Feb 072014

2014 STC Summit in the "Valley of the Sun"

2014 STC Summit in the “Valley of the Sun”

The annual STC Summit, in the “Valley of the Sun,” this May, is approaching. It is full of information about the latest tools and methodologies, it’s great for networking, and it’s fun. Technical communicators who attend the Summit often report feeling energized and inspired to get back to work. But your boss doesn’t want to pay for it. Keep reading for some tested tips for making the case to a reluctant or skeptical boss.

There’s a big difference between a boss who says “No” and one who says “I don’t see the value in sending you to the conference.” Usually “No” means no and there’s no need to keep reading. Maybe the budget isn’t there, or a company policy stands in the way, or the boss would have to explain too much to his or her boss.  In cases like that, there’s nothing to do but wait ’til next year, or look for another employer.

But the boss who says, “I don’t see the value in sending you to the conference” maybe isn’t playing smackdown. Maybe it’s an honest statement and a challenge to you to make a case. There are many things you could say, but “I’ve heard it’s great fun!” probably isn’t your most effective angle of approach here.

When the boss is looking for value, you have to think like a boss so you can recognize that will be perceived as value and what won’t. Fortunately for us, it’s a core skill in our profession to think like the user, and while the boss may sometimes act like an alien creature, she’s probably a member of Homo sapiens or a closely related species.

So what’s the value and how do you show it?

Start with two things that every boss appreciates: solving outstanding problems, and becoming more efficient. First look over the schedule of presentations and find as many as you can that address issues you face at work. Write those down in a table, and match each one with the problem it will help you to address. At the bottom of the table, add a row for researching new tools and underutilized features of existing tools and map that item to a session in the vendors room.

Then add one more row for strategic planning (if that fits your job duties) and another for general holes in your knowledge or skillset (we all have those). Map them to one or more of the social networking events because that’s where you will find the most valuable resource of all – the colleague who makes you more effective, just an email away!

Before you present the table to the boss, do a little more work on it. Format it nicely, because appearances count. If it would help, reorganize it into chronological order for all three days. Then look it over for themes that the reader will see.  Do many of the selected sessions address a common theme, such as learning about DITA or preparing for localization projects? You’ll want to call those out in an introduction that says “The Summit is an incredible opportunity to learn real-world information about them.

There’s more to the Summit than the sessions. The vendors’ room is a great opportunity to compare similar products and to explore them accompanied by other professional technical communicators. The vendor reps are prepared to answer the questions you’ll be asking. If you visit a booth while others are there, keep your ears open because someone may ask a great question that you never thought of.

Most effective of all is the gift that keeps on giving. When you make friends at the Summit, you add an incredible tool to your toolbox. It’s like having all the expertise of a seasoned professional sitting in your email folder. Not only are the people you meet at the summit also technical communicators, but the ones you meet in each session are technical communicators who are solving the same problems that you are!

But you’re not ready to make your pitch yet. I cannot teleport to the Summit, and you probably can’t either. The boss wants a package with a price and no headaches. Search the hotels and the flights and make up an itinerary. I find the conference hotel is usually a little more expensive but it’s worth it for the greatly increased opportunities to network with other attendees.

Now you can assemble your case: Open with an introduction that states the objective of the trip (your themes), including the challenges that you and your department will face over the coming year. Follow that with a table of specific presentations and the problems they’ll solve, explicit mention of the vendors room and what you hope to find there, and the value of the social events for building a problem-solving network. Then show an itinerary of how you plan to get there, where to stay, and how you’ll eat. Finally show an itemized list of the expected costs with a clear bottom line. This way you show your boss a great product for a fair price. Good luck!

Want a cheat sheet? Check out the Convince Your Boss memo template.