RootsTech Review: Conference Feedback for RootsTech 2016

RootsTech Feedback

Less than a week after RootsTech, I received the emails from the conference requesting feedback emails. I completed the request but I thought I would share some of my thoughts. Remember it was my first time at this particular conference, but not at conferences in general. I’ve attended many for work, family history, and in college.

The venue and signage were well done.

The venue and signage were well done.

The Good of RootsTech 2016

  1. Great variety of speakers and the quality of their presentation abilities. Specifically Tom Jones, Kitty Cooper, Eileen and Stephen McDaniel, Tammy Hepps. (See my post here).
  2. The venue was great. I really liked the Salt Palace layout and didn’t mind all the walking since I spent most of the time sitting down.
  3. Streaming of keynotes and some classes helped to decide what to attend.
  4. Signage was really good.
  5. Schedule was well spaced, had plenty of time to get to classes.
  6. Selaina Broderick was very good to work with as the presenter liaison. She answered questions and followed up on issues I raised to her before and during the conference. I’m not sure if all presenters had the same experience as I did, but I actually ended up with three different people being the contact as people in the FamilySearch organization left or moved to new positions. All of them were prompt with their responses to my questions and at the conference Selaina went above and beyond to answer every question. Good Job!
  7. Technology setup for presenters was great. All cords were there, able to plug laptop into the sound system, personal control of sound adjustments.

The Bad of RootsTech 2016

App for RootsTech 2016
For a Tech Conference, the app was disappointing

1. The app was a disaster.

  • The app didn’t do things like rate individual classes, which we were told it would.
  • At various times the app crashed (which happened to me and heard this from several others).
  • You couldn’t access your interested classes so I resorted to a paper printout of my classes to know where to go (not very tech for a tech conference).

Talking with others at the conference, I wasn’t the only one experiencing these issues. If you can’t get all of the complex functions to work, make the simple ones work. I pretty much abandoned the app by the 2nd day.

2. Class Skill Level Were Hard to Find and Understand

When I submitted my classes furing the call for papers period, we had cass to identified definitions for Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced for both Tech ability and Family History ability.

Class Level Descriptions

Where are the definitions for these categories?

The terms were used on the RootsTech Schedule under class description, but the definitions were not sahred with the general public. There were lots of people in classes that were clearly beyond their ability.

Class level descriptiones were something that Devon and I looked at extensively from past conferences. Previous year survey results show that the skill level of people attending isn’t even close to what level of classes are presented.

For example, the percentage of advanced classes was about 2-5% over the years. The number of people saying they are advanced researchers is 15-20%.

But, did the survey include what the definitions of Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced are? I don’t know. Based on the lack of these definitions in the public literature I doubt it.

3. Define the skills needed to participate in a computer lab

The lab I attended spent the first half teaching people how to download a file to the desktop. Anyone attending the lab should know how to do this!

What computer skills do you need before taking a lab at RootsTech

What computer skills do you need before taking a lab?

The computer labs have a lot of potential if they were smaller and had better communication of what skills you need before signing up for the lab.

4. Needs more Preservation and Sharing Oriented Classes

RootsTech has promoted itself as the coming together of Genealogy and Technology. They identify three major categories Discover, Preserve, and Share. Preserve and Share track classes are where the majority genealogy tech is.

RootsTech Preservation Class Offerings in 2019

Only 25 classes for 3 days were marked as Preserve.
48 were marked as Share (Out of 288 classes)

Less than a third of the classes were labeled as Preserve or Share. These would seem to be the more tech heavy areas. Past RootsTech conferences had a similar breakdown.

While I would love it evenly split ⅓-⅓-⅓, I’ll settle for 50% Discover and 50% Preserve and Share. 

5. Add more intermediate and advanced level classes.

6. Offer some of classes that are taught at multiple times.

7. The printed program should identify classes by the Family History Level and the Tech Level (it only identified the Family History Level).

I was really disappointed when I saw this. The presenters offered this information when they submitted the class proposals.

The website has both skill set designations but in the printed program only the Family History Level was listed. Many folks don’t use the tech to choose their classes, so print the tech level too.

8. Syllabus should be accessible from the class description on the app

On the app, to get the syllabus required a convoluted approach of going to the FAQ section. On the website at least a link was put on the front page.

Unforuntately the syllabus were listed with just their class number and not title so you had to go back to the schedule and find what the number was. Not a very user friendly system.

Place link to syllabus on the Class Description page

Remember, this is suppose to be a Tech conference in its 6th year, there should be no reason for rookie mistakes like this.

