Emily Alfson

Jan 252015



Patty Percival Gale

Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. Racing heart. Fluttering stomach. Could it be love? or a fear of public speaking?

It’s all my fault, really. When we’d watch a webinar or attend a conference, I’d say, “We do stuff more exciting than that! We should be up there speaking.” “You’re right,” my manager replied, “We should.” And so, a few months later, she announced, “You and Karen are approved!” “Approved for what, exactly?” “To present at a conference. You can start preparing your speech.”

Yikes, I thought. What did I get myself into?

So we planned a topic for a presentation. We selected a target conference. We submitted a proposal. We wrote outlines, fretted over graphics, prepared content, revised and refined. And waited. Would our proposal be accepted?

After a few nail-biting weeks, we got the word: We’re in! Relief and anxiety flooded my veins simultaneously. Relief because our proposal was accepted, anxiety because now we actually had to deliver. Could we really do this big thing? Present at a national conference? Of course we can! How hard can it be? We’re grown-ups, right? We have valuable insights to share, right? We can do this!

Acknowledging the state of my woefully underdeveloped presentation skills, I joined a local Toastmasters club to develop and hone some public-speaking muscles.

We continued to refine our presentation. We finalized graphics. We presented to our own team and to other teams within our organization. We accepted their praise with skepticism and incorporated their feedback with gratitude. We revised and refined some more. Removed words from the slides. Added graphics. Honed our speaking points.

We also submitted a proposal to make the same presentation at a smaller, local conference, figuring we could use that experience as a sort of dress rehearsal for the national conference. Again, after a few anxious weeks, we were accepted at the local conference.

At the end of March, we made our presentation at that local conference, cutting our teeth, so to speak, on the whole conference scene. And, despite a few butterflies in the stomach, we did a great job! The 45-minute presentation went smoothly (no technology snags, no forgotten lines). The audience was full of questions, thirsty for details. Afterwards, we basked in their applause and enjoyed further conversations about the topic.

Anxiety? Extinguished. Present at a conference? Sure, I can do that. Next stop: the national conference!

Jan 252015

STC Judges

Hooray!!!!!  Hats off to all entrants, judges, and STC council members who helped the STC New England chapter have another successful year with its competition.  Our New England chapter again sponsored the 2014 STC Competition across our local chapter as a means recognize the best and brightest achievements in the field of technical communications.

This year the STC New England chapter aligned with the four entry competition categories used by the STC International Summit Award (ISA) for judging and awards.

  • Informational Materials, such as annual reports, articles, books, periodical, technical reports, organization manuals.
  • Instructional Materials, Such as tutorials, training guides, other training materials.
  • Promotional Materials, such as brochures, catalogues, flyers, posters.
  • User Support Materials, such as job aids, quick start guides, online help, quick reference guides, technical reference guides, user guides.

There were a total of 13 entries distributed throughout the four competition categories, and a team of nine judges. The judges offered valuable and useful feedback for all of the entries submitted into this year’s competition.

The competition is a forum where entrants can have a panel of experienced members of the technical communication profession assess the quality and merit of their technical documentation. Each entry is judged against criteria that measures the degree of technical content, achievement of purpose, and technical execution. The STC Competition provides recognition and feedback to individual technical communication professionals for excellence in technical documentation. Competitions are an opportunity for everyone to submit their best work for critique by a group of peers.

Trying something a little bit different this year, the Consensus Judging Day was held at the home of the Competitions Manager, Kurt Kroeber, on November 15. The nine judges got together in their teams to discuss the entries, compare notes, and share their thoughts on which entries should qualify for an award.  All judges were passionate about the competition and their role as judges for the entries they were assessing.

There were a number of Merit, Excellence, and Distinguished awards given this year at Consensus Judging Day, and all entrants who won an award were notified by the end of November.

Our awards ceremony is scheduled as part the March 19, 2015, STC Monthly Program at the Hilton Garden Inn, Burlington, MA. At this fun event, we’ll celebrate another great competition, recognize the winning entries, and announce the winner of Best of Show. Please visit the STC New England Chapter website or this site for details as the event gets closer.

