Thursday, June 27, 2013

Choosing Sessions for a Conference

decisionFiguring out what sessions to attend at a conference can be overwhelming, especially large, multi-day conferences that run several sessions at a time.  So how do you choose what session to attend when everything sounds so good?  And just how do you squeeze in time to visit vendors in the exhibit hall when your schedule is packed with sessions?  In this post, I’ll share my philosophy along with a few other tips along the way.

Choosing a Session

Session selection is based on my educational goals.  At this point in my genealogy research and career, I’m particularly interested in topics that deal with methodology, record sets that I am not familiar with, and locations that I primarily research.   When nothing in a time slot fits that criteria I do one of three things (in this order): a) opt to visit the exhibit hall instead of a session, b) attend a session where the topic is completely foreign to me, even though it isn’t part of my goal (as an example, I don’t research in the South and have no desire to do so, however, I’m always open to learning something new—you never know when you might need it!), or c) attend a session on something I am already familiar with as a refresher and hey, I might learn something new.

Tip:  For sessions that I think may be popular (such as anything presented by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Thomas W. Jones) I really try to get to the session as early as possible.  But I always have a backup session in mind just in case the room is full.

Making Time for the Exhibit Hall

Depending on how much time is between sessions and where the exhibit hall is located in relation to the sessions, I may try to pop into the exhibit hall.  However, I usually find there is not enough time, or I have too much walking to do to get from Point A to Point B and back to Point A.  With my health condition, that’s just not an option.  So, I usually schedule a few blocks of time throughout the conference to visit the exhibit hall.  I also have a plan for the booths I want to check out, which I usually highlight on the exhibit hall map.  Knowing where I want to go helps keep me from wondering around aimlessly and wasting time.

Tip:  Once the list of vendors is announced, I do some pre-investigating and determine if I want to stop by a particular vendor for a visit.  I make a list of those I really want to visit, noting the must-sees.  Whenever a map is available, I highlight the booths I want to visit, using one color for the must-sees and another color for the rest.

Keeping Track of My Schedule

I am a planner by nature.  If you read my previous posts, you know that the minute the schedule for the FGS 2013 Conference was released, I already had the sessions added to my calendar.  Everything gets put into Outlook (because that’s where I manage my life’s schedule!) and is then synced to my phone’s calendar.  Right now, there are no room numbers because that hasn’t been decided yet, but when those are released, I will simply add the location to each calendar entry.  When I’m at the conference, I only need my phone to tell me where I need to be.  And, it will remind me fifteen minutes before the start of a session or event so I know when to get moving.

Tip:  Using Outlook, I have to make sure to put the sessions in at the stated time in the conference location’s time zone.  For example, I am in the Central time zone, but the FGS 2013 Conference takes place in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is in the Eastern time zone.  So when I add a session to my calendar, that starts at say 3pm, I add it to my calendar in the 3pm time slot but select Eastern as the time zone.  This way, when my computer, phone, tablet, etc. change time zones, my calendar is correct.

Your Turn

How do you choose what sessions to attend at a conference?  Do you plan ahead or wing it?  What about making time for the exhibit hall?  Do you have a strategy, wing it, or do you not visit the exhibit hall at all?  Love to hear from you, so please share your thoughts in the comments of this post!

FGS2013AmbassadorThis post was written for the June/July Ambassador Blogging Prompt as part of the FGS 2013 Conference Ambassador Program. 

If you’d like to be an Ambassador, you can sign up here.


Don’t forget!  The Federation of Genealogical Societies 2013 Conference is quickly approaching.  It will be held from August 21-24 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The early registration deadline, which saves you $50 on the cost of the full-conference registration fee ends July 1.  Don’t delay, head over and register now to save!


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