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Why I Won’t Be Speaking at FGS 2013

Rejection is never easy, but I’m posting about not being selected to speak at the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ Annual conference in August 2013 in a proactive way since I know I’ll eventually be bombarded with questions from members of the genealogy community in person and on social media channels.

Am I disappointed?  Sure.  Am I devastated? Not in the least.  I could go and sulk or act out publicly and go on a rant, but I’ve taken time to put this into perspective since I was informed of my rejection last night. Earlier in the week I was informed that none of the sponsored lectures I had submitted for clients were accepted.  So I had a sense that many, if not all, of my personal topics might be rejected as well.

I’m Not Entitled To Speak Anywhere. Period.

Some might say that since I am a genealogy speaker of some notoriety, and that I am a board member for FGS, and that Ft. Wayne, Indiana is right in my back yard, that I should “get to” speak at the FGS 2013 conference. Oh how I abhor those two words which are so overused in today’s society.

When I was growing up, it was made very clear to me that I was entitled to nothing in life. Not because of who I was or who my family was. Much of what I encountered in life would be according to my efforts and abilities in combination with luck and providence.  That’s just the way it is and I still believe that.

I consider it an honor when I am selected to speak at an event, whether it is a one hour lecture in front of five people at a genealogy society or at a large conference in front of 1,000 people. I am blessed by the fact that I have presented close to 100 lectures and webinars in 2012 and will probably do the same in 2013 and years to come.

The program committee at FGS 2013 has to make decisions based on the topics and speakers they think are best for their event in order to not only attract the most attendees, but to provide quality genealogy and genealogy society management education.  I look forward to seeing the final list of selections and I know that many of my colleagues will be presenting some great lectures.  I look forward to attending as many of them as I can.  Yes, I’ll be going to FGS 2013.

What I Had Hoped to Present

In case you’re wondering what I submitted to the FGS 2013 program committee, here is the list of topics:

  • 21st Century Marketing for Genealogy Societies
  • Genealogical Uses for QR Codes
  • Introduction to Webinars
  • Staying Safe Using Social Media
  • Tech Initiatives for Genealogy Societies
  • The Genealogy Cloud: Which Online Storage Program
    is Right For You
  • The Homestead Act and Genealogy
  • What Every Genealogist Should Know About Copyright
  • Your Society’s Presence on Facebook

In addition, I submitted these sponsored lectures:

  • Collecting the Fabric of a Life
  • Metadata for Digital Images
  • Pinning Your Family History

The ironic part is that all of the sponsored lectures and several of my personal lectures were accepted at the upcoming Ohio Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 25-27, 2013.

The Genealogy Conference System Has Its Flaws

This is not sour grapes on my part.  Anyone who has had discussions with me about the genealogy industry and genealogy conferences knows that I’ve been critical of certain aspects of these industry events. Most are run by volunteers and non-profit organizations which have served us well in years past, but as the genealogy business grows, a need for more professional methods and practices may be needed.

  • There is a need for a better notification system.  I was informed by a colleague on Sunday evening that she had been selected to speak at FGS 2013 and asked which lectures I was presenting. I figured that not all the notices had been sent which was confirmed via my email to the Program Chair. Either a system of sending notifications a few at a time was used (which doesn’t make sense given today’s technology) or someone just didn’t want to inform me of my rejection.  Either way, there needs to be a better mousetrap.  Given the amount of work that speakers put into making proposals, there needs to be an efficient way of notifying those who submit lectures and each submitter, including those rejected, should receive a notice at the same time.
  • Genealogy conference program committees are unpredictable. Some would even say “out of touch,” but I’m not sure I would go that far. I’ve attended national conferences where many felt a particular person had no business lecturing, but was able to do so because of some little letters after his or her name.  I also don’t understand why qualified African-American genealogists are blatantly overlooked each year as speakers on the national level. I’d love to see each and every conference, large and small, publish its guidelines as to the selection process including who is on the program committee. Transparency would go a long way in building confidence in the process and ensuring the best possible education for the genealogy community.