Entries winning an award of Distinguished or Excellence at our chapter-level Competition are eligible for entry into the STC’s International Summit Award (ISA) competition in early 2015.

Dec 182014

Creating a Meaningful, Modern Conference 

Our goal for Interchange 2015 is to grow the event into one that fits our modern landscape. The new Interchange must meet the demands of a new world of technology.

Since reviving Interchange in 2013, our small, dedicated crew of volunteers has tried to create a conference the meets the needs of our community.  Often we make our best educated guesses on topics such as which days of the week to hold the event, how much to charge, and what kind of topics will best serve you. To help us create a valuable event, this year we decided to go straight to the source and ask you what you want.

Survey & Results

This fall, we created a survey and circulated it through social media in an attempt to reach as many technical communication professionals as we could.  We received 52 responses, not only from New England technical communicators, but from around the country.

Your opinions have helped us plan for 2015 as we continue to mold Interchange into a vibrant, modern gathering of technical communication professionals. We want to share these results with you so that you have insight into the decisions that were made based on the survey results.

We’ve made some changes to Interchange this year based on what you indicated you wanted from a regional conference. We hope that the change we have made will better fit your needs, and we hope to see you March 27 & 28, 2015 at UMass Lowell.

Where & When 

UMass Lowell has been an excellent host for the last two years and we were pleased to see that almost everyone who responded wanted to return there. In 2015, we will return to the Lower Locks rooms, where the 2013 conference was held.

The 2014 conference was held on a weekend, and we wondered if weekdays might be preferable for our members. Your responses in the survey were divided down the middle, with 27 preferring week days and 26 preferring a weekend. We hope that we have hit on the right solution: for 2015, Interchange will be held on a Friday and Saturday.

Workshops & Sessions 

The past two years of Interchange have featured traditional speakers giving presentations on a variety of topics.  For 2015 we are considering adding a day of workshops and we asked you if you would attend.  There was enough interest in a day of workshops that we are going to try to offer at least one all-day workshop as part of Interchange.

Feed Us

If we agree on anything, it’s that we want food and we want it all day. 74% of respondents prefer to have meals provided.  Coffee and snacks throughout the day are a must.

Have a food allergy or dietary restriction?  Let us know!  In most cases we can accommodate allergies and restrictions.

Dollars & Cents 

Some of us are lucky enough to work for an employer that will pay for continuing education and professional development, but not everyone has that luxury.  Our community is split about 50/50, with half reporting that their employer will pay the cost, and half reporting that they pay their own way.

The New England Chapter is run like a business with budgets and profit/loss responsibilities. We try to keep the cost of Interchange manageable for our community, while maintaining a self-sustaining event. Your response to our question about costs shows us that you respect the value of the experience and education you receive from Interchange.

In 2014, we set our prices and were able to drastically lower them due to a sponsorship from Adobe. For 2015, we priced the conference to make it a self-sustaining event. Hosting a conference is an expensive endeavor. Renting the space, providing food, IT equipment, and all the little things like printing brochures cost money.  We’ve done our best to keep costs down and keep this event affordable for our community.

We are offering 2-day and 1-day registrations, and as always, STC members receive a discount.  Visit Interchange Registration for additional information, but note that registration is not open yet.


We are actively looking for sponsors for the event to keep our costs down. If your company is interested in sponsoring Interchange, please contact us!

Would you like to present a session at Interchange? 

The call for proposals for speakers is open.  Proposals are due January 9, 2015.  Visit the  Interchange web page to submit your proposal.

We look forward to seeing you at Interchange 2015!

Jun 012014
This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series Prez Says

It is bittersweet for me to announce that I am relocating to Detroit, Michigan for a new opportunity, and leaving Boston and the New England Chapter of the STC.  I will hand over the presidency to the capable hands of Nancy Allison one month early, passing the gavel at the May program meeting. I have a new challenge waiting for me with a new company, and a city and a state that could use a helping hand. It is an exciting time, but also a little sad to leave a place that has become a second home.

