Before the National Genealogical Society’s conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was over, people were talking about how low the attendance was. Being a veteran of genealogy conferences, I could tell just by looking that attendance was lower than in past years. Are we seeing the beginning of the end of in-person genealogy events?
Christine Woodcock of Scottish Genealogy Tips and Tidbits noticed the lower attendance at NGS, too. She wondered if livestreaming sessions made attending in person less of a draw. Christine isn’t the only one who is wondering that. I’ve seen several genealogists on Facebook wondering the same thing.
People are also wondering if the plethora of webinars are making in-person genealogy events less desirable. After all, why go to the expense of traveling to a conference (even one within driving distance), when you can watch a webinar from the comfort of your couch?
Here’s my take on it:
Genealogy conferences and seminars are not dead.
Look at the attendance at RootsTech. Yes, one could argue that RootsTech has a built-in audience with the directors and volunteers of the local Family History Centers. But 20,000 of them? I’ve been to each RootsTech except for the first one and the attendees are from all walks of life. It isn’t even close to being exclusively a Mormon event.
Look at the UK’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live event. Thousands of people attend it each year. Look at the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference. Look at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. Look at the Ohio Genealogical Society‘s annual conference. All of them are successful.
Webinars and other online offerings do not automatically kill an in-person event. Don’t believe me? One of the major players in social media marketing education is Social Media Examiner. They have all sorts of online offerings including blogs, webinars, and podcasts. They also have an in-person conference called Social Media Marketing World that’s attended by thousands each year.
If any field would be “virtual only,” you’d think it would be social media.
When done right, online offerings can actually entice people to attend in person. It may not be for that year’s conference, but it plants the seed of “Hey, I really enjoyed the livestreaming sessions last year. The conference is closer to me this year; I’d like to attend in person.” It’s a “try it before you buy it” scenario. And it works. (Just look at Social Media Marketing World.)
That being said, there are some things that societies — local, state, and national — could do better to increase in-person attendance. There are two basic things that societies must keep in mind:
- People can’t attend events they don’t know about.
- People won’t attend things they aren’t excited about.
Promote, Promote, Promote
As soon as the date is set for an event, start talking about it! Don’t wait until a month before the event. The sooner you start talking about it, the longer people have to plan — and the more opportunities you have to build excitement for it. Speaking of excitement…
Give People Something to Look Forward To
If you don’t sound excited about your upcoming event, why should anyone attend? What are they going to learn? What are they going to see? In short, what’s in it for the attendee?
Use Social Media to Your Advantage
I see this happen all the time. A society has an upcoming event and they post it on Facebook… once. It’s perfectly alright to mention it more than once! Facebook doesn’t show every post to every person who follows a page. Find different things to talk about — the speaker, the venue, the upcoming early-bird deadline.
Speakers and Exhibitors: Help the Societies
A note to speakers and exhibitors. Help promote the events where you’ll be. Post links on social media and talk about it on your blog. Speakers: You’re not being paid based on headcount, but nobody enjoys speaking to an empty room. (BTW, if anyone is curious about where I’ll be, here’s my list of upcoming events 🙂 ) Exhibitors: You can’t make sales to attendees who aren’t there. Help drive some traffic to those events.
My Take on It
I’ve been involved in genealogy societies (local, state, and national) since the 1990s. I know how wonderful in-person events can be. They’re part family reunion and part support group. They’re energizing and invigorating.
However, the ways that societies promote their events must evolve. Instead of relying on the old method of just listing it in the society newsletter, leverage social media. Instead of just listing the day and time, really talk about it — get people excited about the event.
“Build it and they will come” only works in the movies. Build it, talk about it, get people excited about it — then they will come. (And we can stop having this discussion about the death of conferences and seminars!)
Do you attend in-person genealogy events? Why or why not? Let’s discuss it in the comment section below.