RootsTech Revelry: My Top 10 Tips for Having a Great Time!

Everybody loves a great party, but a genealogy party….that’s an event to be reckoned with! We are a little less than a week away from genealogy’s biggest annual shindig. In my part of the country, shindigs are epic, and RootsTech does not disappoint. In fact, as we draw closer to the event, the energy builds, and we all feel like kids on Christmas Eve. I have been to several RootsTech conferences in person, from the very first one, as both attendee and presenter, and I have always been surprised about the mixed reaction this conference receives. Folks either love it or they hate it – and I fall firmly in the “love it” camp. But perhaps, some of the grumbling comes from a different set of expectations? It is completely unlike the other national genealogy conferences out there. Simply because it’s supposed to be different. The more attendees understand its underlying purpose as a conference, I think the more they would say “vive la différence”!

From the very first year, RootsTech had aspired to be the genealogy tech sandbox or playground – a place where programmers and users could get together to explore what worked in our industry and what didn’t. A place to introduce new tools and resources for our field, and where to engage with others. While this happened a lot at the very first conference, attendance necessity did not allow this concept to continue unaltered. My personal opinion: While this interaction with programmers and users still happens at RootsTech, it does not happen on the same level that it used to mainly because of the differing wavelengths of programmers and users. In many cases, we don’t speak the same language, and dialogue can get frustrating really quickly.

As an alteration to the overall concept, RootsTech was great in shifting towards a storytelling/sharing, DNA, and digital resource focus. In essence, keeping with a tech foundation, while bringing in more sessions of traditional genealogy instruction to appease a wider audience. And it has grown exponentially over the years – which means, despite some growing pains and hiccups over the years, they must be doing something right. For those of you who attended last year’s severe hiccup with badge scanning – they have promised to do away with that process for this year – which should make attendance much smoother.

For those of you new to RootsTech, I am going to outline some of my favorite bits of advice to get the most of out this conference.

So buckle up, Buttercup – it’s time to dive into RootsTech 2019!

  1. Adjust Your Expectations: This is NOT NGS or FGS – this is RootsTech. It will be a different experience overall, and many of the sessions will be different. Some would say, not different enough, which is a good point – but go in with your eyes wide open, and your expector antenna set to tech overload! In other words, go with the flow and have fun with the offerings – you will learn new things, and come away with renewed inspiration. This is the pep rally of genealogy, and its message is family, connections, and inspiration. The energy alone is worth the trip.
  2. Use the App!! So much information in one little space – this is how you get to the syllabus material, schedule your session attendance, learn more about speakers/vendors, and keep updated on conference announcements. And don’t forget – they really want you to rate the sessions you attend through the app – it helps with next year’s planning, and determines whether your speaker receives any bonuses based on your rating. As a bonus, you can also make friends in the app, and learn about great places to eat.
  3. Introvert Alert: This is the largest genealogy conference on the continent – so it will be crowded – really crowded. Pace yourself, try to make some new friends, and go take a break if you need to – like, in the big comfy demo stage chairs, with some popcorn, and a soda. There are some places to break away and take a breather – and if necessary, sneak back to the hotel for a nap.
  4. So Many Sessions, So Little Time: You may not get to attend every session you have your heart set on – as I said above, it is crowded, and while they plan as best as they can for attendance numbers per room, some may hit capacity, and you may be forced to move to another session. This is where the app can be a lifesaver! As you review the session descriptions, and pick (star) your favs, be sure to pick a few per time slot. The app lets you pick more than one per hour for your personal schedule. It will warn you that you’ve picked more than one, but if you can pick your top three each hour, you will be able to attend the alternates at a moments notice, instead of scrolling through everything while the seats continue to fill up.
  5. Make the Exhibit Hall a Top Priority! This is by far the largest exhibit hall you will encounter in genealogy conference land – so many new companies and tools, tips on how to use your favorite tech tools, and demos all day long! It is so important to examine the exhibit hall map as closely as you do the session list. Besides, the hub of the RootsTech party is in the exhibit hall – with an energy that does not sleep. BTW, for those of you attending a virtual pass, or staying home to watch a few of the live streaming, the exhibit hall is always open to you virtually. Take the exhibitor list, and visit all of their websites to tour their products or offerings = another great way to be a part of the action!
  6. Don’t Forget the Unconferencing Sessions in the Exhibit Hall! I have mentioned thisaspect of RootsTech in the past, and some have given me a side eye, because they didn’t know what I was talking about – which is such a shame! From the very first year, these unconferencing sessions were implemented to encourage conversations – tech, genealogy, or both – programmers, genealogists, or hopefully both – all in rooms/booths they could schedule to talk about anything in the industry they wanted to cover. And this tradition has not wavered. In fact, this is one of my favorite things to do at RootsTech. The unconferencing sessions are along the North side of the Expo Hall. I will be hosting a session as a follow-up to my class on Consumable Genealogy – giving a live demo on using Canva and Pixabay – and there will be a couple of chat sessions about Genealogy in Second Life, hosted by the Second Life Virtual Genealogical Society – so be sure to check in at the unconferencing boards to plan out your participation.
  7. THE Place to Bring Out Your Social Media ‘A’ Game!  With all of the of the great tools at your fingertips, now is the time to hashtag it and post it – or storyboard it. You will connect with attendees and those attending from home. #rootstech #notatrootstech
  8. Don’t Over Do It. You cannot experience everything there is to offer, and it’s important to understand your own limitations. So prioritize your time within reason – and if you get overwhelmed, head over to the library for some research – they are open until 9pm just about every evening – and you won’t want to miss the opportunity of researching in the nation’s most comprehensive genealogy library.
  9. The Common Sense Stuff: As with any conference, this is a marathon, not a sprint – you need to stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, dress in layers, eat healthy, and wear your walking shoes. I noticed from the most recent ‘behind the scenes’ video – a tour of the Salt Palace – that the on-site check-in is on the opposite end of the building – back where the very first conference took place. In other words – seriously – wear comfortable shoes!!!
  10. Smile, have fun, be nice, and soak up the energy that will inspire long after we get home to digest all we have learned.
That’s about it for now, folks – I’ll see you in a few days! Safe travels and may the session selections be ever in your favor!!

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