Sunday, October 28, 2018
Still Reading —
Because it's About the Gatherings
Perhaps I'm belaboring a point. Perhaps I need to move on—lay the book down and turn in a different direction. But I don't think so.
Call it a light bulb moment. I'm still reading Priya Parker's book, The Art of Gathering. Yes, I first started talking about that book in my post nearly two months ago. I can't deny lingering over the content of that book even earlier this month. And I'm still not over reading it. (I'm in the midst of checking out all those footnotes—yes, I do read the footnotes.)
My light bulb moment was this: I think the book has helped me pinpoint the reason why genealogy conference organizers bemoan the drop in attendance at their events. People come to genealogy (or, for that matter, any) conferences not just to learn new things about topics they passionately follow. After all, with the proliferation of online resources for learning—live streaming of conferences, free webinars and podcasts—we are not held captive to that one option for increasing our knowledge base, that once-requisite attendance in person at the conference setting.
No, people come to conferences—at least now, with all those other venues for learning—for the experience of being there. And if the conference planners don't design an experience into their "experience," there is really no need for an attendee to be there in person.
Conferences need to have that element—that indescribable, as the French say, je ne sais quoi—that makes attendance so compelling that one simply has to be there. No other way of participating will suffice.
That something just won't happen without the element of connection. People come together because they want to connect with each other. And while those connections will—sometimes—occur organically, in a mass of seeming strangers, that connection often won't happen unless and until someone puts some thought into designing it into the event. Sitting in row upon row of lined up chairs, with every head facing forward in rapt attention of the speaker may facilitate learning, but it doesn't enable the act of connecting with each other. Connecting, in events as large as many conferences are, will not happen unless planners make it so.
That is what has kept me reading that Parker book. That is what we need to see happen with our genealogy conferences and, yes, even our much smaller local meetings.
Otherwise, people can just get the same thing by staying home and gathering the information in the comfort of their PJs and fuzzy slippers. What would they miss by not being there at a traditional conference? We need to give our potential attendees a reason to gather together.