Suggetions for Future RootsTech Keynotes

Keynote speakers set the stage for a conference and the center of many tweets, photos, and interviews. Pick the right ones, and conference attendees are thrilled and praise the event. Pick the wrong one, and people won’t fill the assembly hall in the future. RootsTech has had some wonderful keynote presenters in the past, and some that were less than thrilling.

After considering what makes me want to park my bottom at a keynote address rather than sleep in at RootsTech, I’ll share with you my wish of future keynote speakers for RootsTech 2018 and beyond. Feel free to comment on these individuals or your favorites who aren’t on my list.

My favorite RootsTech speakers fall into four categories: History Buffs, Eye Candy, Entertainers, and Business Leaders. If a speaker is a big name but doesn’t have an obvious connection to the theme of genealogy and technology, I have a hard time wanting to listen to the keynote. And the keynote, perhaps without realizing the pressure, have a difficult communication obstacle to overcome. The following individuals make the cut because they would have a more natural fit to the conference.

History Buffs:

Genealogy is about searching our ancestors through time, and what better fit than someone who understands history! If they have a likable personality and great communication skills, the stage is set for an educational and enjoyable time!

Stuff You Missed in History Class


Tracy V Wilson and Holly Frey at RootsTech
Tracy V. Wilson  & Holly Frey

Tracy and Holly have so much personality that they wake me up in the morning while I’m doing my least favorite thing… exercising! I love the perspective they give to events that would affect our family history. Do you have Danish ancestors and think the lines go back to the beginning of time. You need to listen to Denmark’s Early Royalty and the Jelling Stones. The ladies help you subtly understand why that might not be possible. If you or your ancestor lived on the American West Coast during the 1940s, do you understand the impact that Executive Order 9066 had on your family even if you didn’t have Japanese heritage?

Those are two that stick out greatly in my memory for genealogical purposes but the list of other topics they cover goes on and on! I could easily see their topic, Stuff You Missed in History Class and How It Affects Your Family Story.

Pawn Stars –  Rick Harrison

Rick Harrison at RootsTech

This seven-year veteran of reality TV know his history! Rick Harrison says he never knows what will walk through the doors of his Las Vegas Pawn Shop which he discussed on the show Pawn Stars.  Rick is fascinated by history and the stories that are uncovered and reevaluated in the artifacts people have in their homes. He’s impressed by the fakes as well. All the while, he’s usually smiling, laughing, and thoroughly excited by the items – regardless of material worth. Furthermore, he also knows when to call in expert help to solidify a story or theory.

Gosh, that sounds an awful lot like genealogy. Many of our family stories, whether fact or fiction, is tied to the artifacts in our home. Some are worth a ton of cash and have historical value. Whenever he evaluates an object, he teaches you about the item, it’s history, and the knockoffs. These stories are valuable to our family histories. Rich would be a natural fit for a keynote about the histories hiding in our homes and we’ll probably laugh as he tells us the crazy things people think are valuable but sadly, they are not!

Eye Candy


Aiden Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson RootsTech

Fans of the hit BBC Production Poldark, admit it. You would like to have Aiden Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson to just look at! They could just stand there in period costume and we could just sigh (or salivate). They are Cornwall, England’s period drama’s hottest couple with real issues?

But seriously, why would Ross and Delmeza be terrific keynote speakers? Poldark is a series of 12 books written by Winston Graham starting at the end of the American Revolution BUT it follows the aftermath in England. We American’s are pretty snobbish to not think about Britain following the revolution and the fall out the “Red Coats” faced while returning defeated. History continues to come to life as the tensions of the French Revolution and the  guillotine stirs fears in England of the darkness crossing the English Channel.

Throw in the struggles between the social classes and how one character admits (but many of her class believe) that the peasant class are not even of the same race as the wealthy and should not be allowed to breed. Had Genetic DNA testing been around during her time, the aristocracy just might see how fully related they were! But, doesn’t that sentiment send chills up your spine? No wonder many cultures treated each other poorly (and still do).

Add relationships to these themes and you have a compelling story. But many families, and by extension genealogists, try to hide the imperfections of their ancestors. Ross is an anti-hero. He’s not the true hero or the true villain. He’s flawed. Demelza has her own flaws and weaknesses Our ancestors are no different! Yet, he and Demelza struggle to overcome their flaws for their family.

