Wednesday, April 28, 2010

OGS Conference - Advice for conference organizers

This past weekend I was in Toledo attending the Ohio Genealogical Society's annual conference. I had a lot of fun and learned a ton. I already recapped my time there, but want to share some advice for conference planners.

Here was the first thing that bothered me. I only saw one other person who had the syllabus on CD and had printed out the pages that she wanted. Seriously, everyone else had the printed syllabus. Even those who were taking notes on laptops. Maybe everyone likes the printed copy, but I know that I don't have the room to keep them. I didn't get it.

As a disclaimer before we get into my larger rant, I want to mention that I am spoiled living in Fort Wayne. The Allen County Public Library is a state of the art facility and all of the meeting rooms have projectors. It's not hard for me to get around downtown and it's free for me to park at the library with my library card.

So here is my advice for genealogists planning a conference (in a pretty random order):
  1. Don't have your conference in a place where everything closes at 5:30. My husband and I arrived in Toledo on Thursday around 6:00 pm. I went to the conference center and got myself registered, then we checked into the hotel. We looked at the map of restaurants in the area and picked one that we wanted to try. Then we set out on foot to find it. Only to find that it and every other restaurant we passed closed at 5:30. Some were only open during the week. We ended up eating at the hotel's restaurant because we were hungry and tired. (Downtown Fort Wayne isn't much better, but I'm pretty sure the fast food restaurants stay open here .) Which brings us to...
  2. Don't pass out area restaurant maps that only include some of the restaurants in the area. This probably had to do with the vistor's bureau more than the conference, but it annoyed me. While walking around, we found quite a few more restaurants (all closed, but still).
  3. Are there no conference centers that have projectors? After watching so many presenters set up their own projectors, I had to wonder. Have no conference centers in the country installed projectors? Every group that comes has to bring their own? Do I need to buy a projector if I ever want to give genealogy presentations? How long will that take to pay itself off?
  4. Make your annual meeting accessible to all. OGS had their annual meeting as part of a luncheon, but was open to all. I didn't want to pay $20 for their boxed lunch (of course had I known the pain of finding an open restaurant when I sent in my registration, I may have changed my mind.) I figured that it had to have one very "gourmet" cookie to cost that much. But I still wanted to attend the meeting and find out what was happening with OGS. First, there was no start time given for the meeting, just the luncheon. I didn't know how long that would last. Second, when I arrived (after it had already started) there were only a few chairs available for people not at the luncheon. They were all in the very back of the hall and it was hard to hear. There was no reason that a large section of chairs couldn't have been set up to the side of the tables.
  5. Asking members to give money or donate materials to your society every 5 minutes gets old FAST. Almost every time the president went back to the podium during the annual meeting, he told members to send money. I'm not saying that you shouldn't ask, but when you continue to do it over and over and over again, it makes me very unlikely to do so. (Maybe he should have asked for projectors...)
  6. Conference registration should be available online. OGS is a large society that has a great conference. Why I couldn't register online is beyond me.
  7. Are the suburbs so bad? Are there no conference centers outside of downtown? Nowhere with free parking? Nowhere with cheaper hotels? Everyone complains about it, but nothing ever changes.
I definitely plan on attending next year's OGS conference. But I hope as every society plans into the future, they will consider what is best for attendees and presenters.


  1. Tina, I enjoyed reading about the conference, esp. since I am a member. You are observant and made some excellent points. I hope that some of the "powers that be" for all conferences will read what you wrote. Was surprised that you couldn't register online. In large cities, a lot of things close down early, as the workers are going home. Finding a place to eat has always been a problem for me too, esp. in a new location. Good reporting. Get on their Board, and change things!

  2. Great post Tina and here are my thoughts:

    Projectors: this is an issue with me since there is great inconsistency - some venues provide projectors others don't. I am about to plunk down $800 this month for my own projector. If I am at a conference with other geneablogging colleagues and our presentation times don't conflict, I have no problem in lending mine.

    However, in defense of the conference planners, I understand that hiring an AV firm can be expensive - as much as $250 per projector a day, more if you need a tech person on site.

    Downtown: Family History Expos does a great job of using suburban facilities (like Loveland CO this coming June instead of Denver) to its advantage.

    Passing the Hat: tacky. The first time is not tacky. But you are right, it gets old real fast.

  3. Excellent post, Tina! Thomas makes a good point about the projectors. It's even more expensive to hire a firm here in Houston. Quite a racket they have.

  4. I know that the rental cost of projectors is way overpriced. But I guess I keep wondering why conference centers don't install projectors. Don't they have a lot of events that would use them. Conference centers just seem so out dated.

  5. You made a good point about on-line registration. That conference was within two hours of my home, and I considered it briefly. If there had been on-line registration, I might have registered. But when I looked, it was to late to print something out and mail it back.