I know what I want and expect from a genealogy conference may be different from the person sitting next to me in a session. However, there is something we most likely have very much in common...questions. I have questions, the person beside me has questions, the person two rows up has questions as well. Do our questions have a place at conferences? If you have a question about German research then attend a session related to that topic. The same for Midwest research, or passenger lists questions, attend those types of sessions.
But what about MY question? I have a question that is specific to my research. I have a question that is specific to my research goal. I have a question that is specific to my family. Is a class on how to find parish records in Germany going to answer my question? No, because I already have the records, my question is much more specific.
I may be able to corner the speaker before or after their talk and ask my specific question. I would never do that though as I know they are on a time frame to get set up and then get to their next presentation. I may be able to make it to the exhibit hall and find an exhibitor with an "ask the expert" table. Theses are options but they seem limited to me and I would like to maximize my options when I am at a conference with potentially a dozen or two dozen people that could help with my specific question.
Some conferences have recognized this desire for attendees to discuss their topic of choice by offering "unconferencing" options and panel discussions where in the audience submits questions. I like both of those options but would like to take it a bit further. Round tables...literally. Have a room full of round tables, 8 to a table, with a discussion topic assigned and also have free-for-all tables.
So, if I see a sign on the table that says "German Church Records" that's where you will find me. Or perhaps I get that question answered and I want help with land records, then I will be looking for that table. The conversation begins with each person asking questions then flows into giving advise, examples or, even better, exchanging contact information to discuss more in depth later.
I attend an industry specific conference each March related to my career. This is a four-day conference that has round table sessions offered on three days. The round table sessions fill up every year. People like to have the opportunity to discuss specifics and get specific answers. People like to share stories and simply talk with like-minded individuals.
Maybe it's because I'm in this limbo land of more than a beginner, somewhat advanced intermediate but not ready for an institute genealogist that round tables hold such appeal to me. Of course it could also be that I like to talk more than I like to listen to a presenter. Either way, I think round tables could be a powerfully, engaging experience for any and all genealogy conferences. I hope they begin appearing regularly in the future.