Oct 132014

John Sgammato presenting at STC Summit 2014 in Phoenix

John Sgammato presenting at STC Summit 2014 in Phoenix

The Society has announced its Call for Proposals for the 2015 Summit in Columbus, Ohio next June. The Summit is always fun, helps build your career, and is usually somewhat-to-very-useful from a value-for-your-employer perspective. Being a speaker at the Summit is also both good for you and good for your employer. You may think “Yeah, but I’m me; I’m not one of them” as if “they” are some advanced life-form. They are the experts, the cognoscenti, the keepers of the lore, the ones in-the-know. They are you.

You may be an expert yourself without even knowing it. Our work experiences are different. You may routinely perform some action learned long ago that I am struggling with today. I may have learned from some embarrassing mistake that you are about to stumble into. We can all learn from each other; the trick is to identify where your areas of expertise are.

Here’s an example. At a previous employer, I was a lone writer, and I had to produce printed documentation. I made some mistakes along the way, but after a while I was producing some mighty sharp-looking manuals. To me it was one more hassle at the end of a release cycle, until I realized that I was sharing that wisdom frequently on the STC Lone Writers SIG. Clearly some of my colleagues needed to know what to me was routine.

I am terrified of public speaking. That’s not weird, I know. Many people hate to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers and talk. What if I tell them things that maybe they already know better than I do!

I proposed a piece about “Printed Documentation for Lone Writers” as part of a progression run by Ed Marshall at the Philadelphia Summit, maybe 7-8 years ago. My wife joined me and we made a mini-vacation of it. A progression is when several people speak in the same room during a session, each at their own tables, and the attendees can see several of these mini presentations. It was a great starter presentation.

I was still nervous as a cat when I was ready to talk, but I soon recognized myself out there. The attendees were as interested in my topic as I had been at other sessions. They had real problems that I could help them with. It was great!

I went to the Summit in Phoenix last May, where I spoke as part of Neil Perlin’s Bleeding Edge series. That was a much, much bigger crowd. I was about ready to fake a heart attack just to get out of it, when Neil told me “John, you’re not a politician. Nobody is here to see you fail. You know something that they want to know. So go up there and tell them. Now!”

It worked. I launched into the presentation and by the time the butterflies caught up I was on a roll. My confidence has improved with each presentation. I do not expect to become a motivational speaker, but at least now I know that I can be on either side of the podium, learning or teaching. You can, too.

Not sure about the whole thing? Consider warming up at Interchange 2015, next spring. STC New England’s regional conference is smaller, more low-key, and you’re going to have friends in the audience. Keep checking back for information as we put the pieces in place and issue our own call for proposals.