I am always fascinated by the similarities and the few differences between genealogy conferences and the one annual ham radio conference. For starters, the number of attendees is different. A typical national genealogy conference attracts about 1,500 attendees with occasional events attracting as many as 2,500. In contrast, the organizers of the annual ham radio Hamvention have been very disappointed at the declining attendance in recent years. Last year's paid attendance was "only" 18,877 people. When I started attending these events thirty years ago, attendance was double that or more.
Genealogy conferences and ham radio conferences have many similarities. Seminars and presentations are conducted by many of the leading experts. Different groups sponsor luncheons and banquets. A large exhibit hall is the showplace for the latest in products and services. Many companies introduce their latest products at the annual conference. Dozens of blogs will feature articles about the conference for weeks before and after the event.
Even though attendance has dropped off in recent years, the Dayton Hamvention is still a wildly successful annual event. I believe that part of the reason for the Hamvention's success is that it is held in the same location every year: the Hara Conference and Exhibition Center in Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton Amateur Radio Association has been sponsoring this event for almost fifty years. This group is well organized, to say the least. For instance, in order to be appointed head of the Publicity Committee this year, you must have served as the assistant head of the same committee last year where part of your assignment was to update the procedures manual the committee uses as a guideline each year. Two years earlier, you probably served as a member of the same committee.
Experience works. Being in the same location every year has many advantages. Having an experienced crew helps even more. The people who run the committees know what they are doing, what is expected of them, and are fully prepared when the conference begins. I won't say that everything is perfect, but most things work smoothly.
There isn't enough room at the conference center to park all those automobiles; so, the organizers do not provide on-site parking for most participants. A few parking slots are available for handicapped attendees, but none for the able-bodied. Most attendees must park at designated parking lots several miles away and ride shuttle buses to and from the auditorium.
You can even see live video from the event, provided by a guy who walks around with a wireless TV camera mounted on a hard hat. (I am NOT that much of a geek! At least, not yet.) A nearby receiver picks up the video feed and broadcasts it on the Internet. Look at http://wa5kub.com for a live video feed once the conference begins on May 14.
Obtaining a hotel room, a rental car, or even an airline ticket to Dayton this weekend is almost impossible. They were all reserved twelve months ago. Since I waited until the last few weeks to make my arrangements, I purchased tickets to Columbus and reserved a rental car there. I also will be staying in a hotel in the western suburbs of Columbus and will make the one-hour commute to Dayton every day. I've done that before and have found the commute to be easier and cheaper than trying to find a place in Dayton this weekend.
Next, the Hamvention conference starts on Friday and continues all day Saturday and Sunday. Years ago, it was a Saturday and Sunday event. Once the program became too crowded to squeeze into two days, the organizers chose to "back up" a bit and start on Friday. I am told there is no plan to ever start earlier than Friday. Attendance typically is a bit less on Friday, then picks up on Saturday and Sunday.
In contrast, the genealogy conferences are typically held on weekdays and Saturdays. Of course, this restricts the number of working folks who can attend. The Dayton Hamvention success shows that many people will attend if they don't have to take time off from work or, at the most, perhaps take only one day off. Even those who travel long distances to Dayton typically fly in on Friday morning in order to minimize the time off from employment. I, too, will be flying early on Friday morning and plan to arrive at the conference about noon.
I can only think of one major genealogy conference that follows a similar format: (1.) held in the same location every year, (2.) held on the same weekend every year, (3.) organized by the same people every year, and (4.) held on a Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday. The Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank, California, is a regional event and hasn't yet attained the crowds the size of the Hamvention in Dayton. However, the Genealogy Jamboree does well for a regional event, attracting 1,500 or more attendees every year. That's more attendees than most other regional genealogy conferences.
In short, I would suggest that genealogy conference organizers could learn a lot from the successful ham radio conference organizers in Dayton and from the organizers of the Genealogy Jamboree in southern California. However, there is one major difference between the genealogists and the ham radio organizers that I have not yet been able to reconcile: the ham radio conference includes a huge flea market held in the convention center parking lot. I haven't yet figured out how to do something similar at a genealogy conference.
Would anyone be interested in buying and selling a few ancestors?
To learn more about the Dayton Hamvention, look at http://www.hamvention.org
To learn more about the Genealogy Jamboree in southern California, look at http://www.scgsgenealogy.com