(Ed. Note: Nancy Allison, Paul Duarte, Elizabeth Klisiewicz, Steve Jong, and Rick Lippincott contributed to this report.)
STC New England held its annual InterChange regional conference on October 20 and 21, 2017 at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Inn and Conference Center.
Thanks to the hard work of conference manager Emily Alfson and a dedicated group of volunteers, as well as the generosity of sponsors Adobe, MadCap Software, 36Software, and Single-Sourcing Solutions, InterChange once again attracted speakers and attendees from across the US and Canada. This year saw 21 sessions, boosted by a strong presence from members of the Rochester Chapter.
The conference was well received. Attendee Elizabeth Klisiewicz commented, “As always, I enjoyed my time at the conference, catching up with former work colleagues and meeting people I’ve communicated with on the phone for over a decade.” Past Chapter President Nancy Allison said, “InterChange was great as always, and I especially enjoyed meeting new people, like Johanne Lavallée, who came all the way from Quebec.”
Ben Woelk of the Rochester Chapter delivered the keynote address, speaking about his work on introverted leadership. Technical writers are notorious introverts. (If you emerge from meetings drained, you might be an introvert.) A successful organization needs all types of personalities, but some roles would seem out of reach for introverts. Not necessarily. Ben said that as an introvert he thought he couldn’t lead the Rochester Chapter. He approached the challenge by breaking his year into small tasks that he could carry out, which started him on a course that led to Society-level roles and, eventually, an STC President’s Award. Now he is sharing his experiences and research to encourage other introverts to seek leadership roles. He has set up a channel on the Slack team messaging application, introvertedleadership.slack.com. Contact Ben at Ben.Woelk@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.
Ben also offered a workshop Saturday afternoon on temperament-based strategies. Elizabeth said, “By far, the best part of the conference was Ben Woelk. Both the keynote speech and his workshop were excellent. As a fellow introvert who cowers away from leadership, I was encouraged by what he had to impart to us. It helped me on multiple levels, informing me that I too can make a difference, even from the side of the room instead of the center. I also liked the information on personalities in the workplace, what ticks people off, and what they need to recover. I have heard of workplaces that actually display a person’s Myers Briggs personality type, and this can aid in interfacing well with a myriad of different personalities.”
Sessions were arranged into technical and professional development tracks.
Technical Track Highlights
“Testing Your Documentation Samples”—Dallas Kennedy discussed the importance of testing documentation command-line examples as if they were code, because they are more amenable to testing and because wrong examples can trigger support calls. Comprehensive, realistic examples are most valuable to customers.
“UI Text: Writing the Content that Users Actually Read”—Deb Sauer pointed out that the first engagement customers have with a product, even hardware, is now commonly through an app. The watchwords of UI design are the same as for writing: consistency, concision, and correctness.
“Bits of the Future—Information 4.0 and the Future of Tech Comm.”—Neil Perlin described Industry 4.0, a factory automation and data exchange standard being developed in Germany, and its informational component Information 4.0 (created in association with tekom). The standard calls for structured content at a very fine level (called “molecules”) that can be served up automatically, like targeted Facebook ads. Attendee Nancy Allison said, “I knew I could rely on Neil Perlin to provide a view ahead to the changes coming to our field, and he did not disappoint with his presentation on Information 4.0.”
“Overview of MadCap Flare: Topic-Based Authoring and Single-Source Publishing”—Jennifer Morse of MadCap, an InterChange sponsor, recounted the company’s history and demonstrated the latest version of Flare, its industry-leading and popular technical documentation tool.
“Create Presentation Handouts That People Will Actually Use”—Chuck Campbell suggested that handouts shouldn’t be an automatic part of a presentation, and opined that presentations, slides, and handouts are entirely separate. If you decide to create handouts, they can be swag, questionnaires, summaries, or quick-reference cards. Along the way he offered excellent tips on making better use of PowerPoint.
“Screencasting: Tips for Creating Engaging Screencasts”—Julia Cho reported that young millennials much prefer screencasts to text, and described how to capture GUI interactions using software such as Camtasia or Captivate. She offered tips on recording good-quality audio and capturing WebEx meetings.
Professional Development Track Highlights
“Why Should I care What You’ve Done?”—Marilyn Woelk (Ben’s wife), a hiring manager who has reviewed thousands of resumes and conducted many interviews, stressed personal branding. You need to tell people who you are and what you do, because it may not be clear from your résumé.
“Using Volunteering to Boost your Career”—STC Rochester Secretary Johanne Lavallée described how STC France reenergized when it reformed as Technical Writers Without Borders, which Chapter President Paul Duarte described as “a nonprofit organization that puts technical communicators in touch with people from around the world who need help completing technical communication projects. Johanne showed a video of her helping a girl in Mali with a project.” Once you acquire skills and confidence from your volunteer experience, you can bring them back to the job and boost your career.
“Become a Strategic Communicator”—David Caruso said that everyone drawing a paycheck needs to solve problems, add value, or improve quality—and needs to be able to articulate that worth. This holds for groups as well. Everyone needs to understand the organization’s strategic goals and align with them.
“Ideas and Advice for Building Side Gigs at Your Day Job”—STC Rochester President Kelly Schrank gave ideas for side projects that can give technical writers, as Paul said, “skills to keep current on technical communication trends, or even a way to transition to a new role.”
“The Art of Personal Branding”—Liz Fraley pointed out that because we go in and out of employment, branding is important to us. She broke it down to picking four words that describe you. To differentiate yourself, she said, don’t be generic, be specific.
The highlight of the closing session was the awarding of this year’s Landers/Carbrey Spirit of Volunteerism Award to Emily Alfson. For the second time in four years, Emily earned the Chapter’s highest award of recognition for her continued work in support of STC New England, particularly her “continued remote management of the InterChange conference,” even after moving back to her home state of Michigan.