Perhaps I’ve made the case for the director of Poldark to keynote rather than Aiden and Eleanor. However, the main actors had to research the time period in order to portray the characters well. Aiden talked about the difference between his Irish accent and the Cornwall accent. He needed to give the right texture to his character so he stopped being Aiden and became Ross. There are lessons genealogist and family history writers can learn from what Aiden and Eleanor researched.

Finally, Aiden and Eleanor have strong ties to their homelands, especially Aiden. Interviews have revealed that Aiden stayed in Ireland despite how much easier it would have been to go to London for this career path. There is a story there. A story likely having to do with the ties to his heritage.

See… eye candy can tell great stories! We just need to ask. Then I can stare at Aiden and Andy can stare Eleanor and we’d still have a great marriage when they were done speaking!


Entertainers Who Tell Stories:


Jon Bon Jovi at RootsTech

My favorite RootsTech keynote for fun factor was Donny Osmond. Yes, he falls into the Eye Candy category but his singing knocked him over into the Entertainer Category. As such, he triggered my recommendation for Jon Bon Jovi as a future keynote speaker.

Donny Osmond was just out of reach of my generation. My mom knew him and swooned. Many of the RootsTech attendees knew Donny from the ‘old days’. I remember Donny from his 1988 single “Soldier of Love.” As a fit for the demographics of RootsTech attendees, Donny was perfect.

Jon Bon Jovi is a next great fit. First, his music career spans the children of the oldest RootsTech attendees, was popular during the young adult and teenage years for the middle age attendees, and spans into the 30 year-olds. Many conference attendees would likely sing along or be familiar with his hit songs as he incorporated them into his keynote, the way Donny did.

Second, many of his songs tell stories. “Tommy used to work on the dock.” Jon Bon Jovi’s signature is singing songs that tell stories, but like many of his crooning predecessors. Often music these days are about experiences or breakups in cliches or short segments. Not Jon. How does that relate to a genealogy conference? The ability to tell a story makes our ancestors come alive. It takes a storyteller to inspire others to tell stories.

Finally, Jon Bon Jovi is a huge history buff. His first son was named Jesse after the notorious Wild West outlaw. Interviews of Jon during the early 1990s regarding his hit song “Blaze of Glory” for the Young Guns II soundtrack picked up on his love of history. So, he’s a history buff,  eye-candy, and entertainer all rolled in one. Oh yeah, he’s on my wishlist!!! And if he does come, then David Allen Lamber, Andy, and I want to be apart of his meet & greet!


Innovator Summit

The Innovator Summit has a different focus. Most of the classes are for the business side of the genealogy industry or for coding. This is a great day for genealogy entrepreneurs. So, the focus of that day’s keynote doesn’t have to rely heavily on the genealogy as much as the tech or spreading your message and services. Thus, I have three leaders who would deliver great keynotes for the genealogy industry.


Amy Schmittauer -Video Content Marketing Expert

Amy knows Social Media and Branding. She has a new book called “Vlog like a Boss” but her YouTube Channel is filled with social media marketing tips and branding strategies that all RootsTech Innovators can benefit from. Plus, she’s cute to look at and very personable. She delivers  high impact, relevant and actionable keynotes that doesn’t waste your time or hers.


Pat Flynn – Will it Fly? (Entrepreneur Expert)

Pat is a highly motivating leader inspiring entrepreneurs to work hard now so they don’t have to work hard in the future. His podcasts cover the wide spectrum of marketing and branding strategies to spread an business’s reach and grow their audience. Pat is funny and high energy and would have a lot to offer the professional genealogist and developers. Several of the Innovator Showdown entrants this year would have benefit from the tips and strategies Pat shared in his books and podcasts.


– Derral Eves – Video Content Marketing Expert

The reach of video is growing exponentially and Derral Eves knows his stuff. He’s knowledgeable, engaging, and a great teacher. He helps many content marketers from a wide array of industries expand their reach and increase their business.   And, if it matters, he’s LDS. So RootsTech might have some pull on the shared identity.

What do you think? Would you like to see some of these celebrities and experts headlining RootsTech 2017? Who am I missing?

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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