The decision to implement DITA—or not—should be made after careful consideration of the business value that DITA brings to your organization.
At the STC Summit in Sacramento, I am delivering a presentation today (May 16, 2011) on calculating the ROI of DITA. I hope you were able to join me for that session, but if not, here are some alternative ways to get the information:
Join the discussion using the #ditaroi hashtag on Twitter, or leave your comments on our blog. (The general conference hashtag is #stc11.)
And what about the duckling, you ask? A lot of our customers come to us with ugly-duckling content, and Mr. Duck over here is on our new tradeshow banner and on the bookmarks we’re handing out. Stop by and see what we can help you do with your ugly duckling.
In addition to bookmarks, we also have chocolate and various giveaways. Haven’t quite figured out the virtual chocolate yet, but give us time…
If you’re going to the STC 2011 Summit next week in Sacramento, be sure to drop by Scriptorium’s booth in the exhibition hall. You can chat with Sarah O’Keefe and Simon Bate about the tech comm challenges you’re facing, and you can see demos of our PDF and web help plugins for the DITA OT.
While you’re at the booth, pick up some free chocolate and other goodies, and take a peek at our Scriptorium Press titles in print, ePub, and Kindle formats. We’ll also be collecting names for giveaways of the latest Scriptorium Press title: The DITA Style Guide by Tony Self.
Sarah and Simon will be giving away a copy each at their presentations, too:
If you aren’t attending the conference, have no fear: you can still win a copy of The DITA Style Guide at the virtual STC Summit booth we’ll host through this blog. At 8 a.m. Eastern Time Monday through Wednesday, we will post a link so you can register for that day’s giveaway. You can enter once a day, so subscribe to our blog feed to get easy access to each day’s link. Sarah will also post some updates from the conference in the blog.
We hope to see you in Sacramento—or at our virtual booth!
P.S. If you win a book, we’d prefer that you not react like this:
The conference itself was great fun, and there was lots of good content in the sessions. But I would have to say that the regional chocolate exchange and Friday night at the Korean karaoke cafe were the highlights. We come to conferences to strengthen our online connections with face-to-face interaction, with or without perfect pitch.
I am already looking forward to Lavacon 2011, tentatively planned for Honolulu. Hope to see you there!
There will be a webcast version of this session on January 10, 2011 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. The event is free, but registration is required.
There’s been a ton of discussion about the various organizations, especially STC, recently. With established associations, it can be difficult to take a completely fresh look because of the constraints of structure, organization, and tradition.
So, I thought I’d ask this question: What does your ideal association for technical communicators look like?
Diverse membership across the globe. I want a place to meet other tech comm professionals from all around the world because that’s what our customer base looks like. I need to understand how tech comm in Korea is different from tech comm in Germany.
An annual conference that moves around the world. The geographical location of a conference affects the mix of attendees—you get increased attendance from the region in which the conference is held. This helps me with the previous item.
A strong online community that offers members (and nonmembers) an opportunity to engage. Probably multilingual.
Discovery of new, interesting, and provocative points of view. I’m envisioning free webcasts from interesting people, but this could be done in lots of ways. Provides a connection point for people with similar interests or issues, and strengthens connections outside the face-to-face conference environment.
Support for global projects. A way to find resources (contractors, employees, consutants) for tech comm projects worldwide.
Industry research. What tools and technologies are being used in tech comm? How does this vary by locale? Company size? Other factors?
What are your thoughts? What does your Ideal Tech Comm Association look like?
In a post entitled, “Dueling Pianos: Do We Need STC?”, Kristi Leach writes this:
And maybe it’s time to start thinking about funding more regional conferences with lighter footprints rather than one, large conference. (Release Notes blog)
Lots of great discussion in that post and in the comments.
My interests in STC come from varying, sometimes conflicting, perspectives (member, vendor, conference speaker, conference planning committee, gadfly, …). In this post, I want to set aside the primary perspective of conference attendees (which is thoroughly represented in Kristi’s post and in the comments) and talk about the interests of conference speakers, sponsors, and vendors.
