Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to Rock as a Genealogy Lecturer

Recently, I've been thinking about genealogy lectures I've attended, both virtually and in person. There are certain lecturers that stand out in my mind. They have that indescribable ability to hold your attention, entertain you and educate you, all in one. Other lecturers I've saw have fallen short of this.

Know Your Stuff

I once attended a lecture in which it was obvious that the person presenting didn't know much about what they were talking about. I understand that public speaking isn't for everyone and some people rely heavily on notes to get them through. However, when someone asks a basic question and you aren't able to answer it, it hurts your credibility.

Give Me What I Came For

If I attend a lecture based on what the brochure or syllabus says about it and you talk about something completely different, I'm not going to be happy. This is especially true of conferences when I may have chosen your lecture over another one given at the same time that I also wanted to attend.

Keep Your Promises

If you promise attendees you will send them something or answer questions if they email you, you need to follow through. I once attended a lecture in which the presenter didn't have enough handouts. The presenter promised they would send the material through the mail if we provided our address.

A few months later, I sent an email to the person, thinking mine had gotten lost in the mail. The presenter still hadn't mailed the items, but promised to get them out right away with a bonus for waiting so long. That was a few months ago and I'm still waiting. That lecturer has lost all credibility in my eyes and I will no longer spend my money on their lectures.

Don't Read from the Syllabus

According to Merriam-Webster, a syllabus is "a summary outline of a discourse, treatise, or course of study, or of examination requirements." I like having a syllabus because it gives me an idea of what to expect from a lecture. However, some lecturers put their entire presentation in the syllabus and read from it. Why would I attend your lecture if I can get all the information from the syllabus? I could have filed the syllabus in my education binder and attended another lecture.

Strike a Balance

Not everyone learns the same. If your presentation consists only of slides, some of your attendees may not be getting much from them. Likewise, a lecture without any visuals can be boring from other attendees. Make sure your genealogy lecture strikes a balance between the two to ensure you reach the entire audience.

Make Time for Questions

Sometimes when learning new material, I may have questions about what was covered. If you're an authority on a particular research area, I may have come to the lecture specifically so I could ask you a question. If you can't set aside a few minutes before or after your presentation, give attendees an option of catching up with you later at your booth or emailing you.


  1. I am certain we have sat in some of the same lectures. However, I'll take this one set further. Organizers of conferences should know who they are hiring and what they are paying for. Clearly what looks good on paper doesn't translate in person. A better job needs to be done by the organizers on behalf of their paying customers. Nothing annoys me more then sitting through a lecture thinking I could have done a better job. And I don't really consider myself hard to please.

  2. Thanks for the great tips! I'm working on a syllabus and see the value of not putting ALL of the good content in the handout. Guess I'll revise it yet again!

  3. Great points. I sometimes think I might do better than the speaker too, but often I won't submit a topic because I don't think I'm enough of an expert on it.

    I want to respond to Lynn's comment. Unfortunately, the organizers can't always know what they're getting. I present something each year at the IAJGS conference. When my first submission was accepted, they may have known who I was, but no one on that committee had ever seen me give a presentation. Sometimes they have to take a chance on a new speaker. Hopefully though, when they get enough complaints about someone, they don't have them back.

  4. Thanks for stopping by ladies.

    Lynn, I suspect some conference organizers make the mistake of believing if a person is a big name, they'll be a good presenter. While I understand that they need big names to draw conference attendees, they're missing the point if the attendees go away dissatisfied.

    Susan, I think designing a syllabus is a bit of an art in itself. Too little and you risk someone turning away because they can't be sure they like it. Too much and you risk someone skipping the lecture altogether because they already got all the information they wanted.

    Banai, I don't expect a presenter to be an expert, merely knowledgeable about the area they're speaking in. If you don't know the answer to a question, I don't think there's any shame in not knowing the answer. No one expects you to know every possible answer.

    You may even bring something new (a new technique or angle of looking at a document group) that other lecturers haven't found yet.

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  6. I, too, feel strongly about some of the points raised in the post and the comments. My thoughts - from the perspective of both a speaker and a conference attendee - are in a series of recent posts on Genealogy Leftovers.

  7. Presentation is as important as content. My tips are:
    1. Don't mumble
    2. Avoid "death by Powerpoint" - use slides to make points and illustrate examples and not as your notes
    3. Use humor - let them learn by laughing
    4. tell them what you are going to say, tell them what they are hearing, tell them what you have told them.