After seeing record participation in 2021, RootsTech organizers were happy to report that “millions” more engaged the free, online global family history conference last weekend.

The number jumped from 130,000 (in-person and online) in 2020 to 1.5 million (online) last year. The 2022 audience last week was several million, organizers said. A more specific figure will be released later.

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And this is only the beginning as engagement is expected to continue in the weeks and months to come, said Jen Allen, director of events at RootsTech.

“That was our premiere weekend. ‘Star Wars’ just opened at the theater,” she said. “We have some big plans still happening for the next three weeks and beyond. We anticipate these numbers will grow. Right now we’re pretty confident that we have had millions of people participating in 227 countries and territories and the world. When we look at our goal and what the numbers are currently saying, we are very, very, very pleased and excited to see it grow.”

The continued growth of the largest family history conference in the world was one of several highlights that Allen and others discussed with the Deseret News following the conference, which took place March 3-5.

New goals and strategies for RootsTech 2022

Of course organizers wanted to see huge numbers of RootsTech participants worldwide — they had a goal to reach “millions” — but they also focused heavily on providing a quality, engaging experience in specific areas of the world.

“I know that can be vague,” Allen said. “Our focus wasn’t to grow the whole of it, but to look at how we can grow Ghana, and Argentina, and look at different places around the world and how we might increase participation and engagement in certain areas. In the end, it’s engaging people all over the world and hopefully providing an experience that is positive and uplifting for them.”

The shift in strategy led organizers to try some new things. For example, organizers televised RootsTech in the Philippines and across several countries in West Africa.

“What we’re learning is that people are very interested in familial content on TV,” Allen said. “We think this might be just the beginning of some opportunities for FamilySearch and the church.”

Organizers also want to change the mindset that RootsTech is an isolated event, said Paul Nauta, a marketing communications manager for FamilySearch.

“It’s a premiere event that is associated with all types of new content that people can utilize and take advantage of throughout the year,” he said. “We want the traffic to the website and the understanding that this is a permanent source of instruction and inspiration in your effort to connect with your family, past, present and future, whatever your goal is.”

Highlights from RootsTech 2022

The closing session of RootsTech included a live report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where Allen and other FamilySearch representatives joined the World Expo. The segment featured a short interview between FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood and His Excellency Sheikh Salem Bin Sultan Bin Saqr Al-Qasimi.

“I would say the biggest highlight and interesting opportunity this year is that we kicked off the whole event live from Dubai at the World Expo,” she said. “Having that live component was stressful from my side of things, but it definitely brought some intrigue and that opportunity to showcase a certain part of the world. It was just an incredible opportunity ... Managing an event all the way across the world is also fun.”

Jen Allen, director of events at FamilySearch, speaks from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the RootsTech 2022 closing session.
Jen Allen, director of events at FamilySearch, speaks from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the RootsTech 2022 closing session on Saturday, March 5, 2022.  | FamilySearch screengrab

Originally, FamilySearch planned to record a keynote live event from Dubai in January, similar to other keynotes filmed on location. But that plan was delayed due to COVID-19 conditions. Postponing the event actually worked out in their favor as it allowed them to hold the live event during the conference. They also filmed a keynote message featuring Sheikh Al-Qasimi that will be released in the near future, Allen said.

The best way to be informed on new content is to follow RootsTech on social media (@RootsTechConf on Twitter, Facebook) or visit RootsTech.org.

Another highlight of the conference was the response to the “Choose Connection” music video. RootsTech manager Jonathan Wing composed the song, “Choose Connection,” and played an instrumental role in how it came together.

Many found the message timely, he said, and he read several “heartfelt” messages from people who felt motivated to forgive others, reconnect with family members and perform acts of service after seeing it.

“There were so many examples that were touching for me to hear. You never know the impact that your work is going to have on individuals,” Wing said. “But at the end of the day, it’s those individuals who really make it worth it, who reach out and are touched by a message and are touched in a way that they are motivated to do something. ... It was powerful.”

New approach to keynote speakers

RootsTech organizers were pleased with how participants responded to keynote presentations. Some were filmed documentary-style and others with a live audience. The key moving forward will be to determine which style best fits the keynote speaker.

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“That will really shape our decisions moving forward,” Allen said.

One keynote speaker whose message resonated with viewers was Palestinian comedian Maysoon Zayid.

“One of the clear winners this year is Maysoon Zayid,” Allen said. “Her message was so upbeat and funny. I don’t know if it is because it was so different that we received so many comments about it, but a lot of people really loved her direct message of telling the teenagers to put their phones down and listen to the elders ... listen to your grandparents.”

Argentine singer Diego Torres was another one who “really hit it out of the ballpark” with the audience.

Argentine singer Diego Torres performs during his RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4, 2022.
Argentine singer Diego Torres performs during his RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4, 2022. | FamilySearch screengrab

Both Allen and Wing agreed that efforts to bring more energy to the screen made a difference, although they will know more in the coming weeks and months as they analyze more data.

“Anecdotally we can say, yes, we definitely improved in that space,” Wing said. “But I can’t wait to see the data and especially the verbatim feedback to learn from our audience of how they reacted and resonated with the content that we put out.”

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RootsTech 2022 will bring more ‘energy’ to the screen in second all-virtual conference

Will RootsTech return to hosting an in-person event?

The answer is unclear but RootsTech organizers are discussing future possibilities.

Allen has read comments from some participants who love watching the virtual conference from the comfort of their home and others who are begging to return to an in-person event.

There is certainly no going back from the all-virtual conference for its potential worldwide reach and for those who can’t travel to an in-person event.

“Do we have a large scale in-person like we used to? I don’t know,” Allen said. “Honestly, it’s hard to justify that for 30,000 people, but at the same time, people are craving that energy and physical connection in the same room. So it feels like something we should provide.

For now, all Allen knows is that RootsTech is scheduled for March 2-4, 2023.

“Whether it will just be at RootsTech.org or in other places, that’s still to be determined, hopefully sooner than later,” she said.