With RootsTech 2019 a thing of the past, do you wonder how the conference fared? Especially since 2018 was not a good year for the event. Wearing the hats of Ambassador, Speaker, and attendee, I share this RootsTech Review in a report card style.
Let’s start off with the hurdles that RootsTech faced:
|Discovery Day Attendees||26,000+||23,552|
|Live Stream Views||111,699||80,000|
When folks say that 2018 was a bad year for RootsTech, you can tell by the 2019 Numbers. For every important measure of the conference, the numbers dropped. A ten percent drop in paid attendees. A 9 percent, or higher, drop in attendees to the free event on Saturday, and a 28 percent drop in livestream views. The long lines at registration and to attend classes dramatically impacted a conference nearing its tenth anniversary.
In retrospect, did 2019 overcome the foul taste that 2018 attendees had? In many ways, yes. The following list grades the RootsTech 2019 event in twelve areas.
Badges Mailed in Advanced – A+
Andy and I disagree on whether mailing badges to attendees is a perk. I prefer to avoid long lines. He didn’t want to forget the badge and pay to replace it.
My children and I purchase tickets in advance and print them off on our computer to attend Marvel movies, go to the rodeo, and much more.
I kept my RootsTech badge in the bag I knew was going to the conference and would be with us at all times. I would love to save RootsTech the cost of postage and receive an electronic badge file that I could print off from my computer.
With my badge in hand, many people entered the Salt Palace, grabbed their bags and lanyards, and proceeded into their events in less than 3 minutes. Perhaps I’ll buy a Family History Fanatics branded lanyard in hopes of avoiding the registration area altogether.
Limited Badge Scanning = Fewer Lines – A+
I remember last year clearly when we arrived to teach on Wednesday afternoon class and the chaos and resentment created by the badge scanning. We’ve taught labs where badge scanning is essential to ensure only those who paid extra for the labs were admitted.
Why RootsTech did not abandon the badge scanning by Thursday afternoon when they noticed the disgruntled attendees, I will never comprehend.
Thankfully, RootsTech learned from their mistakes and reduced badge scanning to the bare necessities.
Larger Classrooms – B+
RootsTech 2019 attempted to provide larger classrooms to accommodate the volume of people who wished to attend popular classes. Few classrooms sat 150-200 people. One classroom sat several thousand. This further reduced lines to enter a classroom.
With the expanded seating capacity, attendees often only partially filled some rooms. This further added to the impression that RootsTech’s attendance had dropped. In many cases, the larger room size and the smaller crowd seemed at odds. (Thus resulting in a B+ rather than an A.)
The larger room sizes also complicated the placement of screens. Often, the screens sat so far away from the presenter. Attendees experienced discomfort twisting their necks between the speakers and the slides. Attendees also clustered around the screens leaving the middle sections, in front of presenters, fairly empty.
Facility staff should spend more time considering screen placement to enhance the experience in larger rooms for both presenter and the audience
The VIP Experience – B+
At first, I was hesitant about the addition of the VIP pass. However, several VIP Experience holders raved about it. They loved the preferred (and guaranteed) seating. The VIPS received branded RootsTech backpacks looked awesome (I’m a little jealous). VIPs enjoyed loved their comfy lounge to relax and visit.
Addition of the Virtual Pass – A-
When I couldn’t attend RootsTech, I enjoyed watching the free live streamed sessions. As the years have passed, I have thought the sessions were not diverse enough for an at-home audience to be fully immersed.
RootsTech added a Virtual Pass add-on for the at-home viewing experience. The Virtual Pass offered 18 classes for viewing throughout the year, in addition to the live streamed event. If you bought an in-person pass, you received a discounted rate to watch these 18 classes. This further expanded your RootsTech choices as you wouldn’t have to attend streamed or recorded sessions.
The only thing I would change is offering the virtual pass earlier in the registration process so that folks willing to register early could receive a reduced rate for the Virtual Pass as well.
Additionally, invite the Virtual Pass holders to vote, sometime in December, on the classes they would like to watch later. This would provide more incentives to purchase the passes and still allow for changes to the room allocations.
RootsCrew – A
The pink-shirted RootsCrew staff was the brainchild of Jen Allen, the chief planner for RootsTech. She spoke in a pre-conference video about the volunteers and she was right to praise them.
I saw cheerful pink shirted folks ready and willing to offer assistance in any way they could. Several offered me water bottles, which is so great in the desert climate of Utah. (I’m from a humid swamp and the dessert always saps me dry.)
One morning, I watched as a woman wore a sign that read, “Need a Ride?” A woman took her up on the offer to have a little extra assistance getting to the farthest corners of the Salt Palace.
Several RootsCrew staff asked me if they could push my wheelchair (which carried my heavy portable studio) and let me ride. If I didn’t want to let down my physical therapist upon returning to Houston, I would have accepted their offer more often.
There were a few hiccups in receiving assistance via the app on occasion but one RootsCrew member went above and beyond my need to rectify the lapse. In short, these volunteers were great but the communication via the app could use a little tweaking.
