Archive for the ‘Presentations & Lectures’ Category

Genealogy Crisis Averted!

This morning I left my house at about 9am for an hour’s drive to speak at the Sussex County Genealogical Society in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. As I pulled up in front of the Rehoboth Beach Public Library, where the meetings are held, I reached down to grab my laptop.

Except it wasn’t there. I had somehow, in the course of packing my projector and a box of books for sale into the car, left my laptop sitting in the living room by the front door.

I walked toward the Library, thinking about how I could present a lecture about conducting a “reasonably exhaustive search” without my presentation (and the document images involved with my case study).

Luckily for me, the Library had wifi Internet access, and a member of the Society had a laptop that I could use.

And even more importantly, I regularly save all of my presentations to my DropBox account. I was able to pull up DropBox and download my presentation onto the laptop.

The experience taught me two important lessons that all genealogists, both amateur and professional, can learn from.

1. Always back up everything. This is a lesson I really learned a few years ago when my external hard drive failed, taking several years of client reports and all of my personal research (including hundreds of scanned family photos). I also lost three years of photos of my daughter, who turns six next week. They will be the most sorely missed.

Drives fail. Files get corrupted. Papers are lost, torn, burnt, or soiled. Unless you want to completely redo your work every few years, when it is ultimately all lost to some disaster–physical or digital–back it up. Preferably in multiple formats in multiple locations.

2. Success comes as a result of good preparation. I have often mentioned the importance of focused research. Create a research plan to address your specific problem. Identify records of interest before you go to a repository. The most successful research is conducted when you know what you want to find and where you are going to look for it. Stumbling around aimlessly will never result in successful research.

And if you aren’t prepared, you will never be able to deliver a successful presentation an hour from home…

Make your presentation less annoying

Since 2003 Dave Paradi, author of The Visual Slide Revolution and 102 Tips to Communicate More Effectively Using PowerPoint, has conducted several surveys about what annoys people the most about PowerPoint presentations. On 27 September 2011 he posted “Full Results of the Annoying PowerPoint survey” in his blog, the aptly-titled Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint Blog. You can read his analysis of the full results in his post.

The top five annoyances, with the percentages of the 603 respondents who selected these in their top three, are

The speaker read the slides to us – 73.8%
Full sentences instead of bullet points – 51.6%
The text was so small I couldn’t read it – 48.1%
Slides hard to see because of color choice – 34.0%
Overly complex diagrams or charts – 26.0%[1]

How many of these are you doing in your presentations?

As an audio-visual technician for ten years I can attest to points 1, 3, 4, and 5 personally. So many business presentations had these issues it was embarassing. It was actually while still working in this field that I was inspired to write the article that became the post, “10 Lessons Learned from the ‘Other Side of the Microphone.’

To improve your presentation, try doing the opposite of the above top five most annoying things:

1. Don’t read your slides.

2. Don’t put too much text on your slides.

3. Use large fonts. People in the back still have to be able to see the slides.

4. Use simple, contrasting colors.

5. Simplify any charts or diagrams you use. In most cases, the audience does not need statistics precise to two decimal places on the screen. Put the exact numbers, if necessary, in the handout. Or just round up (or down).

Make your presentations less “annoying,” and people will learn more.


[1] Dave Paradi, “Full Results of the Annoying PowerPoint survey,” Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint Blog, posted 27 Sep 2011 ( : accessed 7 Nov 2011).

My experience at the Pennsylvania Family History Day

Yesterday in Exton, Pennsylvania, the Genealogical Society of Pennyslvania and presented the Pennsylvania Family History Day. I mentioned this event last week in my post “Tips for a short genealogy road trip.” I was honored to be a part of this event, both as a lecturer and as a vendor. I presented the class “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?,” one of my personal favorites.

My day started early, at 4:30am. I was out the door and on the road by 5:30am. It was still dark but there was no traffic until I reached Pennsylvania. I arrived at the conference hotel by 7:30am.

