Monday, June 18, 2012

A Rambling Account of the STC Summit '12…

When the information about the “First Time Attendee Orientation Web Seminar” was sent to me, I at first thought I am not a first time attendee to STC.  Upon brief reflection, I realized I might as well be, because 16 years had elapsed since I’d attended a Summit for the first and only other time.  
Thinking back to the 1996 STC Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington,  I don’t remember the keynote speaker’s name, but he’d written a book about specific technologies (robotics and nanotechnology among others) that will always be with us, and how the overall growth in technology  will sprout from expansions in those specific technologies.  I was impressed and fascinated.   His talk was a great kick-off to the rest of an excellent conference.
In Rosemont, on Sunday night, I sat listening to Scott Berkun.  Again, the presentation was thought-provoking and engaging.   Some points that stood out:
  • “Creativity is a kind of work.”
  • “Words you should be poked in the eye for saying: transformative, revolutionary, breakthrough, game-changing, out of the box…”
  • “Simple language is used by those who are genuine about what they are working on.”
  • “All great ideas represent change.”  (And, we all know what the common reaction to change is…That may explain the grudging response to great ideas.)
  • “Many great thinkers walked to help them solve problems.”  (And, walking can have a double benefit, because new research states that extended sitting can increase the possibility of heart attacks.)
  • “Keep a journal of your ideas.”
  • “Sell stories not ideas.”
  • If you are not using Twitter, you should be open to trying it.  Plus, the application is free.
After Berkun’s talk, I moseyed into the exhibit hall to view the Expo.  As I walked down the first aisle, I stopped and stared at the Techwrl booth.   Embarrassment crept over me.  Many years ago when I first began my career in technical writing I’d written a response to a posting on the Techwrl site.  My response written in Lotus Notes created a short body message along with….somehow….a gargantuan 65,500 blank lines signature.   After a long wait, some users were able to open my message, and they responded.  Yet, they forgot they were responding to everyone on the listserv.  Multiple, enormous and more enormous messages were sent.  The damage from sending a Brontosaurus-size message morphed into Jurassic Park-size problem.  In trying to open the resulting messages, some users’ computers crashed, and the Techwrl server was backed up for over an hour.  I still cringe when I think about it. 

My strategy for attending sessions was probably the same as many other attendees.  I sat in on the sessions that were not captured by “SUMMIT@aClick”.  A bonus for doing so was my presence at “Progressions” – in a large room, numerous tables were set up with speakers at each table....attendees rotate to three different tables (topics) within the hour.  The format was more intimate and involving than the straight lecture one.
A popular and entertaining session was “Lightning Talks” – wherein several speakers breathlessly talk for five minutes about a topic and the progression through the PowerPoint slides is controlled by someone other than the speaker.  Stress and rigid timing propel the presenters.  It’s a process almost guaranteed to create muck ups and stumbles, but few speakers fell prey.   One presenter did drop her laptop, but it was a study in grace under pressure, and fortunately, her laptop was fine.
Lightning Talks can wet a listeners’ appetite to read more about the topic.  It can impart handy tips and bits of information such as:
  • “Knowledge is power.  The more information you share, the more power you have, because people come to you for the information.
  • Regarding passwords:  “Length is more important than complexity”. 
  • MySTC is a site that may be overlooked, can be useful, and should be tried.
A couple of speakers really stood out….
Scott Abel presented “Turning Technical Documentation into Profit”.  He talked about the iFixit site  using a unified “ultra-findable” content strategy.  Scott always holds everyone’s attention. Years ago, he gave a marvelous STC Chicago Chapter presentation. His blue humor spiced things up.
Stephen Anderson’s “A Pleasure Doing Business” was a mind-nudger when he talked about “translating business goals into behavioral goals”.  He talked about how human psychology can affect perceptions of web sites.  He called upon session participants to pick a partner and do some brainstorming and creative thinking.
The Annual Business Meeting on a late Monday afternoon tackled some issues raised by members from the floor.  One was regarding Summit rates for retired members.  One member proposed having a reduced rate no matter the retirees’ financial circumstances.  After that, a couple members stated that even though they’re older, they earn a good income and do not need a reduction.   The proposal did not gain much traction.  Watching our STC officers working within a heavily prescribed parliamentary process was an out-of-the-ordinary experience.
Very helpful to me was my attendance at the Lone Writer SIG (Special Interest Group).  I was curious to find out more about the SIG and meet some of the people who are in it.  It was a valuable hour.  Because of what I learned, I plan on joining the SIG, and I look forward to the help and fellowship that it will give me, and that I hope I can give others.
One comment that I’d heard from a few members:  “Some of the sessions do not pertain to the type of work that I do”.  I agreed, but said we may learn something helpful or useful for some future project or endeavor.   It all reminded me of the old PBS TV series – Connections – where the commentator spoke of one scientific discovery leading to another one and that one leading to another and on and on.   Therefore, something learned at the Rosemont Summit may spark an idea in our heads farther down the road. Even the keynote speaker, Scott Berkun, made a similar claim: “Ideas are made from other ideas”. 
Another member I spoke to said that many sessions dealt with placing documentation on social media.  He could not relate that to the work he does.  I told him that I could not either, because my project’s client is a defense contractor.  If they ever saw their documentation on a social media site, they’d be shocked.   
One session seemed most appropriate and appeared to be a good cause for our profession – Plain Language for the Technical Writer.  Lucid, concise, and simple language is a yawning need in government agencies, corporate environments like insurance, banking, health care, and others.   A better world awaits everyone if advocates for plain language continue to make inroads. 
So….wrapping up….final thoughts….
  • From what I could see, the STC Chicago Chapter volunteers did a superb job at the Welcome Desk!
  • The Summit was a great place to touch bases with fellow Chicago Chapter members and to meet members from across the country and the world.
  • The Summit had recharging stations for communication devices such as laptops and cell phones, yet I felt the Summit did its best job recharging larger, organic communication devices – our brains. 
  • When I first chose which sessions to attend, a slothful part of me schlepped me towards the lecture format sessions.   In the end, I was present at several more participatory sessions and found them to be a better experience. 
  • Overall, the Summit reinvigorated everyone in all aspects – cognitively, socially, and professionally.
  • One bit of technology I witnessed and I will try my best to live without – sports TV interviews on the small TV screens built into the hotel’s washroom mirrors.
Jim Bauman


  1. "The Summit had recharging stations for communication devices such as laptops and cell phones, yet I felt the Summit did its best job recharging larger, organic communication devices – our brains."

    What a great statement aboit #STC12!

  2. Thanks for the kind comment, Ben!


STC Chicago Announcements

STC Chicago

STC Blog

Society for Technical Communication