Reflections on an Australian Lecture Tour

I have just returned from four weeks traveling and lecturing in Australia. I was the keynote speaker, giving fifteen lectures and participating in a panel at a genealogy conference on a 9 day cruise out of Sydney. I also gave 4 lectures in each of six cities: Hornsby (Sydney); Brisbane; Perth; Adelaide; Canberra and Melbourne. Everything was wonderfully arranged by Alan Phillips at Unlock the Past.  In total, I presented 39 different lectures on 15 different aspects of British Isles research.

Audience interest met and exceeded our expectations throughout the tour. During the conference, I was gratified to find that people kept coming to my lectures and in fact, began bringing their cruise companions along. During the cities tour, we exceeded attendance expectations, sometimes having double the numbers we expected.

It goes without saying that I had to be well prepared to give 15 different lectures for the cruise, and ensuring that each one was chock full of information.  In point of fact, I had to cut content to meet the 50 minute time limit of the format, since in the U.S. audiences expect a lecture of 60 to 75 minutes. Thank heaven for the power point changer with its built-in timer keeping me on schedule!

Each city venue chose its own four lectures from the fifteen given on the cruise, often with very different subjects to appeal to a wide audience, rather than being chosen to form a cohesive package. Using power point slides meant that I could make adjustments to my presentations while traveling, and thus ensure that the lecture met the specific needs of each audience as we traveled from city to city.

My goal was to make sure that everyone attending learned something new about how to do their own research, and that the beginners did not feel left in the dust. Feedback tells me we succeeded in meeting that goal.

The lectures would not have been so successful without excellent physical arrangements, and for this we thank Unlock the Past.  Venues varied greatly, but were often in clubs (rare to non-existent in the US), such a RSL (Returned Service League), Celtic , Irish, and Broncos (sports team). Major benefits of using the clubs were ample parking and on-site restaurants. Other sites included a town hall and (the best from the presenters’ perspective) the banked auditorium within the State Library of Western Australia.

Events were set up with typical 9-4/5 schedule, but during the week in a 1-9 time slot so that folks could come without missing a whole day of work. Registrants could also choose between a full or half day of presentations, for further flexibility of participation.

Mini lectures on Flip-Pal or Find My Past, given by Rosemary Kopittke, were scheduled in the middle of my four presentations. This was a very smart scheduling move, as it gave me a break. Then, while the audience members had their break, I was 100% focused on answering individual audience questions.

And this brings me to my comments about the audiences I encountered.  Their numbers varied from 80 to 150. Across the board, their base knowledge of general British history, geography and UK genealogical resources was generally far above what I would find in a typical US audience. Many more were themselves or had descended from recent immigrants; therefore, the likelihood that they had traveled extensively in the UK was also much higher than I encounter in the U.S.

I also learned that the standard procedure in Australia is not to provide handouts at the event. I was concerned about this, because it is my practice to provide a content-rich handout so that participants can focus on the examples and do not need to take extensive notes in the lecture. But I found out that it worked well with such a sophisticated audience. I provided the handouts downloadable from this website after the lectures.

Participants were eager for knowledge, case studies, and for resources. They participated actively in the discussions and in the profiling of their needs and interests that I conduct at the beginning of each session. I could readily see that they went away excited and eager to do more research.

It was great fun and a real privilege to lecture to diverse audiences.  My thanks to all! We also made some great new friends along the way.

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