Speaker Photos Added to Main Conference Page – A
RootsTech Conference planners believe speaking at RootsTech is an honor; thereby the conference compensates independent presenters $100 per lecture and a night’s stay in a hotel per lecture. Planners say the exposure a speaker receives more than compensates for presenter’s expenditures to attend the conference.
The debate of the merits of this compensation wages behind the scenes; however, Rootstech changed the quality of exposure for the speakers. The planners added headshots and pop-up links for speaker’s biographies on the conference website. Speakers could screen capture or point others to their inclusion in the presenter visual roster.
Thank you RootsTech for this exposure. My only additional request involves including the name of the classes presented on the pop-up screen. Also, if possible, remove speakers from the roster who have to cancel so that folks know who did present at the conference.
Classroom Usage – C
As I walked through the Salt Palace on Wednesday, I noticed a few rooms in what I like to call ‘the main area’ have only one or two classes scheduled for that room. Meanwhile, several classes happened in the ‘far reaches’ at the same time. Many of the classes should have been reassigned to the ‘main areas’ to fill in the empty space.
Again, this room under-utilization could be the result of last-minute speaker cancellations or the 2,000 person drop in attendance. If that’s the case, not much could be done. That’s why it’s a passing grade but not the best.
The Registration Area was Too Far Away – D
Studying the map in advance of the conference, I felt concern that the registration area was far removed from the conference. Once we arrived on-site, my theories were confirmed.
With the addition of mailing badges ahead of the conference, the strain on resources for the conference reduced the queue of individuals to pick up their badges. Additionally, there were numerous check-in stations around the Expo Hall. Therefore, the registration area should have remained in the south end of the Salt Palace, close to the ballrooms and Expo Hall.
RootsTech filled the space with seating, photo op spots, and signage. The ‘fluff’ provided fun pictures; however, the exhausted faces of on-site registrants begged the registration area to return to its previous location.
Move it back.
Accessing the Onyx Room when the Expo Hall was closed – C
A new room added to RootsTech is in the northwest end of the Expo Hall beyond the previous year’s main lunch area. Entry points to this room in the early morning was challenging. Either individuals needed to realize they needed to enter from the 300 West Temple entrance by the hotel or then needed to navigate a maze of turns in the Salt Palace to reach the room.
Many attendees complained that cutting through the Expo Hall during vendor hall hours negated this negative; however, the power hour roadblock of a close cut-through was annoying to some. Planners should reconsider the accessibility of rooms throughout the conference schedule.
Sold Out Labs Had Empty Seats – C
This year, may labs sold out before the first day of conferences. Several labs filled within moments of registration opening in September. The planners picked popular lab sessions!
Unfortunately, a wait list option did not seem to appear for full labs. Thus, many sold out classes had no-shows and no way to offer the seats to the wait list or onsite registrants eager to attend.
I recommend RootsTech inform paid lab attendees they must check-in to their lab 15 minutes before the session begins. Otherwise, their spot will become available to names on the waitlist. With advance notice, those who have to cancel can do so 24 hours before the class begins for a refund. Otherwise, they forfeit their fees.
Discovery Day Was Too Loud – D
I’m hearing impaired. When I say something’s loud, I can’t imagine what the volume is like for those with normal hearing.
In any case, the Polynesian attractions for Family Discovery Day turned the hallways into a bit of a decibel nightmare, even though the entertainment was fun. The drum banging was the most persistent pain inducing sound.
As such, I avoided the hallways like the plague and stayed in the speaker’s lounge or back corners of the Expo Hall on Saturday.
Power Hour Classes – B-/C+
RootsTech added a new concept to their schedule this year called the Power Hour. It featured 2-3 mini-sessions during a one hour block.
So far, I’ve heard very few people compliment the early morning Power Hours. Caleb did enjoy the streamed session featuring Amy Johnson Crow, Scott Fisher, and Curt Witcher.
The most common complaint was the lack of time to ask questions of the during the mini-sessions. The heartbreaking complaints stated that some presenters did not properly prepare for shorter sessions.
15-20 minute mini-sessions work well at a booth in the Expo Hall. After the session, folks can visit with the presenter for as long as they want. If the presenter does not do a good job, you can easily walk away and enjoy another session.
I vote for the shorter sessions staying in the Expo Hall and giving depth rather than breadth of topics.
However, I do like the idea of starting the day off early with lectures rather than keynotes. In fact, I would prefer if they keynotes were after lunch. (The hour after lunch is generally a tough time to speak because folks are mentally tired after eating.
So a keynote that has a lot of energy and such to wake us up for the rest of the day would be great.
Overall RootsTech 2019 – B+
I know that RootsTech has no control of the weather, but this year Wednesday – Friday afternoon had perfect weather. 50-60°F with no precipitation. On Friday the temps dropped and light snow fell overnight but vanished by mid-day on Saturday. Since Andy pushed me in a wheelchair through the streets of downtown, the weather cooperated during our trip.
Weather aside, RootsTech 2019 was a dramatic improvement over the 2018 experience. The planners experimented, which you can’t fault them for, and some things were a hit and others fell short of the mark.
If you haven’t attended RootsTech, plan to attend the 2020 event from February 26–29, 2020 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If you missed the live stream sessions, visit this link.
If you wanted the RootsTech 2019 syllabus, visit this link.