tekom: Benefits for North American writers

Sarah O'Keefe / Conferences2 Comments

My post about tekom generated some interesting comments, including this one, which I will address in pieces:

Thanks for this info. I’ve been lobbying my company to send me to Tekom for the last few years, unsuccessfully. I submitted 2 times for presentations but both were rejected. Our company is in Concord, Massachusetts, USA.
Could you discuss the benefits to North American writers attending such an international event. Are there things you learned there you will not learn anywhere else (business/tech stuff of course )

Interesting question.

The perspective at tekom is different from STC. For example, there was a session on how to integrate outsourcing into a documentation effort. Given the very diverse audience, you have people on all sides of the outsourcing issue. In the U.S., the outsourcing discussions generally center around how evil it is. 🙂

There is a heavy emphasis on discussing globalization, localization, and internationalization issues.

A product that ships with defects in documentation is considered a defective product in the European Union. Therefore, you also see discussions of regulatory requirements. In the U.S., these discussions are confined to the few industries that are regulated — medical and nuclear come to mind.

If you have a significant market outside the U.S., or competitors based outside the U.S., I think tekom is well worth it.

Any suggestions on what types of presentations have a chance of being accepted? I do not have a long presentation resume, and I feel Tekom prefers more experienced presenters, not giving less experienced presenters a chance.

I think you’ve answered your own question. STC used to have an explicit policy of “giving less experienced presenters a chance,” but they have moved away from doing so in an attempt to improve the overall presentation quality. The focus is on the attendee experience rather than the opportunity for presenters.

So…to improve your chances at tekom (or anywhere else), I would recommend getting more presentation experience. That probably means presenting a local user groups or STC chapters, and then moving up to regional and then national events. Once you have a reasonable U.S.-based presentation list with excellent evaluations, you could try tekom again.

Pay attention to the evaluations you get from the events where you do present. Fix the issues that are raised. Work on your presentation skills.

Send in proposals with compelling content. A conference committee may take a chance on an unknown or inexperienced presenter if the proposal is sufficiently fascinating.

And finally, presenting to a European audience, even in English, is quite a bit more challenging than presenting to a U.S. audience. Although most Europeans in attendance speak good-to-excellent English, there is still a language barrier. That means speaking more slowly, avoiding idioms, watching your accent, and so on. That does inflict an additional cognitive load on the presenter. And then you have the following:

  • Hooking up a laptop to 240V current (requires an inexpensive adapter. Hope you remembered yours)
  • Jet lag. According to one study I saw, cognitive ability is reduced by 40% in people experiencing jet lag. Based on my experiences, I think that’s too low, at least for the first day in-country. By day two, I’m usually reasonable coherent. Allow some time to recover from jet lag.
  • Body language is different. It’s difficult to read a European audience if you only have experience with U.S. audiences.
  • English language barrier. The vast majority of Europeans speak British English, not American English. Sounds trivial, but isn’t.

I hope some of my European readers will add their opinions and ideas in the comments.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

2 Comments on “tekom: Benefits for North American writers”

  1. Hi Sarah,
    you write:
    > * English language barrier. The vast majority of Europeans speak British English, not American English. Sounds trivial, but isn’t.
    I always thought that BE would usually be okay and might just be recognized by Americans as a little bit funny sounding. Can you give me some examples of the non-trivial kind?
    > * Body language is different. It’s difficult to read a European audience if you only have experience with U.S. audiences.
    Just out of curiosity I would love to hear some examples as well. I guess it is harder to interact with European audiences in general, isn’t it?
    – Michael
    PS: Regarding presentations: Always keep in mind that the people evaluating proposals might not understand the topic you plan to talk about. It is key to make it very understandable!

  2. Hi Michael,
    British vs. American English…I was thinking of the opposite problem. American idiom may not be understood by a German who learned British English. For instance, football (NOT soccer) expressions such as, “The project wasn’t working, so we went for the Hail Mary.”
    Or my favorite regionalism that isn’t even understood by most North Americans “that dog don’t hunt.” Unless you live in the south-eastern U.S., that one is likely to sail right over your head (eeek. another one) It means, by the way, something like, “that looks as though it would work, but it won’t”. (Dogs are supposed to hunt, but sometimes you get a hunting dog that refuses to hunt. Or something.) In addition, the correct use of the phrase is grammatically incorrect, so that just makes things worse.
    I wouldn’t describe European audiences as “more difficult”; they’re just different from North American audiences. It all depends on what you’re accustomed to.
    Americans tend to nod (in agreement and not in sleep, I hope) more and fidget more. Europeans are quieter. Americans tend to ask awkward questions — it’s quite common to get a question that *really* translates to, “I’m smarter than you are, Ms. PresenterLady.”
    Of course, when you get expatriate Americans who have lived in Europe for a long time, then things get *really* complicated.

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