By Kathy Holland, PLCGS
Putting together a workshop presentation can be a daunting experience. Presenting the workshop can be downright frightening! But it doesn’t have to be daunting nor frightening. It’s just like talking “shop talk” with co-workers. As genealogists, we are each other’s co-workers, and we all know genealogy. A presentation is just a well-constructed conversation with our fellow genealogists. So, what makes a great presentation? Here are some tips:
Know your audience. Yes, we are all genealogists. Although we may all have different experiences, we have a common thread that connects us all. Some of us are beginners, while others are more experienced. Some of us do client work, others write books and blogs. Others are speakers, and others teach. And some do all of these things. But we are all doing genealogy, no matter what. So, be aware that all types of experienced genealogists will be in your audience—and know that even the most experienced are open to learning new things!
Watch other presentations—both online and in-person. What techniques are the speakers using? What works, what doesn’t? What techniques can you incorporate into your presentation?
Choose your topic. It should be one that you are especially passionate about. One in which you can spend hours talking about. The one that you can become an expert on. One classic example is The Legal Genealogist—that’s Judy Russell. When genealogists think of all things legal in the genealogy community, we immediately think of Judy. She’s that go-to person, and the classic expert on genealogy and the law. What topic will make genealogists think of you?
Plan ahead your timeframe. How much time do you have for the presentation? Thirty minutes? An hour? Even ten minutes can make a difference on how much you can cover.
- Tip #1: time yourself with your topic: how much can I cover in 10 minutes? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? And so on…
- Tip #2: Keep adding material until you have one topic that you can do as a 20 minute talk, then add more material until it becomes a 30 minute talk. Then add more to make the 60 minute talk—and now you have one topic, times 3 versions that you can do on a moment’s notice.
- End result: you have created a time-flexible topic that you can take to any society or conference as a speaker. Societies and conferences may ask a lot of flexibility from you as a speaker. Your 60 minute talk may be reduced to 30 minutes, due to unforeseen circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
Write an outline of what you want to cover. Do some extra research on that topic.
- Tip #3: go back to Tip #2 and write an outline for the 20 minute talk. Expand that to 30 minutes, then 60 minutes. Now you have three versions—one for each time frame.
- Tip #4: this outline is the basis for your power-point presentation!
What documents will you include? Don’t skimp too much here—genealogists LOVE documents of all kinds—birth, death, and marriage certificates, church records, civil records, census records, newspaper articles, obits, photos and so on. Documents from other countries are great—many of us want to do international research, and the more we learn how to find and read those documents, the better!
- Tip #5: know your documents well—and spend quality time showing your audience the important information you found in that document. And what’s missing or incorrect from the document.
- Tip #6: compare your documents against each other—you want to demonstrate how to resolve conflicting information.
Now that you have an outline and documents, start building your power-point presentation. Incorporate the following:
- Slide 1 is your title page, and include your name, contact info, and a gentle reminder that your presentation is copyrighted and not to be used by others without your permission.
- Use proper terminology and Genealogical Proof Standards (GPS) standards when applicable. It’s okay to quote the GPS.
- Cite your sources, especially for your documentation and quotes. Use Elisabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained as a guide.
- Use images—cartoon images, photos, clip art, animations, etc. It’s okay to blend images with your content on slides. It brightens up your presentation. And there are plenty online that you can use without violating copyright rules. If in doubt, cite the source!
- Clean up your images. Do not show blurred images—try to clear them up by using photo-shop software programs. Otherwise, choose another photo. Crop the photos so that unnecessary borders are eliminated. The cleaner the photo, the better your presentation will be.
- A recommendation: FastStone Image Viewer software. There’s a free download, and you can clean up photos, straighten them, and so on. I use Version 5.3 and it’s FREE.
- Spell check and grammar check your content. It’s disorienting to your audience when they have to spend more time deciphering your slides rather than learning your material. If you’re not sure, ask a friend to spell and grammar check for you.
- Use quotes from other genealogists and authors. It’s inspiring to do so! Just remember to cite that source.
Create your handout. Yes, you may use your original outline. Your handout is resource material for your audience. Include basic information—terminology, concepts, resources, websites, etc. that your audience can use after the presentation to further their own research. Your audience wants to go home with something they can use themselves!
- Tip #7: No, you do not need to include everything from your presentation. Do not include your photos, documents, and copies of your slides. No need to give away everything. That’s your material and you do NOT want someone to plagiarize you!
- Tip #8: Now that I mentioned plagiarism, DON’T DO IT. Always cite your sources and give credit where credit is due. It’s always proper and professional to credit others for their contributions to genealogy. They’ve earned it. And it protects your reputation as well as theirs.
During the presentation:
- Tip #9: BREATHE. Yes, breathe in and out. Several times, if needed. It’s okay to feel nervous—that just means you’re normal.
- Tip #10: Talk slowly and enunciate. It’s okay to read from the slides—you don’t say every word. Instead, explain the content so that the audience understands the importance and relevance of the material.
- Tip #11: Take your time—this is not a race on how fast you can talk.
- Tip #12: Do NOT read from a script. The audience will figure that out—especially when suddenly your slides no longer match what you are saying.
- Tip #13: It’s okay to have a glass of water with you—but use a straw. Remember, you are on a microphone and the audience will hear you swallow. So, sip through a straw rather than gulp!
- Tip #14: Keep a distance between your microphone and your mouse and keyboard.
- Tip #15: Get a USB headset with an attached microphone. There are several good ones to choose from, with a range of prices. It doesn’t have to be expensive—I bought mine for $30.00 at the local office supply store and it works great.
Anticipate questions from your audience. Yes, there is always the risk of being asked an unanswerable question—and it is okay to say “I don’t have an answer for that, but I will research that for you” and get their contact info. Find that answer. And then incorporate that answer into your presentation. If nothing else, you’re flexing your research muscles!
Take a deep breath and relax. Enjoy your presentation. Get a good night’s sleep beforehand. Genealogy audiences are wonderfully generous people. They’ll thank and applaud you. In short, have fun!
Kathy Holland is a native Californian—born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. She has been searching for her ancestors since 1984, and found them all the way back to the mid-1600s. On the education front, Kathy completed the American certificate program at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (earning the PLCGS certificate), started the German certificate program, and completed the Pro Gen program and the DAR genealogy courses. She has attended the SaltLake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) every year since 2013, working on German studies and methodology skills.
As a professional genealogist, Kathy is the sole proprietor of Gates to the Past Genealogy. She is a member of NGS, SCGS, APG, the APG virtual chapter, and the So Cal chapter of APG, the DAR, and the DUVCW. She volunteers on the 4th Saturday at the SCGS library and participate the German Interest Group and the FTM users group.
Kathy has a BA and MA degree in Political Science and currently teaches part-time at Pierce College and Glendale College.