Tag: Technical Communications Conference

Happy New Year

Looking forward is always a good thing, but I’m going to start this year by looking back at the lessons to be learned.

Things I will need to improve upon include better planning of work, there is one big project that I will head up that needs to be delivered by September, so I’ll be looking at how to get a better handle on that. One thing I learned last year was to rely more on my colleagues, to look to their strengths to compensate for my weaknesses; attention to detail is something I can struggle with so I’ll be getting some help with that by getting my plans reviewed by a couple of people before I present them to others.

Delegating the right things is something else I didn’t quite get right last year, there are some things I do need to keep tabs on but the rest of the work I can, and should, delegate to the rest of the team. They have proven they can deliver so I need to trust them to do so again (and they will, because as I may have mentioned, I am very lucky to work with some excellent people!).

However, it is a new year so let us look forward.

I’m going to keep on writing here, suggestions for topics or questions you’d like me to tackle are welcomed, and I’ll hopefully get back to the Technical Communications Conference again next year. I’ve got plenty of things to do for the ISTC website and at some point will be assessing a new authoring environment for the team which, possibly, will expand to include resource overseas.

Plenty of challenges then, which is just how I like it!

Say Thank You

As some of you will now be aware, I am no longer writing my monthly Blog News column for the ISTC newsletter, InfoPlus+.

It actually started life here on this blog, every week (or so) I used to post a list of interesting posts and blogs and for a while there was an overlap but, eventually, I dropped the feature from the blog as the monthly approach gave me a little more scope to collect the best links and yes, I will admit I enjoyed the writing process that went with the column (believe me, it took me longer than you’d think).

Alas life continues to challenge my time so after not managing to submit my column for a couple of months (the shame!) I decided to make the hard decision and stop altogether. It doesn’t mean I’m not reading blogs any more, just that I’m not writing about them as much.

When it came to writing my final column, I checked back at when the column started and I was more than a little surprised to find out that it had been going for over 4 years! I’m quietly amazed it lasted that long, given my normal propensity to prefer tackling new things than sticking with current projects (I am a magpie).

There was one thing that I always struggled with though, and that was the lack of interaction, the lack of feedback. I had no idea if anyone was reading the column! The newsletter is published as a PDF and sent out via email so there are no stats to be viewed, in fact it was only at the Technical Communications Conference when a couple of people mentioned that they read it and, even better, they enjoyed it that I knew for a fact that it was worth writing. What a lovely little boost that gave my ego!

I most certainly wasn’t writing the column for that reason, in fact I’ll be honest and admit that I was writing it to try and boost my profile (I was also speaking at conferences and presenting webinars at the time) but that brief moment of adulation was very welcome. At least I think it was adulation… maybe they didn’t actually want me to autograph their conference programmes… hmmmmmmm.

I’ve been blogging for a long time so I guess I get a little blasé about feedback. Comments are great to see, I love the discussion aspect and the fact there is a passionate community of technical communicators who pop in here now and then, and if nothing else I can always check my stats to see that people are visiting the website (and presumably reading for they stay for a few minutes at a time), but being told face-to-face that someone has enjoyed something I’ve done, not much tops that.

It’s only now, reflecting on the fact that for the first month in 4 years I’m not starting to collate links and thoughts for the Blog News column, that I realise that saying thank you is something I’ve not done enough of, so let me start.

Thank you, dear reader.

Thank you for visiting and reading.

Thank you to those who visit, read and leave a comment, who join the discussion.

Thank to those who link to this blog, or retweet the link for others to see.

Thank you for taking the time.

I sincerely appreciate it.

Now, it’s your turn. No, I’m not looking for anyone to thank me, but take a moment and consider who you should be thanking, have you said thank you to them recently?

If not, now is the time. Go on, you will make someone’s day!

So that was TCUK12

It’s been a few days since I got home after the Technical Communications Conference this year, and I’ve been digesting and mulling over some of the ideas and thoughts gathered from the speakers and conversations.

The conference was in a new location, Newcastle, and that brought a different feel to the event. Hard to put my finger on it but it felt a little more business like, or maybe just a little less social? Not sure, and as ever my experience will be different from others.