Generally, national or international conferences are going to draw a bigger audience than regional conferences. For example, within STC, we had around 800 people at the national event this year. Regional events typically draw 100 people or so.
As a consultant, my agenda is clear. I attend conferences to reach prospective customers. I would much rather attend a single event and present to a large audience instead of eight regional events to reach the same number of people.
Similarly, for a vendor or sponsor, it’s generally more appealing to sponsor and exhibit at a single event. It’s also more cost-effective because of the cost of travel. Many of the companies that exhibit at Big STC are small organizations (like mine), and the idea of staffing trade shows for eight regional conferences is fairly daunting.
It’s true, of course, that we could support a conference in our particular region only and save a pile of money. Unfortunately for us, our customer base is national and international. Limiting ourselves to the southeastern United States would put a serious crimp in our sales. In the last year or so, we have done work for customers in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, California (multiple locations), Canada, Germany, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Switzerland, Virginia, and Texas. And North Carolina. I think I’m forgetting a few, but you get the idea.
So, for me as a speaker, vendor, and exhibitor, a big conference is a much more efficient use of my time and money.
Investment and quality
As a conference attendee, you can expect that speakers at a big conference, on average, will be better than speakers at a regional conference. This is partly by design—one purpose of a regional conference may be to give less experienced speakers an opportunity to practice their presentation skills. The competition to speak at a regional conference is generally less intense, and at unconference events, the process of getting a speaking slot may be as easy as putting your name in a time slot on a whiteboard.
You may attend a regional conference and see fantastic speakers, especially people who are relatively unknown in the field but turn out to be fabulously talented. You are also going to see some speakers who are trying hard, but who should perhaps stick to writing white papers instead.
At a big conference, there are generally formal proposals, proposal reviews, and the like. STC has a program committee that evaluates session proposals. (I am the track manager for Design, Architecture, and Publishing for 2010 and 2011.) Speakers are expected to provide speaking references, and a speaker without a track record of successful presentations (at STC or elsewhere) faces an uphill battle in getting their proposal accepted.
For attendees, this means generally higher-quality sessions at bigger conferences. (And yes, there are always going to be bad sessions. Sometimes, a speaker is having a bad day, or she misjudges her audience, or the topic is just not timely, or any number of other issues.)
One interesting disadvantage is that bigger conferences tend to have more predictable topics and speakers. With long lead times for the proposal review process, the most cutting-edge topics don’t make it in. Neil Perlin’s Bleeding Edge track attempts to ameliorate this situation somewhat, but it is definitely an issue.
But overall, you get what you pay for. The bigger conferences provide more financial support to speakers, and the competition to present is more intense, so you can expect higher-quality content.
Regional versus global networking
It’s important (for anyone) to build a professional network. Different types of conferences will support this in very different ways. At a regional conference, you can expect to meet other technical communicators who are geographically close to you. This is valuable in understanding the local job market. For example, you can find out who’s hiring, who’s not, where you might want to work at some point (or not), what tools and technologies are heavily used in your area, and the like. Understanding your local market is important.
At a conference that draws a national or global audience, you can expect a different networking experience. You can probably find other people that work at an organization similar to yours, but in a different location. For example, if you work for a company in the U.S. Midwest that makes medical devices, you might have an opportunity to meet people who work on medical devices in Europe or Asia. Perhaps your company has technical communicators in multiple locations around the world? At a big conference, you have a chance to broaden your perspective. Perhaps you are considering a move to a different part of the world? You’ll probably run into someone from that area and have an opportunity to ask about life there.
As our work becomes increasingly globalized, I think that it’s critical to understand the industry outside your immediate area. Big conferences are excellent for this type of networking.
The hallway track
I find it interesting that the default alternative to “big conference” is “regional conference.” What about online events? We are offering webcasts for free, along with lots of other people.
The answer is, of course, that webcasts are reasonable for getting information, but they are terrible for networking. Conferences are about the “hallway track”—the stuff that happens between sessions. The broader perspective of a national conference might be worthwhile.
