To celebrate Family History Month, Andy and I are reflecting on some of this year’s conferences we’ve attended. Most especially, we’re focusing on volunteering at genealogy conferences.
Andy and I have planned two local genealogy conferences that attracted over 100 folks to a one-day event. We’d also served as volunteers at several local family history conferences in Iowa and Texas. I volunteered to help the registration desk at the Texas State Genealogical Society Conference, the first ‘major’ conference she ever attended. We know how important a staff of volunteers is to a conference.
No matter the shortcomings of a conference in terms of planning and speakers, volunteers are the boots on the ground crew that can turn a positive experience rotten and a poorly planned conference into a better than rotten experience.
In most cases, Andy and I are unable to be volunteers at conferences that we travel to because our business is still small and we have to focus on covering the costs of attending. If we purchase a booth, we have to staff it and have no spare moments for volunteering. However, one conference met our financial needs which opened up possibilities to return the support
The Southern California Jamboree Conference in Burbank, California compensates speakers adequately who must travel and present at least three classes. An additional perk was an author signing table that eventually covered the remainder of our ROI. With our financial concerns covered, Andy and I considered and responded to Jamboree requests for volunteers.
Andy’s prepared to welcome folks to the Genealogy Jamboree Conference.
Welcome to the Conference
During the first morning of the conference, I passed out name badges to pre-registrants while Andy hooked people up with their printed syllabus. I had a blast telling people to go to the “handsome man in the maroon shirt to get your syllabus.” They chuckled after they realized we were married. One should always offer a little sense of playfulness in life, so I supplied the fun.
By serving, Andy and I were now invested in making the conference a success for attendees. When attendees came to our class after we greeted them during registration, we felt like old friends. This made teaching feel more authentic and personal. Additionally, by working with the conference staff, when my knee started giving out, they were eager to help a friend rather than a just an attendee. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be responsive to general attendees, but the personal relationship increased their ‘bedside manners.”
Serving at the registration desk also provided glimpses into the kind of people willing to attend a conference at the end of May about genealogy when the sunshine was competing for their attention. The experience level was wide, the demographics balanced, and the passion high among the more than 1,000 people who attended. Staffing the registration desk was an up-close view of the attendees and helped me think about the future of the Family History Fanatics videos, lectures, and eConferences.
Andy Lee enjoyed the variety of questions posed to him during the one-on-one sessions
coordinated by the Genealogy Jamboree 2018
Ask Him Anything
The second option involved one-on-one consultations. I’ll be honest, I was afraid to sign jump. Other than beginner questions or writing feedback, I like to know someone’s question ahead of time so I can prepare. On the other hand, Andy jumped in full-force. He loves spontaneous research questions, which is evident in our YouTube Livestreams. Andy signed up for several 30-minute time slots and soon discovered he was the only speaker who signed up for so many slots. After volunteering in a few sessions, a staff member asked if he would do more and he eagerly said yes.
Andy addressed DNA questions, family tree questions, and where to find resources issues. He had so much fun, and the folks who received this free help session were genuinely grateful. Andy fills his genealogy service cup in more one-on-one settings, so this was a natural fit for him. Andy would definitely be willing to work out deals with conference planners, who select us to speak, to do more one-on-one sessions.
Can we serve at every conference we attend?
As speakers for hire, we have to find ways to cover the cost of traveling to conferences. When conferences compensate their speakers, either through higher pay or providing author signing tables as a perk for speaking at the conference, we cover our bottom line, we can definitely work on helping conference planners add more value to their events.
Otherwise, we have to fill our time a booth, creating content for our YouTube channel, and networking with other conference organizers and businesses. There’s little opportunity for us to add additional value to an event beyond speaking.
We’d prefer the Jamboree compensation method at other events so Andy and I can do what we enjoy, helping other people.
Some of the amazing staff of volunteers at the 2018 Genealogy Jamboree Volunteers
Photo by Walt Sturrock
NOMINEES FOR THE BEST VOLUNTEERS IN THE COUNTRY
The Southern California Genealogical Society puts on a heck of a conference and it has to do with their amazing staff of volunteers. If there were is a “Best Volunteers at a Genealogical Society Conference” award, I nominate these folks. From the speaker’s committee chair to the registration desk staff to the cute woman selling raffle tickets, each staff member was a delight and made me think they could give Southerners a run for their money on being the most hospitable.
When a woman in my class feel after tripping over some a/v cables, the room monitor was so responsive and the emergency response committee so prepared, she was up and in her seat before I think to call for help. When my knee gave out during the conference, I was given ice and advice on how to make it through the rest of the conference. The staff kept checking on me as my knee began to dramatically decrease my mobility. Any reasonable, though crazy, request I had, they responded with cheerfulness and creativity.
I was surprised that I won a door prize from the raffle!
The volunteer in purple featured in the lead graphic gets all the credit.
The overarching sense in the conference was that the staff from top to bottom wanted attendees to have an experience that wasn’t just pleasant but well worth their time and money.
Will you consider volunteering?
Hopefully, this insight into volunteering at a conference will inspire you to serve. It really is a lot of fun. There are conferences all across the world who would welcome your sacrifice of time to grow genealogy conferences to rival Comic Cons and/or Quilting Conferences in terms of loyal participation.
This great video features several levels of volunteers. Many pictures feature the conference staff, photographed by a volunteer Walt Sturrock, and the slideshow compiled by a volunteer. See, there are SO many opportunities to volunteer, no matter your skill set.
If you are a conference planner, make it easier for speakers to say yes to your volunteer requests by providing more direct or indirect compensation. And speakers, if a conference compensates you well, find ways to add value to a conference by volunteering.
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.