Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Speaker's Perspective

I am a crazy person this week. Well, maybe this whole month. For parents of school-aged children, May might be a busier month than December. We have soccer (with two players in the family – one doing travel soccer which requires driving an hour each way for some games) and softball season (one player – also traveling for games) both in full swing. On top of that there is the regular two dance classes and two piano lessons a week. There are end of the year dance recitals, piano recitals, and band concerts all coming up. AND, my three oldest children all have birthdays in the next month – which means three birthday parties. My husband, a college professor, is grading finals and calling in students who cheated (because of an error in the answer key, he determined that 25% of his class cheated on their homework) and attending graduation, and I am deeply involved in the busiest part of the year for genealogy speakers.

Which brings me to my topic at hand. (No, it’s not the woes of being a mother of four and living in the car – French fries are okay for toddlers to eat for dinner, right?) The topic is being a genealogy speaker. My topic was inspired by Thomas MacEntee who challenged bloggers to write about this – a couple of weeks ago. (I’m a little behind the times. What else is new?)

I gave my first genealogy lecture in the fall of 2006. Now I’m confessing personal information here. Maybe I shouldn’t….Oh well….here goes anyway. I had never attended a genealogy meeting of any sort until August of 2006 when I went to FGS in Boston for one day. I particularly remember listening to Craig Scott speak about…speaking. I was enthralled and instantly thought, “I can do this.” How’s that for arrogant? I had experience in genealogy. I had studied genealogy in college at Brigham Young University and had worked full time as a professional genealogist tracing other people’s families. I had also been writing for genealogy magazines since 2003. Until I started writing for magazines, I had remained unaware that there even were genealogy societies, meetings, or conferences. I had just moved from Valencia, Spain to Massachusetts a few weeks before FGS that year – and decided to see what it was all about.

I brought some speakers’ brochures home from FGS with me and went about designing my own brochure. Then, having never been to a genealogy society meeting in my life, I mailed them out to local genealogy societies I found in my area. I attended my first local society meeting in September of 2006, and gave my first lecture in November. I loved it and was instantly hooked.

My speaking has increased dramatically since my book launched last July. Since July, I have given nearly 80 lectures in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, Utah, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, and Virginia. I have spoken to large groups and small groups, to genealogy societies, state historical societies, libraries, senior centers, museums, book clubs, and other places.

Here are some of my thoughts on it:

1) The pay. Let’s be honest. The pay is not great. I once had a society offer me $75 for a one hour talk with this question: “Does $75 sound fair for one hour of your time?” Sure, but that’s not the exchange here. I’m giving WAY more than one hour of time. (And, except in very special circumstances I don’t speak for $75 a lecture either.) I use time to correspond with the society, to prepare the lecture, and to travel (more below). I’ve never known a genealogy speaker who feels like he or she can make a living from speaking.

2) The travel. I love to travel. By that I mean, I have tickets to Rio de Janiero in August and I can’t wait. I’m super excited for our family trip in June to Rocky Mountain National Park, Memphis, etc. Loving to travel doesn’t generally include three hour drives to little New England towns. I have done a lot of traveling in the last year – a lot for me and my family anyway. Tonight I will drive two hours each way to speak in WInchester, MA and on Saturday, I’ll drive almost three hours each way to speak to the Falmouth Genealogical Society. In March, I spoke in Virginia and Ohio and in February, I spent 11 days in Utah. That said though, I actually don’t mind the travel so much. I enjoy listening to a good book on CD or listening to NPR in the car (as a mom of little kids, “alone time” is pretty exciting!). And I also try really hard to combine speaking engagements with other travel. For example, I was invited to speak in Ottawa in October and we have decided to make a family trip out of it and stay five days in Montreal and Quebec City. And in June when we do our big trip, I’ll have three lectures along the way.

3) The prep. It’s A LOT of work to put together a new lecture. I always try to turn lectures into magazine articles to maximize the benefit. I have a dozen or so prepared lectures. I am usually not willing to put together a new lecture at the request of a society, although I am willing to tweak or adjust a lecture I already have. Every so often, I develop a new lecture. This past year, I’ve given my book talk MANY times. I know it so well that I don’t even glance at my notes ahead of time. I just hop in the car and head to the next venue.

4) The nerves. Actually, I generally don’t get nervous. When I first started speaking, I got nervous for the question and answer period. I was afraid I wouldn’t know the answer to something someone asked me. I have gotten over that. Not because I always know the answers. I don’t. But I’m okay with that now. Setting up my equipment can make me jittery if something isn’t working well. This is why I ALWAYS bring my own projector and laptop – even when the group is providing it. I leave it in the car…just in case. There have been several times when I have needed to get it. Sometimes nobody in the society knows how to work the library’s equipment or something similar. I KNOW that I know how to work my own equipment. I also bring an extension cord with me.

5) The benefits. Of course, practically the main reason I have spoken so much lately is to get the word out about my book. Besides, as I mentioned before, I love to speak. Why? I really enjoy the dynamic of interacting with a group of people – and of sharing information that I’m excited about. I love to feel like something I’ve said is useful to others. I have especially enjoyed talking about my book. It is extremely rewarding to have people tell me that they have read my book and that they related to it, or that it emotionally impacted them, or that it inspired them to want to write their family story.

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