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February 25, 2014

What I learned at tcworld India

Some thoughts after a trip to Bangalore for the tcworld India event.

Having experienced roughly eight blocks of downtown Bangalore, I will refrain from making broad generalizations about India.

The TWIN and tcworld teams who were responsible for organizing the event did not disappoint. They had a great roster of speakers and topics. Many thanks to them and to all their volunteers. I know that making an event appear to run smoothly requires extensive (and usually frantic) work behind the scenes.

Indian audiences ask great questions. In the US and Europe, it’s common to get a statement in the form of a question, a question designed to show off the questioner’s own expertise, or an extremely specific question that is only relevant to the person asking. (A graphic that shows the problem.) The questions I had after my presentations in Bangalore were pertinent to the topic and quite insightful. Several people did have detailed, specific questions–but they all approached me later in the event when we had time for a lengthy discussion.

Technical communicators at this event were very enthusiastic. It was a welcome contrast from the often jaded perspective we get in the US. I do hope that India’s tech comm community will not learn from their US counterparts in this area. I ran out of handouts due to an overflow audience in my content strategy workshop…but it wasn’t until I walked around the room and noticed that people were sharing handouts that I realized this. Nobody complained or inquired about the availability of additional handouts. In any other venue, at least one person would have asked, “hey, are there any more handouts??”

Some notes on culture….It appears that the etiquette rules for cell phones are different. There was no request to turn off or silence cell phones, and several people took calls during the sessions (while sitting in the session). That said, the protocol appears to be that you take a call very quietly, hunched over, with your hand covering the phone. It wasn’t noticeable unless you were very close by. Somehow, given the prevalence of Loud Talkers, I don’t really see this approach working in the US.

India is a really long way from the US East Coast. Yes, I know, DUH, but until you actually get on a plane and experience the travel for yourself, it is quite indescribable. 10:30-hour time difference, 20-30 hours of actual travel door to door. It is NOT pleasant. After arrival, I had a couple of days to get adjusted, and spent my time in useful pursuit of scarves and a lovely carpet. I’ll note that India already has chip-and-PIN credit card terminals, unlike the “advanced” United States.

Service standards in India are much higher than elsewhere. I could get used to the tea server, or the guy whose job it is to bring me my omelet from the breakfast station. (And who first told me there would be a slight wait and then apologized profusely when he delivered the food a very few minutes later.) All this wonderful service is made possible by the large number of staff. At breakfast, I eventually counted and realized that we had about 10 servers working. In an equivalent U.S. venue, I would have expected to see 2-3 harried people. In the case of the five-star “Western” hotels in Bangalore, the hotel rates are perhaps half what you would pay for the same hotel in the U.S. or Europe–high by Indian standards, but low by US/European standards.

Speaking of service, I also noticed that I kept seeing the same staffers…the guy who checked me in with a smile at 4 a.m. was still at the front desk at 11 a.m. The hostess at dinner was working again at breakfast. The lunch guy also brought up an evening room service tray. I’m not sure exactly what the shifts are, but they are definitely more than eight hours long.

Back to the conference…we’re always talking about global content, global audiences, and the like. Numerous people approached me during the event to tell me that they follow our web site. Hearing “oh, I love your web site” after a trip halfway around the world? THAT gets my attention. It also made me think…we have web site analytics, so we are aware that India is our fourth-largest readership (after US, Canada, and Germany). But charts are not at all the same thing as real live people telling me that they read our stuff.

This is why we travel for conferences; to meet people and make personal connections; to understand how a particular location shapes people’s thinking; to expand our horizons past our own community and culture.

Many thanks to the all the participants at tcworld India. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of your world, and I hope to return.