Before I go, I want to share how I came to be here in the first place. In 2006, I was transferred from St Louis, Missouri to Billerica, for my job at APC. I knew one person in the area when I moved, and my tech pubs team was located in Denmark, so I was quite on my own in this strange place. I was lucky enough to have my company send me to the 2006 STC Summit, so I ventured to Las Vegas, won $300 in the casinos, and met a few people along the way.

In the elevator at Bally’s, one of passengers saw my name tag, which included my new city of residence, Nashua, New Hampshire. He mentioned that he was president of the Boston chapter of the STC and invited me to attend a meeting. As a new resident, anything “in Boston” meant getting lost, suffering through horrible traffic jams, and taking my life into my hands driving with the locals.  I gave it little thought and moved on.  Later at the conference, at the Honors Banquet, I recognized the man and went to say hello.  While I chatted with the people at the Boston chapter table, some crazy guy with a camera snapped this photo.

Greg and Emily in 2006

Flash forward to 2014.  The New England chapter stepped up its social media presence, and Immediate Past President Rick Lippincott posted a link to his Flickr photo album of the 2004 Summit on the New England Facebook page.  While browsing through the photos, I stumbled upon a picture of myself, sitting at a table with Greg Bartlett.

Never burn bridges, they say.  You never know where you path will take you.  Good advice, though overused, and often ignored. In this case, it was true. I had no idea that eight years later, I would be attending the Summit again, this time also in the desert, in Phoenix, Arizona, representing the New England Chapter as President, receiving a Community of Excellence Award with my fellow chapter members.  One of whom was Rick Lippincott, the guy who took the photo in 2006.

Community of Excellence Award, 2013 New England Chapter

In two weeks I will be starting a new adventure, this time in my home state of Michigan. I expected to stay in New England for two, maybe three years, and it’s been almost nine. I’ve been fortunate to meet many wonderful people, and a good deal of them through the Boston, Northern New England, and now the New England chapters of the STC. It has been a pleasure to connect with so many wonderful people, and talented colleagues. I will miss you all.

I will continue my role as Immediate Past President remotely and will continue to contribute to the New England chapter, and start will volunteering with the Southeast Michigan Chapter of the STC in the fall.

There is no need to say goodbye. Instead, I will see you soon.

Mar 202014
This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series Prez Says

This year, 2014, is the busiest and most active that this STC chapter has seen in a long time. All of this is possible because of the very hard work of a few individuals. The Council has been working hard since the Crossover meeting last August to put on all of these events for our chapter and for the technical communicators of New England. The entire Council has been hard at work this year and it shows with all of the chapter’s accomplishments.

The majority of this effort is done behind the scenes. The many hours of meetings and phone calls, of problem solving and debating, the flood of emails that come when a new challenge arises … it is a lot of work. Why do we do it? Because the rewards are worth it. There is satisfaction in working on a team and working toward goals and finally accomplishing those goals. We are working together toward a greater good for all of us. It doesn’t hurt that John caters our Council meetings with amazing homemade gourmet food. The food is really, really good.

I want to shed some light on all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and tell you about a few of your Council members who have been working hard.

Kurt KroberKurt Kroeber volunteered to join the Council and to chair the 2013 Technical Communication Competition. Kurt had been involved with the competitions in the past, but since they had been dormant for several years, he had to rebuild and reorganize the whole production. With a few guides along the way (thank you, Mark Decker and Mike Nelson) he organized the competitions and coordinated the training and judging locations for the Online competition. I helped out with the Technical Publications category. The result was a successful competition with local entries and entries submitted from throughout the country. Kurt put in a tremendous amount of time and work into the competitions, and we are both happy to wrap up the year with the Awards Presentation at the March chapter program.