9. The website was poorly designed

Marketing and graphic design people really need to be involved in the website design. If they were, they need to get new ones. The layout of colors when looking at class descriptions made it so that you had to highlight the text in order to read it.

Multiple logins were needed for viewing schedule, registration, speakers resource center (even though it was the same login information). I could never find the Speakers Resource Center and always had to go hunt for the email that had the link.

Why separate Log-ins for Registration and Schedule saving?

Why separate Log-ins for Registration and Schedule saving?

I understand the login issue from a security standpoint; the LDS church uses it on their suite of websites: indexing, familysearch, However in that case each of the websites has a separate focus and the only commonality they are run by the LDS church. In this case, having to login separately for registration, scheduling, or to go to the Speakers Resource Center is bad design and frustrating to the user.

10. Improve the post conference survey.

The post conference survey doesn’t have the ability to go back to a previous answer and change it or add to it. <Unfortunately, you don’t realize that you can’t go back and change the answers in the survey or add other comments until you are already past the question. There is no going back.

11. A need for presenter practice rooms or empty hall schedule

As a presenter, I was given a half hour to practice in the room I was going to present in. It would have been nice to have other rooms (only office size needed) to practice before my presentation, or a schedule of which classrooms were empty to practice in. 

As I mentioned before, I worked around this, but it would make it easier for presenters that want to practice lots before their session.

12 More classes should show and tell rather than just tell.

RootsTech might not have any say in this, except in how they select presenters. Presenter should walk through the technology they are using and the research methodology rather than showing what the end results will be.

I like show and tell. My favorite classes were ones which not only told me what I could do, but showed me how to do it step by step. I attended one on Excel and the presenter showed lots of possibilities of the final output. Being an experienced user, I can figure out how to do it based on the final screenshot but someone who was new or mildly familiar with using Excel would be lost.

13. Speaker Ready Room needs a coat rack.

We used a corner of the floor, a rack would have been nice. I know they had the coat check area up by the Ballrooms, but the Speakers Ready Room was conveniently located in the middle of where the majority of the classes were happening.

14. Bring back Studio C for the evening entertainment.

Part of the reason why we didn’t attend any of the evening entertainment was because we didn’t recognize any of the names. So given the chance to do extra research at the Family History Library or roll the dice with the unknown entertainment, we went with the sure thing.

My kids love Studio C, and if they had have been back, we would have chosen the entertainment. (My wife also votes for Reba McIntyre or Jon Bon Jovi… but I’m not sure if they’d come or be affordable.)

Final Thoughts

Different conferences have their quirks. The one I thought was most funny was the ribbon collecting and beads I stuck with just the Speaker ribbon they gave me. Plenty of other people had ribbons hanging from their badges down to their knees.

Filming of Streamed Classes

Having watched some of the streamed classes, RootsTech needs to do a better setup/camera job. Many of the streamed classes are not well attended (probably because we can watch them streamed later). However, they still have them in the giant ballrooms. As long as the camera is zoomed in on the speaker, it looks fine. However, whenever they pan out to the room and you see that 90-95% of the seats are empty, it gives the impression that no one wants to be there.

Streamed Classes at RootsTech
Is this the best use of large rooms? Or can the camera man hide it better?

A different room setup so that all of the attendees are packed close together or some other camera techniques could improve this image. I would move the streamed sessions to a smaller room and have a sign-up to attend them like you do the computer labs.

Stream the Sponsors From Their Booth

It appears that many of the streaming presenters are related to the major sponsors or the big names in genealogy. No fault there, you need to draw in the crowds. However, some of these presenters had presentations throughout the day in the Expo hall and their setup was much better to be recorded.

 Diahan Southard, at the Genealogy Gems Booth
Diahan Southard, at the Genealogy Gems Booth featuring mini lessons.
(Photo used with permission of Randy Seaver).

RootsTech should look at streaming some of these or even streaming some interviews with the vendors (My Heritage, Find My Past, and Family Search had such demos).

See You in 2017!

Devon and I have talked about several different classes that we might put together. We’ll see if we end up submitting proposals later this year.

See you at RootsTech !
RootsTech was a great experience for us. We had so much fun, we forgot to
take a going home photo! So here, again, is the leaving for SLC photo.
Andy Lee

Andy Lee

Author, Engineer, Educator. Andy Lee is the DNA guru of Family History Fanatics. He is also your knowledgeable but casual genealogy researcher.

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