Were your proposals rejected by a genealogical society or group for an upcoming genealogy conference you hoped to speak at? Are you wondering why? I was recently sent a rejection letter after applying to speak at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference for 2020. I know why rejection happens, but some potential speakers don’t and that can be really discouraging. I want to share a little about why your proposals may have been rejected for a genealogy conference.
Two years ago, I joined the conference committee of the Ohio Genealogical Society and last year, I was the co-chair. I learned there was a lot going on behind the scenes that I had never realized before. It was in 2017 that I started to interview other genealogy societies and groups about how they run their conferences. With all the information I have collected over the last 2 years, and my own hands-on-experience, I am writing a few blog posts I think will shine a light, and hopefully some understanding, on what goes into planning a large genealogical conference or event.
How are Genealogy Speakers Chosen for an Event?
First, the organization puts out a “Call for Papers.” This might go out on their social media outlets, their newsletter, an email list of past speakers, or maybe be placed online at Conference Keeper.
Second, speakers send in proposals of a topic they would like to speak on. Generally, the call for papers includes a list of topics that the organization is looking for. Speakers try to offer proposals that fit that criteria.
Anywhere between 4 to 8 months before the said conference, a person or committee gathers together to pick the speakers/topics for their conference.
The committee is usually composed of genealogy minded individuals, but not always. I have interviewed more than one group that report not all their committee members are “into genealogy.” Personally, that seemed a little strange to me. It is hard to understand how persons who are not actively involved in the genealogy community could possibly know what speakers and topics would be best for their attendees, but that is just my opinion.
Before the general topics and speakers are chosen, the keynote speaker(s) have probably already been chosen in advance. A keynote speaker or speakers is usually someone with a lot of what I call “public pull.” Someone with genealogy known-how, well known, and generally pretty “popular” in the field. Further, if there will be any luncheons provided at the conference, the committee may begin with picking other top genealogy speakers to fill the luncheon speaking assignments. This makes sense because the society/group is literally banking on the fact that many people will pay for the luncheon so they can hear so-in-so speak. [More about why attending luncheons is so important in another article]
So, at this point, the keynote speaker is already chosen, the luncheon speakers are already chosen, and the next speakers to be chosen are ones that are bringing something to the table. For example: speakers who are very well known and liked in that locale, speakers who are sponsored (because if a speaker is sponsored, the society may not have to pay the speaker or provide transportation/hotel stay…in other words…sponsored speakers save the society money), speakers who have done advertising for the society or group, and lastly, speakers who may also be willing to be a part of the vendor or expo hall.
And, there we are. Several speaking spots have now been filled and the committee hasn’t even gone through half the speaker proposals!
At this time, the committee is ready to look at the bigger picture. How many classes need to be filled, what days, and what are the topics or tracks for each day? Prior to attending this planning meeting, committee members have likely poured over the speaker proposals and decided on several “favorites.” They may start with their favorites to fill in the gaps, then when they have exhausted those, they move on to other proposals that fit the topics they are looking for.
Why Might a Speaker/Proposal be Rejected?
That brings us to the big question “Why was I rejected?” There are literally dozens of reasons, but from my experience, it is usually one of the following:
- You live to far away. If you sent in only two proposals and only one of them is something that fits the topics for the conference, but you live 2,000 miles away and require air travel, the committee may decide it is simply not economical to bring you in for just one lecture. A way to avoid this is to always send in as many proposals as you can. If they have a limit of 8 submissions, then send 8 submissions. If they have no limit, then make sure you at least send four.
- You only sent in proposals for DNA topics. This is just an example. What I mean by this is, if you are relatively new to the speaking scene or to DNA topics and you send in only DNA related proposals….and Blaine Bettinger or Diahan Southard sends in their speaker proposals about DNA (they both being experts in the field), you may not be chosen. I mean, if there is only room for 4 DNA lectures and the committee can have Blaine do two and Diahan do two, they don’t need you. I don’t want to discourage anyone from sending in DNA proposals! That is not what I am saying. I just want you to not send in ONLY DNA proposals. And that goes for other specific topics where there are known experts in the field who may be submitting.
- You only sent in 2 proposals. I kind of already mentioned this before, but if you live far away and will require airfare and hotel accommodations, many societies want to make it worth their while to fly you in. They will likely want you to speak more than once and may want you multiple days. Because of that, if you only send in a few proposals and out of those the committee only likes one, they will put you on the back burner because it just isn’t economical when they could bring in someone just as good who has offered them more topic options.
- Your proposed topics were not needed. A call for papers includes topic suggestions for a reason. If you send in a proposal for something a little “different” or “niche-based,” you may not get chosen. It simply may not fit what the committee has envisioned for their conference. The committee has to pick a variety of inspirational, educational, and regionally specific lecture topics. If your favorite topic to speak on is “way out there,” I suggest you send in several other proposals along with it!
- There was a problem in the past. There are some speakers that the committee may have heard present before. Maybe that speaker was generally thought to be boring, uneducated about the topic, offensive in some way, etc. A speaker may be rejected because someone on the committee had not been impressed with them.
Along these same lines, the speaker may have been a speaker at the conference in years past and there had been some sort of problem. Maybe the speaker showed up late for each session, or continually went over their allotted time. Maybe the speaker’s reviews were not that great or the speaker took advantage of their hotel stay. So, for these reasons, a speaker may be rejected.
- The committee just doesn’t like you. I know some of you just gasped at this. It’s not something we like to admit, but it happens. Just like in any community of people, not all genealogy persons get along. Whether you want to believe it or not, sometimes the true reason a speaker didn’t get chosen is because someone or someones on a committee simply do not like them. They done did them wrong! I don’t think this happens very often, but it does happen.
And, there it is. These reasons and probably a dozen more are why speakers are sometimes rejected. I think the most important thing to do after receiving a rejection letter is to not speculate the “why” too much. Try again and keep trying. Keep sending in those proposals! P.S. Pop over to Conference Keeper to learn about any recent call for papers!
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