I’m Okay With This. Really.

I was honored to receive a personal phone call from a FGS Board member last evening apologizing for my not being selected.  I said there was no need for an apology and that I realize that I can’t get every speaking opportunity.

I always turn rejection into rebound.  This is what my ancestors did and this is what I’ll continue to do. It is part of survival and a key part of my success.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

20 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Be Speaking at FGS 2013

  1. So sorry to hear you won’t be speaking at FGS, but maybe that will give you more time to hang out and have fun with the rest of us geneabloggers 🙂

    Glad to hear about Ohio – I’ve been debating going but you might have just put them over the top as I work on my 2013 conference “schedule.”

    Look forward to seeing you ~

  2. Thomas,

    I heard from a colleague this weekend that he was chosen to speak and asked if I had received any good news. I have not heard a word so I assume they did not choose me either. And that’s ok. If they don’t need me then I can focus on networking and learning at the conference. It would be nice though if everyone was notified at the same time – even those who were rejected so at least we know.

  3. “I always turn rejection into rebound. This is what my ancestors did and this is what I’ll continue to do. It is part of survival and a key part of my success.”

    Best quote in the whole article, Thomas. I look forward to seeing you again at FGS and OGS. Like Diana said, maybe it will actually be a time of fun and learning for you this year!

  4. You are such an inspiration, Thomas. Even in your “rejection” you have shown leadership. Thanks for taking your adversity and turning it into a learning opportunity for others in how to cope when things don’t go our way.

  5. My stomach dropped and I am disappointed that you will not be speaking. I am, however, looking forward to seeing you at FGS!

    I’m sorry to hear that Jennifer wasn’t contacted either. Looks like the committee needs some help with communication.


  6. “I always turn rejection into rebound. This is what my ancestors did and this is what I’ll continue to do. It is part of survival and a key part of my success.”
    I love this comment. Your positive attitude is the way we should all look at things. The next opportunity will be better!

  7. Thomas,

    A terrific post and certainly food for thought. We have all had those “rejection letters” (and there is certainly no guarantees).

    Having worked on a few national conference programs in the past, I can certainly relate to the hard decisions that need to be made. Agonizing over hundreds of excellent topics and speakers is not an easy task.

    I did want to address one question you (and a few of my fellow colleagues) brought up regarding the timing of notifications. The program committee usually sends out the acceptance notices before any other notifications, as there are always one or two speakers who are invited to speak but are unable to accept. Because of this, the committee does not tell anyone “no thanks,” until all invited speakers have been confirmed and the program has been set. That way, the committee avoids telling someone “no thanks” when they might truly be invited (having had that happen to me on one occasion, I can tell you it is a bit awkward).

    I realize it is not a perfect system, and am certainly open to suggestions as to how we can improve the process. Please feel free to shoot me a private e-mail and I will gather feedback for the FGS Conference Planning Committee to review.


  8. Thank you Thomas, for sharing your experience and going forward to talk about the speaker selection system. I hope that conference organizers take note from your good grace and thoughtful suggestions.

    I too, recently experienced similar frustration. I submitted proposals to a large regional conference and had no contact for months. After 4 months I inquired and was told they were still working on selections. After 6 months, I inquired again and learned that selections were forthcoming. I only learned the selections had been made through announcements from speakers who had been selected. I never received notification of any kind, acceptance or rejection.

    It would have been a privilege to speak at this regional conference, and I carefully prepared my proposals taking considerable time to address the conference theme and topics within my expertise. But, I understand too that not everyone can be selected, and as a relative newcomer I may need more speaking credits to be considered for selection.

    I am not an old hand at conference speaking, my only experience had been with SCGS Jamboree where the speaker proposal process is clearly set out and runs rather like a well-oiled clock. My proposal and notification of acceptance occurred as stated, and conference communication from SCGS was outstanding. Clearly, the error was on my part in assuming that other conference selection programs would be similar.