As I approached the hotel, the first person I saw, loading up her car in the parking lot, was Lisa Alzo, the popular genealogy author and lecturer. A fellow instructor at the now-defunct GenClass and at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, I have known Lisa for years through online interaction. This was the first time that we have met in person.

At my vendor table, I set up several of my books for sale, including the Genealogy at a Glance: African American Research (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2011), and all three volumes of the Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867 (self-published, 2010-2011). I also printed out the Table of Contents and the Pennsylvania pages of the Online State Resources for Genealogy e-book (self-published, 2011). The final touch was a small sign that asked, “What’s Your Brickwall?” This sign actually brought the most visitors to my table, as attendees asked for advice with their research problems.

Lunch was great. I sat with Lisa Alzo and my friend Shamele Jordon as we listened to DearMYRTLE’s speech about “Genealogy Jam.” At several points throughout her talk, Ol’ Myrt was driven to tears while reminiscing about older family members, including her parents and grandparents. The entire audience was moved.

Unfortunately, because of my vendor table, I was unable to attend any of the other lectures. I would have loved to hear, for example, Lisa Alzo’s presentation on “Immigrant Cluster Communities,” or Shamele Jordon’s presentation on “Visualizing the Past: Maps and Genealogy,” or Curt Witcher’s presentation “Mining the Mother Lode: Using Periodical Literature for Genealogical Research.” Lou Szucs and Juliana Smith presented a track of four lectures focused on locating information on, while John T. Humphrey and others presented a track of four lectures on researching in Pennsylvania. But from everything I heard from attendees, all of these presentations were fantastic.

After the conference ended, I had dinner in the hotel restaurant with Donn Devine, CG, CGL, and Curt Witcher, MLA, FUGA.

Curt Witcher, Michael Hait, Donn Devine

Mr. Devine is the Archivist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, a long-standing member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, a Trustee of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists from 1992 through 2006, a member of the Board of the National Genealogical Society from 1994 through 2002 and current chairman of the NGS Standards Committee. He wrote the chapter on evidence analysis in the Elizabeth Shown Mills-edited Professional Genealogy (the object of the ProGen Study Groups). He also currently serves as the General Counsel for the BCG.

Mr. Witcher is the manager of the Allen County Public Library’s renowned Genealogy Center, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is on the Board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and is a member of the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association. He was coeditor of the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) from 1987 through 2000.

Needless to say, it was an absolutely wonderful meal. We didn’t of course limit our conversation to genealogy, but discussed a number of other topics as well.

Once dinner was finished, I started the long drive home. It was dark again. I arrived home a little after 10pm. It was a long day, but one that I will long treasure.

Survey for upcoming genealogy webinars

Many of you may recall my offering several genealogy webinars this past spring and summer. I am currently in the planning stages of a new round of webinar offerings sometime this winter or next spring.

I would like to enlist your help during the planning stages, so that I can best serve your educational needs.

Please take 2 minutes to answer the following anonymous survey. The survey contains only 6 short multiple-choice questions.

To take the survey, go to

Thanks so much for your input!

A Friend of Friends/Follow Friday: “Over Troubled Water” BlogTalkRadio show

I will be a guest on the Internet radio show “Over Troubled Water” on BlogTalkRadio this coming Wednesday, 21 September 2011, at 8pm EDT.

Host Robin Foster and I will discuss my new work Genealogy At A Glance: African American Genealogy Research (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2011) as well as other genealogy subjects.

For a review of the Genealogy At A Glance and other information about the show, read Robin’s blog post “Michael Hait’s African American Genealogy Research At A Glance.”

The “Over Troubled Water” radio show has the following stated goals:

We are coming together to celebrate our heritage and identify what we can do in our families and communities to enjoy the full measure of economic, political, social, cultural, and educational advantage. With the blessings … of technology, all African ancestored descendants can develop an online haven where healing can take place. Let’s recite and relish in our history. Let’s come together to identify the principles that help us to enjoy freedom and happiness. Hopefully, “Over Troubled Water” will be the beginning of that for you. We welcome contributors who will share their history and perspectives that we may all learn and benefit.

