I don't say that lightly. Yes, there were a lot of people there. Yes, there were great presenters. Yes, the exhibtors had products and services that would help any genealogist. But there were other factors at play that made this a great experience.
Here's what I liked that you might want to consider if you are planning, and you should, to go to the FGS 2012 conference in Alabama.
exhibitors. There were books vendors (yay!) and all kinds of libraries, archives and societies. There were new exhibitors including Catalyst Consulting, Accessible Archives, PhotoTree and HistoryGeo. And of course there were plenty of old favorites like RootsMagic, Family Tree Magazine, Family Chronicle, APG, NGS, National Institute for Genealogical Studies and more. Overall, a great vendor hall with information, services, and products.
Recorded Presentations. Let's face it, even those of us who get to go to the conference aren't able to go to all of the presentations we want to. That's the great thing about having recordings available. It's ok if there are two presentations you want to hear at the same time or that you felt ill and went to your hotel or you overslept. Recordings have the added bonus of allowing you to listen to presentations over and over again. Something that can help you absorb the information in your long term (or longer term) memory.
Didn't get to go to the conference? No problem, just order the recordings that interest you. To peruse the available recordings made at FGS 2011 see the website for Fleetwood Onsite Conference Recording. Recordings are available on a CD or as a MP3 file.
I'm a big believer in buying conference recordings and I use them in my continuing genealogical education.
There was lots to do. There was so much one could do at the FGS conference. Presentations, luncheons, tours, live radio shows and even GenSpiration sessions that allowed participants to hold impromptu discussions on genealogical topics. Anyone could lead/moderate one of these discussions and it is a good way to get together and delve more into a topic. Official FGS blogger, Amy Coffin held a GenSpiration session and discusses it here.
There were other extras that were nice including the Cyber Cafe made possible by RootsMagic that included computers and printers for printing out handouts, checking email and surfing the web. There was even some couches for those who need a minute to sit down and chat with other conference participants.
When you go to a conference, budget some extra days to either play tourist or to research. We had added an additional two days to see the sites and they didn't disappoint. There were also numerous research opportunities that were available. It's easier to take advantage of these opportunities when you are already there than to say "well, I will do it one day...."
Do your homework in advance of the conference by calling the convention and visitor's bureau. They can tell you about local restaurants, discounts to attractions and other insider info. They will even send you maps and other brochures. A special thanks to the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau who helped me with directions and information.
I also found out later that Springfield has made other important food contributions including being the home of where corn dogs were first served on a stick. Unfortunately, I only found out about The Cozy Dog and it's role in hot dog history when I got home.
In Conclusion. So what would I change about the conference? Really, nothing. I think the conference organizers did a fabulous job. Things were well done and it looked like everyone had a great conference experience. A lot of work goes on before a conference happens from staff to volunteers to local groups. Conferences are a lot of hard work and I appreciate everything that was done.
I think my only enhancement suggestion is to help those who are overwhelmed with all the information they have heard in presentations. Have a room with a genealogy video/videos playing on a loop where people can sit, relax, still learn about genealogy but chill for a bit. Hey, there can even be popcorn. Maybe this would be something FamilySearch can sponsor and use some of their research courses or other videos. (hint, hint).
Yes, a conference is an all around experience. Of course it's an important time to network, learn and discover but it is also a time to explore new places, foods and sights.