Thursday, May 22, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Planning Your Time at a Conference

I really liked how I planned my time at the National Genealogical Society’s 2014 annual conference. I thought I’d capture it here so I can remember what I did next time. Perhaps it will be of value to you too. The conference app was key and while a smart phone is most convenient, a laptop works with the app as well.

A great thing about an NGS conference is that with ten tracks to choose from, there is always at least one session I want to attend each hour. The problem is with ten tracks to choose from, there is always at least two sessions I want to attend each hour. Planning your time is key.

Before the conference I go through the available sessions. The app allows browsing through the sessions in different ways (below, left). I usually browse by day (below, right).

NGS Conference App - Browse sessions NGS Conference App - Browse sessions by day
The app provides session titles, descriptions, presenters, skill levels, and track designations (right). I bookmark sessions of interest by clicking the star on the upper-right. The app places the bookmarked class on an in-app calendar (below). I check to see if there are session times without a bookmarked session. If I’ve missed any, I go back and add one or more sessions to those times.

NGS Conference App - My Schedule

At the conference I make final plans for each day on the evening before, choosing from among conflicting sessions. For each session time, I review conflicting sessions and choose one. Sometimes I’m still unable to narrow my chooses to one per session time. I download the handouts for those sessions (below). If you don’t have a supported smart phone, download the entire syllabus to your device before coming to the conference.
NGS Conference App - Session page
NGS Conference App - Session handout download NGS Conference App - View Session handout in App

Handouts show different levels of preparation, organization, educational skills, presentation skills, and presenter qualifications. I can usually decide among sessions based on the handouts.

  • Sometimes a handout communicates a topic so well, I opt for another session!
  • Sometimes a handout makes it clear what the skill level of the presentation will be and I can tell if I will be learning new material.
  • Sometimes a handout contains a small outline filling less than the allotted four pages. I assume the presenter didn’t have the discipline to prepare his handout until just before the deadline. I usually skip these sessions.
  • Sometimes a handout consists of a four-page bibliography. It reflects the presenter’s extensive library of the best texts collected over an entire career. I can understand how this is valuable for some people. I personally don’t derive a great amount of value from it. I’ll never buy or read that amount of material for a single subject. Give me a list of the sources used for the session, but highlight a handful of the most valuable. A strictly bibliographic handout makes it difficult to judge the value of a session. The presenter is probably an expert, but it is impossible to judge their skills as an educator.
  • Sometimes a session lacks a handout, demonstrating the presenter’s lack of respect for attendees. I avoid these sessions when I can. Unfortunately, since the Ancestry Insider’s editorial focus is Ancestry.com and FamilySearch, I should attend their sessions. Ancestry.com presenters and FamilySearch product managers are among the worst offenders, for which I’m sorely ashamed. Their marketing departments pay big bucks to sponsor conferences, which gives them maybe a single page in the syllabus. Yet they regularly pass up the opportunity to get a four-page handout in the hands of self-selected interested users? Unbelievable.

As I finalize my choices, I leave all interesting sessions bookmarked. If a session is cancelled or the room is full, I already have alternate choices identified.

Having identified my final choices for each session time, I use a feature in the NGS conference app to copy my choices onto my smart phone calendaring app. I like the integration that provides me with my calendar in Outlook. I imagine it works with other cloud-based calendaring systems as well. If you lack a smart phone, run the conference app on your computer before the conference and print your schedule from there.

During the day the app is useful for the built-in maps. From the app calendar, click the session, then click the hyperlinked room number. The app will open a map and zoom to the room.

Once I get to a session I can pull up the syllabus; I’ve already downloaded it (above, right). When viewing is initiated from the session page, the handout must be viewed in the in-app viewer. But initiated from the Downloads page, the handout can be viewed in other viewers. I prefer this option, as it gives me more powerful viewing options, the ability to backup the handout in the cloud, and the ability to keep my handouts when the conference app goes away.

Some handouts in iBooks (top row)
Some handouts in iBooks (top row)
A handout in iBooks
A handout in iBooks

The system worked so well, I can hardly wait until next year!

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