[APG Public List] long lead times for conference proposals

Karen Mauer Green karenmauergreen at gmail.com
Sun Oct 4 14:47:44 MDT 2009


Harold, you are right that no one has answered Donn's initial question,
although the tangents it produced have provided very interesting discussion.
I'll try to address Donn's initial question, however.

There are several reasons why FGS and NGS have such long lead times.
Possibly the most important difference is that most of the disciplines Donn
was talking about have paid staffs and/or employ meeting planners to stage
their conferences while the national genealogical organizations rely on
volunteers. We have to have enough lead time to allow our volunteers to work
the incredible number of hours it takes to plan the program, and continue to
work their jobs and see their families.

Those disciplines also have attendees who are there as part of their
employment, for additional training, and the high registration fee (much
higher than ours) is often covered by the employer. The talks are not
intended to be training for beginners or even intermediates in the field. If
they had beginning and intermediate tracks offered, employers probably
wouldn't fork over the cash to send their employees. It would not be cost
effective. [I know that the academic model for this is a bit different than
employer and employee, but I'm generalizing a bit.] Instead, they know that
the entire program is planned at the level they are expecting. They really
don't have to see it in advance to know that their employees will be
receiving cutting edge education, that they will be keeping up in their
field.

Attendees at genealogical conferences have a much different profile, and
planners must try to satisfy people with all levels of experience and skill.
It is a balancing act that will never be exactly right in spite of how hard
conference planners try. The program is the primary means of drawing people
in. Since the most common attendee at conferences is an intermediate-level
hobbyist who lives within 500 miles of the conference, the program must be
targeted at them if the conference is to be successful and at least break
even.

Which brings me to the main reason that drives the long lead times:
publicity. The program needs to be set and the program brochure prepared and
printed before Christmas for an FGS conference in the early fall (even then,
it doesn't always happen before Christmas because, again, volunteers are
involved and they have lives to lead). People need to see the program to be
tempted to come to the conference. Yes, there is a subset of people, myself
included, who plan to go long before the program comes out, but we are not a
large enough group to help a conference break even. The average attendee
must see what the program is before they pay that registration fee. They
need to go through it and circle what they'd like to hear. Enough circles
and they will attend. And they need to do that early in the year so they can
plan their discretionary travel for the year, ask for time off, etc.

Another factor is space. Space must be arranged for each session well in
advance. For example, FGS must know well over a year ahead what space the
PMC will require in order to get that set in stone with the facility. Yes,
maybe it could be done the other way around, but planning well in advance
lessens the possibility of miscommunications between all three parties. Our
genealogical conferences are small in the world of conference planning.
Whether we are dealing with a hotel or a conference center, they want this
set in stone very early or they will give the space away to another group.
Our organizations walk a thin line with facilities. Planning well in advance
helps avoid a situation of paying for too much space or not having enough.

Yes, I know there will be people who will criticize this rationale, but it
is in keeping with the missions of both FGS and NGS to educate ALL
genealogists, not just advanced/professionals. Besides fulfilling the
mission (necessary to maintain non-profit status), for budgetary reasons
planners must plan the bulk of the program for intermediates, including
enough to interest the beginner and the advanced researcher to keep them
satisfied. This is hard to do to everyone's satisfaction, witness this
thread. Unfortunately, being a genealogical conference planner is a tough,
mostly thankless job involving very long hours and very, very low pay!

Harold, thanks for your words of praise for the conferences you have
attended. I'm sure the conference planners who are reading this thread
appreciated your words. I have been attending conferences since the late
80s, and never fail to find something of interest. I don't attend as many
lectures as I did when I first started, but that's more because I'm busy
networking, visiting the exhibit hall, and learning from my colleagues. I do
always attend the PMC. Not all of the offerings are of interest, of course,
but I always learn something new. Again, the networking opportunities are
extremely important there. In fact, came home from Little Rock with three
new clients that I wouldn't have if the intermediates hadn't been at that
conference. When I want to study one particular subject in depth, I turn to
our institutes (IGHR, NIGR, SLIG) or to my colleagues who are experts in
that subject. And now we have BU, webinars, ProGen, and a host of other
in-depth learning opportunities. My problem isn't wanting more opportunities
to study, but finding time for those I'd like to pursue!

Karen
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