|On the road in suburban Milwaukee, spring 1982.|
The store's owner knew that the retail sale of pedigree charts and family group sheets wasn't enough to support a business. As a result, the store copied old family photographs to make photo pedigree-sized prints, sold picture frames, instructional books, charts and census abstraction forms. The store also offered, in the early years, courses on genealogical research methods and records.
Some of the Chicago area's best genealogists were among the instructors. Newspapers. German research. Federal census records. Cemeteries and their records. These courses and many more were offered, typically on a weekday evening for a 1- to 3-hour block, depending on content and instructor. The classroom didn't hold very many people; I seem to recall not more than 15 in a session. In other words, for a very reasonable fee, learners could get a seminar in the topic of the night, taught by very capable and enthusiastic instructors. Sadly, the courses were discontinued pretty early on because they were too time intensive for the instructors, given the fixed rate of compensation.
That's not to say the instructors were not compensated; but the level of pay was not commensurate with the hours of preparation required to teach the courses. To prepare a one hour course or lecture involved substantial hours of advance work. In that era before PowerPoint, overhead projectors with transparency slides were the norm.
Because I was privileged to be a part of the shop's road crew--OK, I *was* the road crew--I attended meetings across Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana for a few years while still in high school. The "high season" ran for about six weeks in the autumn and approximately the same in the spring, and typically I participated in most of those weekends unless I had a speech tournament conflict in high school. We'd load the van up on Friday evening and generally take off before 6 am on Saturday to make the 8 am "doors open" notice for vendor setup. Usually we were the only ones selling, unless a nearby society was selling their published compilations and abstractions at a card table on the other side of the room.
In most cases, our display was in the rear of the largest room in use. When the lecturer presented, I sat in the book fort and listened and learned. Some of the biggest names in the genealogical lecturing realm in the late '70s and '80s were on the circuit and I learned from some of the best. By the same token, I also had the opportunity to see best practices and approaches taken by these luminaries.
Of those whom I saw through the years, I was most impressed by those who would come to the display area and introduce themselves to me--then a teenager--and welcome me to the conference and ask about what I liked or did with my own research. They reached out to try and make me feel a part of the community of researchers. None of them had to do that, and admittedly many of them did not! But the ones who did sure made a positive impact on me.
I noted, too, that many of the kindest people were among the better lecturers, too. This is strictly from the Bureau of POOMA Statistics, but those folks whom I observed as being most engaged with their audiences during their presentations appeared by far to be more successful and competent as teachers of their topics. Others may have felt otherwise, but when I could watch the whole room from the back, and see the attendees' attitudes and general demeanor... it was clear who was most effective and who was less successful in getting their points across.
Now, I'm among the lecturers. I've tried to learn from, and remember, the lessons of many years ago. I am fortunate in that public speaking comes naturally for me, so the anxiety that some folks feel at speaking before groups doesn't generally affect me. I try to stay engaged with my audience and present material I have mastered and understand well. Without being overbearing, I also try and welcome younger learners to conferences because I've been the oddball 14-year old in a roomful of blue hairs at a seminar or conference.
One of the best ways for us as a body to grow our field is to work at being welcoming. Yes, it takes time, but it will make a tremendous difference for someone who might be new to the field. Remember: we were all "newbies" once. Without another's welcome, we may well have wandered away from this field that can be so incredibly satisfying.