Where is everyone?

The attendance at last nights ISTC Area Group meeting in the West of Scotland was poor, and as it seems to fluctuate quite dramatically at times (we went from four people to ten and back again in the space of three meetings) I’m trying to figure out why.

Is it apathy? Laziness? Lack of awareness? Or perhaps people are unclear of the benefits of turning up?

If you are a member of the ISTC, and on the mailing list (or perhaps you are following the ISTC on Twitter?), then you will receive notifications of the area group meetings.

But what if you aren’t a member? How do we attract… scratch that, how do we FIND people who may want to attend? Where are all the technical communicators?

I wonder if more people get quicker benefit being part of online communities? If social media is part of the reason for the low attendance?

Last night was, despite the small number, useful. It always is in one way or another – I got some ideas to help me with my current recruitment drive – but perhaps, like all of these things, you have to turn up to get the benefit.

In the past some of us have contacted other “user groups” who may be interested from the likes of eLearning professionals and on the Adobe user forums. That accounts for the spike in attendance but I’m starting to wonder if there is just a general apathy about our profession (or about the professional world) at the moment.

I’m also very aware that the catchment area isn’t that large, but I know there are other technical authors, technical writers, technical communicators, and lots of other people in the local area who could benefit from attending. These people do exist, we just need to find a way to reach out to them and make sure they understand the benefits.

We have, in the past, considered running a specific session, with a guest speaker, so there is a definite agenda and perhaps that is more of what we need. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a Catch-22 scenario, we can’t (won’t) book speakers if hardly anyone is going to turn up!

It is a quandary for sure.

Why wouldn’t people want to go to the pub and have a chat with fellow professionals?


  1. It’s a bit of a long commute for me so don’t expect me there anytime soon 🙂
    That said, your post highlights all the issues we face. A themed session may draw some but alienate others with no interest in that area. Likewise a social settings may not be to everyone’s taste, after all we Technical Writers are often solitary, unsocial types right? 🙂 Then again maybe last night there were just too many crisis in workplaces or other things going on in the west of Scotland.

  2. To begin with, as ever I’m pleased to see even 4 technical communicators meeting – where those technical communicators didn’t have opportunity to meet their peers previously. So well done to you guys for sticking with it, even when it feels difficult!

    Getting people to turn out for networking events is often hard work, and to an extent it’s probably just to do with the lowish numbers of technical communicators in the area, but I think there are other factors too:

    LowNumberOfTechCommsInGlasgow – PeopleWhoDon’tWantToSocialise – PeopleWhoKnowEverythingAlready – PeopleWhoAreBusy
    = OnlyAFewPeopleInThePub

    Are you with me?

    So, we can try and increase attendance from any of the factors:

    PeopleWhoAreBusy – give plenty of warning; maybe even make the event something worth reorganising their lives around

    PeopleWhoKnowEverythingAlready – invite them to share their skills and expertise with others

    PeopleWhoDon’tWantToSocialise – for those who are shy, make it easier by having some structure (publicised in advance) so it doesn’t feel like they’re going to a party where they don’t know anyone; for others, make it about learning or sharing expertise, not socialising

    LowNumberOfTechCommsInGlasgow – we could start a worldwide campaign to attract more business to Glasgow, but that might stretch the volunteer resources a bit; where there might be potential is by appealing to people who are technical communicators but don’t realise it.

    For example, is there a tool or technique that technical communicators need, is used by people who don’t realise they’re technical communicators? Maybe host a low-cost workshop on using that tool?
    * the event could appeal beyond people who think of themselves as technical communicators
    * unsociable types would have a learning reason to be there
    * shy types would have structure to make it less scary
    * people who know everything already might be interested in the opportunity to ensure their knowledge doesn’t get out of date
    * busy people might feel a different sort of motivation to arrange their schedule around something like this

    As you suggest: turn-out might be too low … but (a) you don’t always need high numbers for an event like this (b) if you really don’t get enough interest there’s always the option to cancel and go to the pub instead!

  3. In the north west we’ve had similar problems with numbers but I think we are on the up now. There are several hard core attendees now and then a number of occasionals. We have tried to have sttructure where we always a talk or a theme. We are also lucky that we have a permanent home in Madlab who also help to publicise events.

    I think the secret is keep on plugging away and don’t give up. When people see it is regular event I think that they are more likely to make the effort to attend occasionally.

  4. Another option that I’ve seen used successfully is to look for opportunities to have joint meetings with other groups – librarians, archivists, indexers, usability professionals, IT people, trainers, translators and so on.


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