A note about word choice
In discussions at and around Big STC, the phrase “old guard” has been used as a synonym for “people who are resistant to changes in our profession.” As writers, we are taught to pay attention to word choice, and to avoid language that is racist, sexist, or otherwise -ist because it detracts from delivering the message. In the phrase “old guard,” I hear more than a whiff of contempt from the so-called “new guard.” You are better than that, and use of ageist language is lazy. And inaccurate. Is Ginny Redish “old guard”? Does age define one’s attitude toward new technology and toward change? If you want to come up with a phrase that encapsulates the people who are in entrenched in “but that’s how we’ve always done it,” find one that is less offensive. Also, I’d like to point out that attitudes of entitlement and resentment toward change are quite often found in young people.
In related news, I’m turning 40 in November. I might be a bit sensitive at the moment, as I anticipate ejection from the ranks of the “new guard.”
First, a disclaimer. Between time spent at our trade show booth, my own presentations, and important social events, I managed to attend exactly ONE session where I wasn’t presenting. That was Erin McKean‘s keynote, which was fantastic. Her STC session isn’t available online (yet), but here is a TED talk she did on redefining the dictionary:
All twitter, all the time
The conference hashtag, #stc10, was busy and I mean BUSY. There were tweets with soundbites, social event announcements, comments, discussion, and some really important stuff from Bill Swallow, aka @techcommdood:
I think that problem got solved by analog means, but nonetheless.
There were only a couple of tweets out of my managing XML session. Not sure whether this is because everyone was asleep or I had the non-tweeting audience. I suppose I will find out when I see my official evaluations.
Meanwhile, I will be repeating that session as a webcast on June 15, 1–2 p.m. The event is free, but registration is required. (There’s also a session on Trends in Technical Communication later this month if you’re interested.)
Looking for conference feedback
If you attended the conference, please remember to fill out session evaluations. I was the track manager for Design, Architecture, and Publishing this year (and perhaps for 2011 as well), so I am especially interested in those results.
Are there speakers that you particularly want to see (or not) next year? I can’t speak for all of the conference organizers, but I paid close attention to any available speaker ratings from prior years in evaluating new proposals.
Also, if you have other feedback on the conference, please leave a comment or send me email (or a tweet if it fits!) and I will ensure that the 2011 conference team gets the information.
I think I might have buried the lede in this post. After decades of debate (not an exaggeration), STC has approved a certification program. Certification will be portfolio-based rather than exam-based.
Finally, the Carolina chapter scored big-time at the event. Congratulations to Michelle Corbin and Ann-Marie Grissino, who were named Fellows. And Larry Kunz (who is already a Fellow) received the President’s Award for his strategic planning work in the past year.
My presentation for the STC Summit in Dallas is finally done. The session, “Managing in an XML environment,” is scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, at 4 p.m. Central time.
I hope to see you in Dallas, but if you can’t make the conference in person, I will also do a webcast version of this presentation on June 15 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. That event is free but does require registration.
I’m sure you’re wondering about the duck. In my presentation, I will be introducing a formula for measuring documentation quality. It’s based on Quality, Usability, and some other factors that spell out, you guessed it, QUACK.
And if that’s not enough to bring you to the session, I also have several other animals in my slides. Consider yourself warned.
Sarah O’Keefe and Matt Arnold will be representing Scriptorium at the STC Summit in Dallas next week. If you’re attending the conference, be sure to visit our booth to meet Sarah and Matt, pick up some chocolate, and get a free copy of our updated white paper compilation, The Compass (while supplies last).
If you’re not attending the STC Summit, you still have a chance to pick up conference swag from us by visiting our virtual booth—a short survey that asks the same questions we ask conference attendees. During the survey, you can also ask us questions about any challenges you’re facing with developing and distributing technical content.
Complete the survey by May 5th (the day the STC Summit ends), and we’ll enter you into a drawing to win one of six copies of The Compass—and the winners get some chocolate, too. No Scriptorium conference booth would be complete without chocolate!