    You’re points are well stated, Thomas, and my own experience certainly backs up what you have noted. The lesson I took from my “rejection” was in the end one of acceptance and perhaps relief. Maybe organizers work a two or three tier system of acceptance, sort of like the A-List and B-List, so they don’t want to notify the B-List people that they haven’t been selected in case they need to fill a gap. Or, maybe they don’t like to deal with the unpleasant task of notifying people that their proposals have been rejected. Or maybe, it just falls through the cracks. Whatever the reason, it feels a bit like a loose end and does little to inspire confidence in overall communication and good will of the organization.

    Rejection has it’s own rewards, thanks for sharing your experience.

  9. Addressing Denise’s comment of “A-List” and “B-List” people. None of the national or state conferences that I have been a part of the program committee have had such lists. When you have literally hundreds of proposals from dozens of speakers, it’s simply a matter of you cannot fit everything you want into the program. As Josh Taylor pointed out, it’s customary to send out invitations before rejections, as some invited speakers inevitably turn down the invitation (usually for a family event that was scheduled after the proposal was submitted). Then it’s a matter of who can fill in that gap in the program. It’s not that the second person was “B-List.” It’s simply that he or she wasn’t chosen before. Believe me, for any given national/regional/state conference there are plenty of rockstar speakers (like Thomas) who didn’t get invited. Would the program committees love to have them? You bet! Can they all fit into the program? Not without making the conference 7 days long 🙂

  10. I think when someone is chosen to be a speaker, they should be advised that the sponsoring organization will make an announcement as to whom is chosen and ask those accepted not to say anything until that time. No, the sponsoring organization does not need to list the speakers way in advance if they don’t want to, but they could release a statement saying that the speakers for a particular event have been chosen and a thank you to everyone for submitting proposals. Just common courtesy.

  11. You’re right, Amy, and you and Josh clarify what I was trying to say: It sounds as though, in many cases, a committee works down/through a list of accepted proposals to fill the schedule. By A-list, B-list I was trying to convey the idea that there may be a first round of acceptances and then a second round to fill in gaps where speakers were unable to accept an invitation to speak.

    It sounds like this is one model for conference scheduling; another being that used by SCGS where a schedule of dates for proposals due, notifications set, contracts due, etc. is part of the Call for Papers Notice.

    From my somewhat limited speaking experience, I admit that it is very difficult to plan in advance knowing my conference proposals are “out there” and having no idea when, or if, any kind of notification will be sent out. In submitting a proposal, I feel a certain obligation to honor my request to speak, to be available on the conference dates, and to be able to travel (barring an emergency). If I found I was unable to speak, I would withdraw my proposal from consideration. I appreciate conference committees that take time to share their proposal process, to acknowledge receipt of my proposal and to notify me of their decision in a timely manner. It builds anticipation of an organized and courteous conference team and a successful conference experience.

  12. On one hand I’m terribly disappointed as you are one of the more energetic speakers, and probably the most foremost speaker on utilizing modern technology at our fingertips in genealogy. I do try to catch you whenever I can. I can only hope that if you did not make the cut, they must have one exceptional program put together!

  13. Many people have wonderful information to share at conferences. Unfortunately there are only so many slots for formal sessions. I think this is why the “unconference” approach I’ve seen at other conferences seems to work so well. While the main conference is going on, organizers offer an unconference tract. A board with time slots is placed outside the room. And each session for the unconference is determined by the attendees who post the topic they want to hear about in any open time slot. Then they show up and announce the topic and any info they wanted to share and then an open discussion begins with whoever else showed up at that time.

    The benefits of this approach are that it offers an alternative during each time slot for those who cannot find a session that interests them. And it allows an open sharing of information from every attendee. The format is also much more engaging and promotes networking and increases learning.

    I am not sure if any of the genealogy conferences have taken advantage of an unconference tract, but I see it beginning to be implemented at other types of conferences. (The association I belong to for my profession also hosts unconferences as stand-alone events.) If FGS allowed this type of tract at their conference you would probably have the chance to share some of the info you had planned on sharing and even better, instead of just speaking, you would become part of an engaged and active learning session related to your topic where the other participants add their knowledge and experience to the discussion.