You can visit the show’s site on BlogTalkRadio to watch previous episodes “On Demand.”

I am looking forward to this opportunity. I hope to see you there!

APG Events at the FGS Conference

The 2011 national conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies will be held in Springfield, Illinois, next week, from 7 September through 11 September 2011. For more information, visit

The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) has scheduled several events to take place at the FGS Conference:

  • Tuesday, September 6, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Annual Meeting & Roundtable. Rendezvous Room, Hilton Hotel. J. Mark Lowe, moderator of group discussion, “Those Difficult Situations…how do I come out smelling like a rose?”
  • Friday, September 9, 8:15-noon, APG Board meeting. Plaza 3, Hilton Hotel. APG members are welcome. Please let Kathleen Hinckley know if you plan to attend so seating can be arranged.
  • Friday, September 9, 12:15–2:00 p.m., APG Luncheon and Awards Presentations. Luncheon presentation by Kenyatta D. Berry, “Discovering a Genealogical Treasure Trove with A.B. Caldwell.”
  • Friday, September 9, 2:00-3:00 p.m., APG PMC. “The Small Business Administration and the Transitional Genealogist” by Mary Clement Douglass.
  • Friday, September 9, 3:30-4:30 p.m., APG PMC. “Developing Genealogical Skills: Mentoring from Novice to Expert” by Melinde Lutz Sanborn.
  • Saturday, September 10, 8:00–10:30 a.m., PMC Workshop, “Think Like a Targeted Marketer: One Marketing Plan Does NOT Fit All” by Natasha Crain.

Updated on 9/5/2011:

When the initial message was sent, one event was inadvertently omitted from the schedule of events:

  • Friday, September 9, 5:00 p.m., PMC presentation, “Apps Galore for the Professional Genealogist” by Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG.

10 Lessons Learned from the “Other Side of the Microphone”

Before becoming a professional genealogist, I spent ten years as an audio-visual technician. As a frequent public speaker myself now, finding myself on the “other side of the microphone,” I try to apply what I learned in those years to my experiences now.

Working as an audio-visual technician in Washington, D. C., I saw many different speakers and presentations. I worked on contract at two major national corporations, as well as at the National Press Club, the Washington Convention Center, nearly every large hotel in the city, and several smaller companies. In the course of this work, I had the opportunity to set up and operate the audio-visual equipment for everything from national (and even international) conferences to small in-house presentations, including some events that aired on C-SPAN.

Though technicians are trained to accommodate each presenter individually, sometimes the presenter is so unprepared technologically that his presentation, and therefore the audience, suffers. Here, therefore, are ten tips (in no particular order) to optimize your presentation and take advantage of your equipment. Please note that these tips are more applicable to those speakers at large events with a dedicated audio-visual technician as opposed to smaller events where you have to do it yourself, but you may find them valuable even in these smaller events.

1. Let the technician know of all of your needs beforehand. Though most major events are handled by an event coordinator speaking with a sales representative, the needs for your presentation should always be carefully explained. The details will eventually filter down to the technician, who should have it all set up before you even arrive. Last-minute changes on your end may throw a wrench into the works. Some equipment requires an elaborate set-up “behind the scenes,” and some equipment may not be available without prior notice. If changes are necessary, let your coordinator, or the technician, know immediately.

2. Upgrade. Throw out those old 35mm slides and well-worked transparencies. Though many audio-visual departments may still own the old slide projectors or overhead projectors, they do not get used very often, and may not be in the best condition. These machines are disappearing from the market, and the number of companies that still service the machines is growing fewer and fewer each day. Both slides and transparencies can be easily converted to digital files, which you can show as a slideshow or upgrade to a PowerPoint presentation. These digital files have the added benefit of a long life. They will not degrade dramatically over time the way your slides and transparencies will. And the upgrade will also improve the audience’s perception of your presentation, from antiquated to cutting-edge!