Something that hasn’t changed was the value. It remains an excellent opportunity to learn from your peers, industry experts, and if nothing else it’s great to hear that we are doing the right things or just have the same problems as everyone else.

A few standout presentations from me, Leah Guren (whose workshop I attended on the Tuesday) kicked off the conference in great style. Passionate, funny, upbeat, everything that we can occasionally seem to lack in our profession here in the UK. Ray Gallon and Scott Abel backed that up with some excellent presentations that expanded the scope of what we can, and should, be doing.

It took me a while to realise it but the one thing I didn’t get this year was an overall theme. Not an official one, but typically there is one stream of thought that seems to be prevalent. I think the closest to that would be ‘Structure’ (as a strategy) and I wonder if, perhaps, that that particular stream of thought hasn’t yet hit a tipping point?

Still pondering that, and many other, things, one of which is that I really need to be blogging here more! Time will tell if I can stick to that.

How I use Twitter

In his closing presentation at the recent Technical Communications Conference, RJ Jacquez outlined how he uses Twitter as a way to communicate with the users of his product, and as a way to share ideas with, and learn from, other technical communication professionals.

There were several people at TCUK09 that used Twitter throughout the conference, sharing quotes, thoughts and ideas about various presentations and I eded up having a few conversations about why I use Twitter so I thought I’d capture my thinking here.

I have two Twitter accounts, one for personal use and one for professional use. The personal account is used for keeping up with people I know in social terms, and most of the messages are chatty, with the occasional link or photo. I find it a good way to keep up with people but I don’t rely on it so if I don’t check it for a day or so then it’s not something I lose sleep about.

My professional account is used to share my thoughts about either my current work or on various aspects of our profession, responding to things posted by other people, or tracking through the myriad of useful links that people share.

And that to me is one of the key reasons for using Twitter. It’s a filter, a filter of trusted sources, that constantly points out things I wouldn’t have found myself and where I can have discussions with my peers about things that interest me.

Our profession covers such a wide area that keeping up with the latest trends and discussions on the fringes can be nigh on impossible. Twitter offers me a way to keep in touch, to be part of the conversation about these things, and whilst it can be seen to be frivolous, the value to be gained outweighs the downsides.

However, like most social networking or social media services, you get out what you put in and when it comes to Twitter, you really need to try it to find out if you can benefit for it.

You can follow me on Twitter.

Notes from Technical Communications Conference

These are transcribed from my hastily written scrawls throughout the day.

Smart Authoring for a Smarter Planet
The keynote presentation by Peter Angelhides

Set the tone well for bigger thinking about our profession, broadening the scope to the world wide consumption of information and how it can be processed intelligently.

Information for your products is useful both for existing users and for future customers. Don’t lock it away, let Google find it and then follow the links back, find other sources, other places where conversations about your product are happening. Information allows this, product usage doesn’t.

Everybody’s (not) doing it: is it really OK to keep ignoring document users?
by David Farbey

“Documentation is an asynchronous conversation” – Ginny Redish (from her book)

Training are usually separate from Docs, suggest either moving Training (we have!) or requesting debriefs after training sessions.

“Developer Mirror” is all too common – aka The Curse of Knowledge (you forget how much you didn’t know, so presume everyone knows things you know).

“The conversation needs to be focussed on what both parties want to improve”.

If you can write an article, you can write anything
by Kim Schrantz-Berquist

Applying Journalism techniques to writing
Using “5Ws & 1H” (Who what when where why and how) forces specifics and may end up change the subject of what you are writing about.

Inverted Pyramid – get the 5Ws and 1H into the first paragraph, top loading the information.

Use the “Stop reading test” to determine if it is working. How far down the page can you stop and feel comfortable you know the 5Ws and 1H?

Google Earth help manual uses hourglass technique, toploads information, then has area for user to choose what to do next, then has more detail/facts.

Good way to present Support Notes?

www.how-to-write.org

Paths to success: Networking and Contributing
by Linda Urban

Build your network and Make a contribution – these are the strings and glue of being successful.

