Genealogy Conferences – Delivering the Content


[This is the second in a week-long series of posts on genealogy conferences entitled Genealogy Conferences - The Magic Recipe]

My perspective on the life of a genealogy conference speaker is my own but I bet it isn’t much different from many of the speakers and presenters who serve as the main educational content providers at these events. While I’ve only been on the speaking circuit for about 18 months, in that short period I’ve been able to experience a wide range of situations where I feel I’m experienced enough to dispense some advice on genealogy speaking.

Glamorous It Ain’t!

The whirlwind life of a genealogy speaker is far from glamorous.  There is so much preparation involved both on the part of the event organizers and the speaker that by time the event takes place, in a way, you just want it to be over.  But it is in that moment – when I am in front of a captivated audience – that I feel it is all worth the preparation.  And the payoff comes when attendees come up afterwards and ask questions or simply say, “Thank you!”  Again, those two words have such power.

The Good

  • The pay rate for genealogy speaking can be pretty decent – anywhere from $75 and up for an hour’s worth of speaking.
  • If you love to travel and want to see new cities and towns, speaking at genealogy events is a great way to do so. Very often a genealogy society that is “hosting” a speaker will offer to show them the sights including research resources.
  • Speaking on genealogy is a great form of advertising for your genealogy business.  Especially if you’ve built up an Internet or social media presence, audiences love to see you “in the flesh” and speak with you.
  • Each and every speaking engagement is a chance to sell any books or other products you’ve developed.
  • The more you speak, the more places that hire you, the more your reputation increases in the genealogy community.  It helps to have a niche and once you find what you’re good it, exploit it.
  • Speaking gigs can very often lead to other opportunities – they usually “chain” off of each other as I say.  Someone will hear you speak and go back to their society and discuss hiring you for their upcoming event.

The Bad

  • You want travel? How about the delays? How about the overnights in airports? How about being a road warrior and flying 50,000 miles a year? How about hotels that look alike and having a sense of “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium.”
  • While the pay rate is good, many don’t realize it takes about 30 hours of preparing a syllabus and slides for each 1 hour presentation.  For a new presentation, you don’t see the payoff until you’ve delivered that content at least a couple of times.
  • You can’t realistically make a living just on speaking gigs.   You must be able to sell your products and that means marketing, publicity and doing what I call “the hustle.”
  • Public speaking takes skill especially when it comes to dealing with the public. It can also wear you out especially if you are doing a full-day workshop with four presentations.
  • People will steal your content. Sad but true, but folks will use your syllabus as they see fit.  I cover this at the start of any presentation and make it clear what copyright is and what is my intellectual property.
  • Some societies and events handle speakers better than others.  I really hate to say it, but I’ve had some gigs where things weren’t “as advertised” in terms of accommodations or speaking venues.

Do’s and Don’ts

Some advice based on my personal experiences:

  • Have a contract, and a good solid one at that.  I’ve developed a five page contract that I insist on using.  I don’t allow societies or venues to simply send an email agreement. I’ve had venues cancel on me a week before the gig and in the meantime I’ve turned down three other offers. (Note: my contract template will be available at the Federation of Genealogical Societies new templates and exemplars section of the members-only website in a few weeks. This is another reason to join FGS!)
  • Join the Genealogical Speakers Guild.  For a nominal membership fee not only do you have great marketing resources available to you, but you can networking with fellow speakers.
  • Guard your intellectual property. Make sure it is clear in your contract what a venue can and cannot do with your syllabus or the recording.  If you find any violations especially weeks or months later, use the normal cease and desist tactics you would use if someone had violated your copyright.
  • Don’t schedule speaking engagements too close together.  They wear you out and you don’t notice until you’ve done 10 presentations in a month and wonder why you are so tired!
  • Do spend time with your host society and socialize at dinner or other opportunities. Show an interest in their events and their projects. Give advice and encouragement.
  • In terms of travel, make sure you join every loyalty club possible for airlines and hotel. Invest in a lightweight backpack, preferably a “wheelie” type. For some conferences you have to provide your own projector and computer.
  • Provide feedback to the society or event planners once you get home. Send a thank you note or email. Or if things didn’t live up to your expectations, let them know.  This is an opportunity for them to improve their event.
  • Join Toastmasters International.  Even if you’ve been speaking for years, Toastmasters can help you with new speaking techniques and you can test drive new presentations.
  • Have an Internet presence and one that is up to date.  When you speak, make sure you mention your website on one of your slides or have business cards available at the podium.  I went through 3,000 business cards last year alone just at speaking engagements.
  • Have fun! If you don’t enjoy speaking about genealogy then perhaps it isn’t for you.  I have yet to meet anyone who has said they don’t enjoy speaking in public about what they love.

New Models

Here are my ideas on what changes are taking place already in terms of genealogy speaking and what we might see in the future:

  • The webinar or virtual presentation method will continue to have a big impact on the genealogy industry. With rising gas prices and the expenses involved in hosting a speaker, more societies and venues will take advantage of this delivery method.
  • The industry needs resources to help genealogy speakers make the transition to webinar speaking. It is not the same as speaking in public and the technology element can be a bit intimidating.
  • More inspirational talks.  While getting down to the nitty gritty of how to’s and methodology is needed, one way to attract newcomers to genealogy is to inspire them. We’ll see more of these types of talks developed.
  • More events will incorporate live streaming and other means of allowing far-flung participants to at least get a taste of a conference.  This means more technology and having more of a stage presence as a speaker.
  • Intellectual property rights will be tested especially with webinars and recordings.  Make sure you are clear in your contract as to what can and cannot be done with any recording.


Genealogy speaking is just one component of my business model and what I do in the genealogy community.  I feel it keeps me “grounded” in that I can get out there and speak with members of the community in person.  Just like we tell folks that not everything can be found online when it comes to genealogy resources, the same is true for interacting with the community.  It takes place in person and for me, speaking in public in front of an appreciative crowd is one way for me to make that connection.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy societies and vendors.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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