3. Be specific. If you are doing a straightforward PowerPoint presentation, then feel free to say so. But if you have video or sound embedded in the presentation, let the technician know ahead of time. Don’t just say “PowerPoint.” Depending on the construction of the room or hall where you will be speaking, different set-up requirements may be necessary to accommodate audio or video from a laptop. If you require Internet access, also let the technician know. The audio-visual technician is not always the “go-to guy” when it comes to network access, meaning that a third party may have to be brought in to deliver on your needs. And in these cases, you should always test the website prior to the beginning of your presentation. You do not want to discover in the midst of your presentation that the site central to your theme is blocked by a firewall.

4. Show up early. If you are scheduled to speak at 10 a.m., be there by 9:30 a.m., at the latest. Even if you are not the first speaker, you should still plan to arrive prior to the beginning of the entire program. Often, this is the only opportunity you will have to express your audio-visual needs to the technician, who may be tied up with other presenters later in the day. If your needs can be expressed early, they may be prepared early, and the transition into your presentation will proceed much more smoothly, leaving the audience with a favorable impression.

5. PowerPoint Tip #1: Keep it simple. Microsoft PowerPoint has a lot of bells and whistles, and a dynamic presentation may use them. But you should also recognize that what looks great on a computer monitor does not always look great projected on a screen. You may have a vast spectrum of colors to work with for your background and text, but these do not always project well. Nor do text effects like shadowing and embossing, and fancy fonts. Keep it simple: Black text on a light background (or the reverse) shows up the best. If in doubt, try it out. Projectors are available at a relatively low price now. If you do a lot of presentations, this may be a worthwhile investment.

6. Create a script. Especially if your presentation has multiple parts or sections, a script should be provided. A script can be as loose and informal as a list of audio or video “cues,” or as detailed as a word-for-word copy of your presentation, with photos of the slides. However you want to do it, it will certainly improve the impression that you give to the audience, if you do not have to stop to say, “Raise the lights,” or “Next slide.” In coordinating specific cues with an in-room technician, you should be able to weave through your presentation effortlessly.

7. Be aware of your microphone, and project your voice. There are many different kinds of microphone, but most of them need you to talk in their general direction, at the least. I once worked at a national conference for a certain department of the federal government, where the keynote speaker pushed the microphone out of the way and spoke without it in a normal, conversational voice. In a large hotel ballroom. Needless to say, no one beyond the first two or three rows could hear a word he said. We technicians in the room tried every trick we knew to try to improve the situation, but there is only so much that can be done if the speaker refuses to mind the microphone – interrupting the keynote speech to explain this to him was simply not an option! But even if you are using a microphone correctly (and your in-room tech should make sure you do), you should still project your voice as well as you can. Do not yell, but speak loudly and clearly. This will ensure that what gets amplified throughout the room – that is, your voice – sounds as good as it possibly can.

8. PowerPoint Tip #2: You are the presentation. Remember this when designing your presentation. Do not put every word in your PowerPoint presentation. The audience came to see you, not your PowerPoint. When you have a lot of text on-screen, it distracts the audience from what you are saying. People cannot generally read and listen at the same time. And never, never use anything smaller than a size 16 font on a PowerPoint slide. Not only do small fonts usually mean that you are putting too much information on a slide, chances are that the text will be unreadable anyway. Some projectors cannot handle an ultra-high resolution, which means that small text could contain too much detail for the projector to display properly. Even with the best equipment, however, there will still be those in the audience with poor eyesight, and the only way to reach them is with large, bold lettering; they simply will not be able to see—or read—small text.

9. Sometimes it is better to address your own needs. For smaller devices, like a portable mouse and a laser pointer, it might be better to invest in your own. First, the cost of renting your equipment from the facility will be lower, in that these devices can be left off the list. But more importantly, you can practice using your own devices while practicing your presentation, rather than learning to use a new device (however simple) “on the fly.” Looking down at a portable mouse to locate the button that proceeds to the next slide, detracts from your overall effectiveness as a speaker.

10. Talk to your technician. You want yourself to look and sound good. You want this to be your technician’s goal, as well. Form a relationship with him, and you will be the one who benefits. After all, in today’s increasingly technological world, it is the technicians who can achieve this.


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