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Review of a lecture: ‘When Research is a List of Suppliers’

Okay here comes another one of my assignments. This one is from my ‘Certificate in Genealogical Research’. We were asked to review a relevant lecture or presentation. I chose to review An Afternoon of Irish Research with Greg O’Connor, which was conducted on 21st August, 2010 at The Bowlers Club, York Street, Sydney. Yes, it was a while ago, but I think many of the points are still relevant. Please presenters: be mindful of what you have offered your audience and deliver. Have a read and see what you think.

When Research is a List of Suppliers

There is no doubt that Greg O’Connor is a knowledgeable man who characterises the classic Irishman with his charm and easy wit. There is equally no doubt that the information he provided in An Afternoon of Irish Research was useful to anyone who finds themselves trying to find their Irish ancestors. However, the word ‘research’ in the title of the presentation may have led people to believe that the presentation would be something that it just wasn’t: the ‘how and where to find’ that one would expect from a ‘research’ lecture rather than the ‘this exists’ that was presented.

The afternoon started particularly well, with a four page clear, concise handout on each seat before the presentation, giving audience members not only a list of resources but an indication of what Mr O’Connor would be speaking about. In addition, there was a wealth of useful information on this handout. For the genealogist, his document was particularly useful. Unfortunately however, the handout was essentially all that was presented: the resources that were listed on the sheet were repeated in the lecture, with examples of each element on an overhead.

Mr O’Connor started his lecture with some humble yet witty repartee, which captured the audience. He then proceeded to give an honest appraisal of the difficulties of researching Irish ancestry which, while many would have wanted a magical answer for their research problems, established the integrity of the information to follow. Mr O’Connor also gave a simple but effective explanation of how and why many records were lost – courtesy of classic Irish rebellion action. Crowd anticipation was high – only to be left wanting.

The presentation became hard to follow at times for a variety of reasons – many of which could have been alleviated with the use of a simple PowerPoint. Mr O’Connor’s use of many valuable but difficult (if not impossible) to read examples shown on overhead necessitated lots of reading by Mr O’Connor. And having lists of the same name read time and time again does not make for audience engagement, and fact, can result in confusion. While Mr O’Connor’s reasoning that by seeing the resources as they are is both valid and well taken, the translation immediately following would have made it easier for the audience to focus.

While the lack of more suitable visual presentation may seem petty, it led to other issues. When an audience loses focus, and therefore concentration, many other valid points are lost. This was compounded by Mr O’Connor needing to rush through the volume of information and examples. Often, it was not clear exactly what Mr O’Connor was referring to. He tried to impart too much information in too short a time period. While this would have been a function of his lack of time at the lecture (or in Australia for that matter), the sheer amount of information meant that many in the audience were unable to absorb it.

However, time was spent on elements that did not require it. For example, genealogists are aware of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website. While mentioning in passing that this site is useful for Irish research, time was wasted here. Conversely, Mr O’Connor suggested the search of a specific website for information on papists and protestants – but did not give the website. This would appear to be very time inefficient in a lecture that clearly could not be covered well in the time frame available.

But perhaps the most disappointing aspect was the fact that, essentially, the audience was provided with a list of resources rather than specific instruction on how to get them – other than a trip to Ireland. The title of the presentation certainly suggested that the research element would be covered: addresses or relevant websites – or even how to contact Irish genealogists who could be engaged for research. Information that could have been passed on with a handout and a talk half as long was interspersed with examples that became confusing. What the audience needed was how to find those wonderful resources, not just that they exist.

It is noted that the previous day Greg O’Connor had been engaged with people in a one-on-one advisory capacity. This, I imagine, is his forte and I would have no hesitation being involved in this. Likewise, a seminar would be more useful over several hours with explicit instruction. As it is, while information has certainly been imparted and taken on board, the lecture provided by Greg O’Connor was wonderful entertainment rather than an instructive guideline from a very amusing and knowledgeable professional in his field.



Categories: family history heritage Irish history non-fiction research

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Kerry A Waight - Author

A writer of historical fiction and paranormal stories.

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