It’s Conference Time!

This evening is the opening of the Minnesota Genealogical Society’s TechTrek Conference, featuring Thomas MacEntee. I have been working on the planning team since last fall. We had a wonderful group from the three co-sponsoring societies–the Minnesota Genealogical Society, the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, and the Pommern Regional Group of Minnesota.

In case you’re wondering, these conferences don’t just happen. Planners work on five major areas–program, venue, registration, publicity, and vendors. Program planning involves creating a program that will entice people to sign up, recruiting presenters, obtaining the bios, session descriptions, etc. needed for publicity, and keeping in touch with the presenters so they know where and when to show up and what to bring. If–as in the case of TechTrek–there is a national speaker involved, the program team needs to contact this person about a year in advance, ascertain their availability, write a contract, select their presentations, coordinate their travel arrangements, and take care of their local transportation and other needs while they’re in town.

The venue team surveys possible conference sites, narrows down to one or two possibilities, ascertains cost and availability, and makes contract arrangements with the venue and the caterer. This team is also responsible for checking out the rooms to be used, learning the quirks (where the lighting controls and outlets are, how projectors and screens operate), and making sure everything goes smoothly with the host.

The registration team sets up registration. In our case, we use a WordPress plugin from our blog. The event needs to be set up in the plugin so that people can register online. Some prefer to register by mail, so the registration team is also responsible for manually entering their registrations into the registration system, keeping track of payments, answering questions, and resolving issues. The registration team also downloads the lists of registrants, converts them into a form usable by the volunteers at the check-in desk, and creates nametags and conference folders.

The publicity team uses all the avenues at its disposal to get the word out about the conference and persuade people to register. In our case, the new MGS EasyNetSites website made it easy to provide publicity on the home page and also on the Events page. One of our volunteers maintains a list of bulletin boards and websites that list genealogy conferences, and puts our events up on those sites. Another volunteer creates brochures, which other volunteers distribute to libraries, Family History Centers, and other places where potential attendees can discover them. More volunteers create blog and social media posts.

Our vendor team recruits societies, individuals, and businesses to have tables in our exhibit hall. This creates a fun experience for conference-goers to connect with genealogical societies and other organizations–libraries, historical societies–of interest to them. For TechTrek, we have a doll vendor, a technology firm, an author publicizing her books, and a bookseller in addition to the society and organization tables. The vendor team keeps track of the vendor registrations, designs the layout of tables, coordinates with the vendors and venue, and makes sure that everything goes smoothly at conference time.

The volunteer organizing the TechTrek vendors is also organizing a Silent Auction. The auction gives the co-sponsors a little more income, and creates fun for the conference-goers who can bid on the items donated. Genealogical services are a staple, as are baskets of donated goods. In the past, we’ve been able to offer biplane rides and cabin weekends.

So, you see, these conferences don’t just happen. They result from a lot of work by a lot of dedicated volunteers. I’d love to see more society members participate–both as attendees and as conference volunteers. Most conference organizers would love to have help with tasks large and small, on- and off-site, in advance and at the conference.

Well, I’m off to pick up our speaker! Will I see you at TechTrek?