  14. This is a really brave post. It is refreshing to read such frank and honest comments. I like the way you say that a person’s events in life are in accordance with their “efforts and abilities in combination with luck and providence.” You make it very clear, without casting blame, that “luck” often turns out to be “the system,” with all the human error involved in group dynamics.

    I’m only a spectator in the genealogical conference system, but I do have a lot of experience in the academic “system,” where similar decisions are made, and I’ve seen many decisions turn on strange or eccentric causes, one vote more or less. It gets a bit wild in those meetings. You might enjoy reading the novel “Straight Man” by Richard Russo, a hilarious story of a department head at a university.

  15. I understand the logic of waiting to notify the non-invitees (prefer the term over “rejectees”) until after the invitees have had a chance to accept. However, this policy made more sense in the day of snail mail. Here’s the problem, as demonstrated by Thomas’s blog and Facebook post: in the social media age, the non-invitees learn that they were not invited as soon as the first person uses social media to give away the secret that the invites have gone out. The fear of insulting the non-invitees is also exaggerated. Spots on a national conference program are in such high demand, that most aspiring speakers will be excited to get invited in either the first or second wave on invites. And, the reality is, those in the second wave will know they weren’t invited in the first wave — UNLESS, invitees are instructed to not announce their good news until all invites have been accepted.

  16. I may be naive but it seems to me that a simple disclaimer to non-invitees about the need, from time to time, to reopen the selection process due cancellations as part of a rejection letter would serve everyone’s interests. Non-invitees would get the timely notification they respectfully deserve and it would alleviate the ‘awkward’ in the few instances where selection committee has to reach back out to a non-invitee.

    Thanks as always Thomas for your willingness to address the good, bad and the ugly head on with grace.

    Thoughts anyone, on a speaker feedback systems for conference organizers in the vein of “Rate Your Professor”? I, for one, was sorely disappointed in a couple of FGS2012 speakers. I would have loved to attend Thomas’ coverage of the same topic for a comparison.

  17. Still waiting for my rejection letter (I never got one last year). I think one of the important messages here is that “name,” “notoriety,” or position on the board and organization are not determining factors. Quality of subject and needs of the whole are what counts (of course, that can only be determined during or after the fact). For some of us, the distance is a factor in our attendance and if we aren’t speaking and, as such, compensated for our time and some of our travel and accommodation costs, we simply can’t justify the journey to attend the conference. I hope that this absence will not be interpreted as sour grapes but, instead, is an issue of finances.
    Thank you, Thomas, for letting us know that those not chosen are in the best of company.

  18. Yup. You shine like a gold light, Thomas. Keep on the way you’re keeping on! And thank you for your well-worded philosophy of your life in genealogy. Cheers!

  19. Dear Thomas,

    Your Courage, Grace and Integrity comes forth in this post. I salute and applaud you for your words.

    Insomuch as this is about you, it is also about the FGS. They need to publicly step up their game and provide transparency.

    The FGS must tell you/us why your topics were REJECTED. Your list includes some of the most important and relevant subjects on the minds of genealogists today. Everybody knows that you can deliver the goods.

    I take issue with the revisionist term “non-invitees”. James Howard Meredith wasn’t “non-admitted” to the to the University of Mississippi. Rosa Parks wasn’t an issue of “non-seating” on that bus in Alabama. My point here – and this is me talking, not Thomas – is that we mustn’t sugar-coat or soft-pedal around a situation so blatant and disingenuous as this “rejection”.

    There’s some pain going around in the genealogy lecture/presentation/workshop circuit. Some gifted and talented folks are being rejected, excluded, marginalized, and so on.

    Thomas MacEntee will not go hungry from this rejection. Nor will he lose any respect or standing in the genealogy community. Simply, we must use this event as a lesson in looking out for our genealogy peeps and be vigilant for any transgressions that may come to past.

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

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