Saturday, May 23, 2015

NGS Conference Summary - The Sessions - Part One

I've already commented that meeting up with my online friends was the highlight of the 2015 conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) last week. And I did not make an effort to attend a session in every time slot at the conference. I've learned to pace myself, as well as pick and choose the topics in which I'm interested.

Based upon my post a couple weeks ago regarding genealogy societies, I'm no stranger to controversy nor saying what's on my mind. This summary will reflect my opinionated point-of-view. I chose many of my sessions based on the reputations of the nationally recognized speakers. This was an opportunity to hear many of the noted genealogists who have been touted as "rock stars" in the field. In this regard, I was very disappointed in several of the sessions I attended. I won't be naming the names of those who disappointed me, but I will state the reasons why.

Genealogy Rock Stars? Some Yes. Some No

In most cases, their content was good. However, their presentation style (if you can call it that) was to read their entire speech in a monotone voice. If this is what they are going to do, give me an article or handout and I can read it myself. It wasn't just being tired from the road travels that put me to sleep (literally) in some of these sessions. I even went to a second session by one presenter, hoping it would be different. It wasn't. One lady who I'd met during a dinner get-together had even warned me, "whatever you do, don't go his sessions in the afternoon! He'll put you to sleep!" I went in the morning and I knew what she meant.

These folks have the credentials. They are noted and successful authors. But when it comes to public speaking, they just didn't cut it. I shared my opinions with my pals at the conference and they were pretty much divided half and half. Half agreed with me and half didn't. I described my perspective as desiring speakers who have the stage presence and enthusiasm of someone like Tony Robbins. I know they are passionate about genealogy; they just didn't show it. Some of my impressions may have been influenced by my experience at the I Can Do It! (ICDI) seminar sponsored Hay House in Denver in April. That two and a half day seminar featured the best authors and public speakers in the personal development/inspiration genre. Each and every author/speaker at that conference demonstrated passion and enthusiasm. Not one of them put me to sleep. I digress, but the ICDI conferences are the gold standard by which I measure other conferences.

That being said, I WILL applaud the authors and speakers who inspired me and made attendance at the NGS conference worth the price of admission.

What's for Dinner?

Upon arrival, I was rather surprised at the number of paid luncheons/banquets I signed up for. I didn't think I had signed up for that many. I don't know whether it was good or bad that my decision to attend a meal session was based on the Menu! I have been wheat and grain free for about ten months, so it was challenging to select meal-based sessions based on my new eating style. The conference planners really seem to like taters, rolls/bread and sweet desserts. There really are a lot of other fruit/vegetable options, folks! But I managed (by smuggling in my own snacks to get me through the day). Certainly, the fresh dinner rolls, brownies and sweets were tempting, but I passed. Not part of my life any more. Cheesecake? Well, that's permitted in moderation as long as I don't eat the crust!

MY Genealogy Rock Stars

John Colletta

I first heard John Colletta when he was the featured speaker at my local society a few years ago. He's got the street cred - he can write, he can speak, he can inspire. He's got the passion for family history, research and telling the stories of our ancestors. A friend and I agreed. We don't just love John Colletta; we want to BE John Colletta. Unfortunately, I missed his seminar in Omaha a few years ago as it was right after my Dad suffered a stroke; I didn't feel I could leave him alone yet. But just this week, I learned that John will be speaking at the Iowa state genealogy conference in October. Count me in!

The first session I attended by John Colletta was "Princples of Good Writing and Good Storytelling"

My "sound bites, tweets and quotable quotes"
  • Family history writing can be just as readable as fiction.
  • Elements of a good family history story include: the setting, characters, conflict, theme or idea.
  • Get an proofreader with obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Write with the five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell
  • You are not rewriting your ancestor's county history - you are writing about your star (ancestor) in the context of that history. Your ancestor is is the star of the story.
  • Strong verbs don't need an adverb.
  • Use literary techniques such as suspense, surprise, romance, horror and humor.
I also attended the banquet at which John spoke, although I didn't take notes. There are times to just sit back, enjoy and be entertained.

I said it in 2010 and it still applies today: John Colletta Rocked It!


  1. John Colletta is my all time favorite speaker. He is so entertaining, I cannot take notes listening to him because I am so wrapped up in his stories.

    As for the rock stars, I definitely agree with you. There are a few who put me to sleep.

  2. Passed you outside the conference Hall.... Thought I will connect with her later! Wish I had stopped and introduced myself. Totally enjoyed your takeaway of the conference.

  3. Love the "soundbites, tweets and quotable quotes" tips. I've heard John Colletta at two different conferences and I have to agree he's one of my favorite speakers, too.