Connection with people, conversations are where it all happens.

Visual Attention: A psychologist’s perspective
by Dr Chris Atherton

Attentionomics. Gestalt.

Extraneous cognitive load so less is more (see Nurnberg Funnel on minimalism in documentation)

Magic number is 4 (recent studies show), not 7 plus/minus 2!

We have two parts to the brain, one deals with audio processing, one deals with visuals. Both work at the same time (which is why we enjoy videos/webcasts so much), but quickly max out when we are only processing one type of information (which is why reading is tiring).

Without Hot Air
by Niall Mansfield

Discussed how information was presented in the book (which outlines real solutions for combatting global warming).

Book is available through Creative Commons to download.
Drafts were posted to blog to drive discussion. Aim was to share the information as it was public spirited content.

The secrets of Telepathy
by Justin Collinge

A double session covering ways to to communicate better by understanding how other people process information.

Filtering in effect – aural vs visual – McGurk effect, video on YouTube.

Looked at a variey of filters (aka meta-programming) including Direction (away from vs towards), Relationship (similarities vs difficulties) and Frame of Reference (internal vs external).

Audience of documentation will cover all types, yet we usually only write for one. Taking a set of instructions; it’s usually aimed at completing something successfully, but what of the people who like comparisons, or who want to make sure that something DOESN’T happen (troubleshooting info?)

Similarites – 70% of people start with these, emphasise these first then cover differences

Can write opening sentences which cover differences & similiarities, and ‘towards’ and ‘away from’ views – this matches the inverted pyramid writing style.

Future Vision of Technical Communicators
by RJ Jacquez

“Social media has redefined communication”

What makes an experience engaging? Accessible, Collaborative, Compelling, Easy to use, Personalised, Responsive.

Build experiences that engage your audience

Digital users are here (Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott)

Socialnomics by Erik Qualman

Social networks have overtaken pron as the number 1 industry online.

SideWiki – comment on ANY website, no opt out. The conversation is happening now, whether you like it or not.

Thoughts on TCUK09*

Having had a few days to process my thoughts about the Technical Communications Conference I can confidently say that it is the best professional conference I have ever attended.

I’ll post up specific notes tomorrow, but I wanted to touch on some of the themes that seemed to be driven out of most of the presentations I attended. Now at this point I should make a confession, it’s about the presentation I gave on the Thursday morning (the second day) of the conference.

My presentation had a theme, a single word that I was focussing on, so throughout the first day, in all the sessions I attended, I was listening out for that word. That word didn’t appear in one session, and I had to push to get the word out of another of the speakers (the last of the first day).

I claimed that word appeared in all of the sessions I attended, it didn’t. Now, as far as confessions go, it’s not exactly earth shattering news but it’s important to me that I let you all know because, as I said in my presentation, if you are blogging you need to be honest.

The word I was looking for throughout the first day was “conversation”, and I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it crop up in the later sessions of the second day and I admit I was quite pleased when the closing speaker, RJ Jacquez from Adobe both mentioned my presentation and had a similar view to mine.

As for the sessions I attended, I don’t think there was one where I didn’t learn anything, even though there were a couple where I was asked to facilitate when I probably would’ve ducked out to chat to some vendors. It’s good that the speakers, whether well versed in public speaking or complete amateurs (like me), seemed comfortable and relaxed and really engaged with their audience.

And that for me is a good way to sum up the entire conference. I shudder to think just how much hard work went into organising the conference but from the smaller touches (the goodies in the hotel room), to the softer, informal approach that Paul and Rachel embody so well, really made a difference.

Given that our profession is both broad and deep, it was great to have other aspects around the fringes covered as well (cognitive psychology anyone?). All in all I think there was something for everyone, and the benefits of being exposed to other niche areas really made the conference worthwhile.

If you are in the UK next year, if you work in a profession either directly related to, or relatively related to, technical communications then I’d urge you to consider coming along next year. For me the best thing I’ll take away from the conference is the continuing conversation that is happening about our profession.

* #tcuk09 was the hashtag for the conference