Nancy AllisonNancy Allison jumped into her Vice presidency with energy and vigor and true dedication to improving the chapter program meetings, finding new and interesting speakers, and reaching out to our wider audience with webinars. She has worked tirelessly this year to put the most successful programs that the chapter has hosted in many years. In addition to the monthly meetings, she also coordinated with Ed Marshall to put on two sold-out workshops in the fall. Nancy has also been volunteering her time to the Interchange committee, and is gearing up to run the chapter elections in the spring.

John Sgammato

John Sgammato has become the webmaster, a membership crusader, and the personal chef of the council meetings. He started the Scribbling Tipplers social hour and cultivated it into a huge success. He caters each council meeting with gourmet, homemade, and delicious meals, and hosts us at the office where he works. John has focused a lot of his efforts on maintaining and building our membership, he has convinced some former members to return and has brought many brand-new faces to our events. His efforts are mostly behind the scenes, but the results are visible in the growing audience at our events!

Rick Lippincott

Rick Lippincott has served on the Council for many years now, including two as President (he was the last president of the Boston Chapter and the first president of the New England Chapter), and two as Immediate Past President. Just when we thought he might want some time off, he volunteered to run Interchange! This year, he is growing Interchange into a two-day event with an impressive list of speakers. Over the years, he has guided this chapter through some lean times, through a merger, and into the growing organization that we are today. Rick was also a pioneer in Social Media for our chapter, he often posts as the @STCNewEngland on Twitter.

Art Campbell Art Campbell created the STC New England News Site that you are reading right now. Initially, the Council wanted to bring back a newsletter and Art’s suggestion was to modernize the idea of a newsletter and created this dynamic News site for the chapter. (It is also a great opportunity for us to learn WordPress, a valuable skill that looks good on a resume. Another example of the behind-the-scene-benefit you get in STC NE — you learn new technical skills that might apply to your job or your next job.)

Jan 142014
This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series Prez Says

January is a time of renewal. A new year brings a new start and we resolve to eat less, exercise more, take time to relax and smell the roses. It also brings the time to renew your STC membership! Or join or join again, if you were a member in the past but aren’t current.

I am often asked to describe the benefits of being an STC member. In fact, about half of the people who attend our events aren’t STC members and there is often discussion about the value of being a member.

  • Support your local chapter. When you become an STC member, and select the join the New England Chapter, a portion of your membership fee comes back to our chapter. We use this money to fund our events, our monthly program meetings our workshops, and InterChange.
  • Networking. People. Face to face contact. Perhaps the most valuable resource that I have from the STC is the people. At a local level, our monthly programs are a great way to network with colleagues, meet new people, or put your resume in the hands of someone who is hiring.At the international level, the STC Summit introduces you to technical communicators from all over the world who are dealing with the same challenges that you are – and they might have a solution! I’ve had the pleasure of attending three Summits and I honestly say that I leave them with a renewed sense of excitement for my work and it comes from the people that I meet. The same applies for our local meetings!
  • Access to STC resources. When was the last time you learned something new that could improve your work, or help you land the next opportunity? The Society has an impressive library of webinars and education resources. Each month they host several new webinars on various topics related to our field. If you’re feeling a little stuck or like technology is changing faster than you can keep up, try attending a webinar and keep your skills sharp.
Dec 112013
This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series Prez Says

The holidays are upon us. This is a time of celebration and family. And crowded parking lots, long lines at every store, and holiday music creeping into our ears every place we go. Before you know it, you’re putting lights on the house humming Jingle Bells to yourself until your fingertips start to freeze while sipping on a gingerbread latte. These times can also be a little stressful, so here is our Technical Writer’s Holiday Survival Guide to get you through the holidays with minimal stress, and maybe even a little relaxation.

Greeting Cards

Every day the mail carrier brings a new stack of holiday greetings, tidings of joy, and news of family and friends near and far. And since you are still in editor mode from your 60-hour week, you can’t help but to analyze every one of them for grammatical errors. Come on, admit it! Somewhere in between season’s greetings, school pictures of children, and that one relative who sends a detailed account of every single activity the family did in the past year, you find yourself with red pen in hand, adding commas and striking misused gerunds.

