befitting of all three audiences simultaneously.

Apparently, the Southern California Genealogical Society, hosts to the Jamboree genealogical conference I'm attending this weekend, have not only succeeded in finding an answer to this dilemma, but have demonstrated that they are willing to listen to customer feedback at the same time. SCGS launched a "workshop" approach, which it incorporates into two days of the event. While the rest of the conference runs on its traditional hour-long session schedule, a second ring of events offers extended, hands-on learning experiences dedicated to a more intricate topic.

Those workshops require separate advanced registration, but that serves to insure that participants are fully informed about what they are getting themselves into. It also provides a smaller venue for the instructor and fellow class members. And it affords us the time to delve more deeply into a specific topic—not just breeze over it lightly, as might happen in the traditional hour-long conference session.

This is not a new approach for Jamboree. SCGS offered this approach last year. Unfortunately for me, last year I had looked at the offerings too late to register for the ones I was interested in. But this year, I didn't miss the chance, and I'm glad I got in on it. There were two different DNA workshops offered on Friday morning, extending the genetic genealogy offerings beyond the Thursday DNA Day, and I snatched up the class on chromosome mapping. It's a huge topic to swallow, but the extended time frame made it more possible to break it into bite-sized pieces.

Though I've always enjoyed attending conferences, over the years I've found myself repeating yearly attendance until reaching a jumping-off point—feeling like there is nothing left to glean from the organization's offerings, yet feeling like there potentially could be so much more to learn in the field. Perhaps that's why institutes—such as the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy—have found such a niche. Perhaps others have sensed that same sort of lack from conferences.

Yet, I think the approach adopted by the SCGS at Jamboree holds out promise as a way to meet those many varied learning requirements, concurrently and all under one roof. Bravo to their organizers for being willing to innovate to address such disparate learning needs!


  1. Have fun at the Jamboree! Looking forward to your posts about your experiences and new ideas.

    1. Thanks, Marian. It was an encouraging weekend, to say the least!


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