Put the pen down. Enjoy the news from near and far that actually arrives in the mail. Real mail. Paper mail! Let the typos go and take a deep breath. There is no deadline to meet, just enjoy!

Social Gatherings

The holiday festivities abound with parties, happy hours, dinners, buffets, and cookies everywhere! At these gatherings, we celebrate and reconnect. Until someone asks you what you do. You cringe, knowing what is coming next.

“Well, I’m a technical writer.”
“Right. So… what do you do?”
“Well, to put it simply, I write instruction manuals.”
“You know no one reads those, right?”

We’ve all had that conversation. Take this as the perfect opportunity to refill your glass of eggnog and to bite the head off another gingerbread cookie.

Those Holiday Pounds

All of these social gatherings inevitably lead to the dreaded holiday weight gain. Fear not! Before 2014 even settles in, you will be right back to chasing your SMEs, furiously typing away to meet the next deadline, and pulling your hair out when that engineer asks why you can’t just cut-and-paste your content from the product spec?

If that doesn’t work off those gingerbread cookie calories, fear not! The next Nor’easter is right around the corner.

Holiday Decorations

Lights! Inflatables Santas riding polar bears! Your neighbors ultra-megawatt display that lights up the entire street (and shines right in your window!) The outdoor holiday decorations are in full swing.
But your lights are up first and fastest on your block! Why? Because you probably planned your design, checked the inventory from last year’s lights, bought some new ones, and pulled out the diagram of the lighting set up that you did last year!

Your lights from last year still work because you stored them properly, just as it said in the instructions! No burned out bulbs here, you knew to connect only three strings together before blowing a fuse?

Yup, that was in the instructions too! No mismatched, half-blinking, half-solid, half-burned out strings of lights on your house.

You got all that done on time, on budget, and within the power rating of your home circuit because, as a technical writer, you are unfailingly organized, efficient, logical, and detail-oriented. And you read the manual!

Happy Holidays from STC New England!

Nov 202013
This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series Prez Says

Your STC New England Council, the first full Council in… well let’s just say a few years, is a motivated and dedicated group of people. They are the people who are creating the momentum that you’ve seen lately. They are bringing fresh ideas to our organization and looking at what we do with fresh eyes. A lot of new ideas have already been implemented and there are more to come.

Have you been to a program meeting lately? The monthly programs have a new energy and excitement to them. There are new faces and some faces that we haven’t seen for some time. We have students coming from local colleges and universities. We have job announcements (yes, you read that right!) We are the best source of networking for anyone who falls under the wide umbrella of “technical communicator,” if you haven’t been to a meeting at the Burlington Garden Inn lately, you really don’t know what you’re missing.

Map of the Burlington Hilton Garden Inn

Center map

Try the Scribbling Tipplers social hour. We meet the second Wednesday of the month at Waxy O’Connor’s in Lexington, MA. It’s a great Irishish pub with good food and plenty of libations. This is an informal gathering and everyone is welcome — just show up and ask for the STC table. And see John Sgammato’s description of the December fest!

Map t o Waxy O'Conner's

Center map

Have you heard about the return of InterChange?

InterChange is back…again! Last year we held the first regional conference Boston had seen in 11 or 12 years (there was much discussion about how many years it had been, we settled on 11 or 12.) In 2014, InterChange is growing to be a 2-day event with speakers coming in from all over the country.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, oh my!

STC New England is one of the most active STC chapters on social media. Looking for a job? We tweet them. Looking to connect with other writers both local and global? Like our Facebook page. Need to hire someone? Check out our followers on LinkedIn. If you’re not using social media, this is an easy way to get started.

If you have never been to one of our events, or if you just haven’t been in a while, I invite you to join us. Come say hello, introduce yourself, and be a part of the new STC New England.

I look forward to seeing you there.