Because I had vacation plans overlapping with the 2018 Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit, I only attended briefly on Tuesday, May 22, and the half day on Wednesday, May 23. However, I got a strong impression from the overall program and exhibitor list of what STC membership is focused on. I also spent a little time seeking out some additional inputs on the book. Today I’ll talk about the overall Summit; on Monday, I’ll share the inputs I received for the book.
What is the STC’s focus?
If you look at the 2018 Summit’s sponsor list, the exhibitors prominently featured content-management and content-generation tool companies. The largest (their Platinum Sponsor) was Adobe, which makes FrameMaker and Acrobat software. The other players in the exhibitor room sold on content management tools or software to help technical communicators develop content in the DITA (pronounced DITT-ah) version of the Extensible Markup Language (XML).
XML is a computer coding language akin to (but more advanced than) HTML. Focused on presenting written text, it includes additional tags to help more easily organize and search content. Content management systems and software are used to help information developers create, distribute, and reuse content. The organizations most likely to use them are other software developers, which might reuse the same content in an online help feature, software documentation, or an actual paper technical manual.
Many of the educational sessions had a content-management or XML focus:
- Topic-based and Structured Authoring-Keeping it Simple
- Managing Multiple Audiences with Reusable Content-Adobe
- How to Prepare Content for Conversion to DITA XML-Stilo
- Cutting Edge Design with MadCap Flare-MadCap
- Snagit 2018 Tips and Tricks for Technical Communicators-TechSmith
- Give ‘Em What They Want: Delivering a Consistent Content Experience-Adobe
- DITA Isn’t for Everyone. SmartDocs Is. SmartDocs Transforms MS Word into a Complete Management Solution
- Content Management and Reuse Use Case: How to Explore, Select, and Implement a Solution-36Software
- Tech Writing Meets Translation: Tips and Tricks
- How to Pick a System, How to Pick a Set of Tools-Single-sourcing
- Content: Is It Really An Asset?
Looking into a Crystal Ball: How FrameMaker Is Preparing You for What’s Around the Corner-Adobe
A lot of the content I write is stuff that has never been written before (e.g., proposals for new products), so I suppose it’s not surprising that I haven’t used those tools or processes on any of my jobs. I’m on the education, outreach, and marketing sides of technical communication and is constantly being refreshed in form and content. The heavy emphasis on tech I don’t use probably explains why I haven’t attended a lot of STC Summits (the price is another issue, but that’s a discussion for another day).
However, beyond the tech sessions, there were other topics that I did find interesting. While this was the STC’s 65th anniversary, the theme for this year was forward-looking: “Communicate the Future: how we work, where we work, and YOU at work.” As a result, there were various panels on leadership skills; technical issues such as artificial intelligence; and skill-based sessions focused on tools or skills that might be useful for technical communicators in the future.
On Wednesday, I had some interesting choices for the first hour, including:
- Relating to Rocket Science
- How Will Artificial Intelligence Change Tech Comm?
- Thinking About the Future
- Personal Branding: Are You Selling Features or Benefits?
Given my aerospace interests, it won’t surprise my regular readers to know that I attended the first presentation on that list. However, another speaker I was interested in hearing–Andy Hines, who gave the “Thinking About the Future”–also gave the closing keynote.
In the second hour, I attended a session titled, “Communicate Your Value: How Analytics Can Transform Your Career.” The talk was about using internal metrics to show how your position or organization (assuming you’re a technical writer) adds value for an organization, not just serving as a cost center.
Andy Hines’ closing keynote address talked about near-term and long-term trends that could affect our working lives as technical communicators. The talk also paused here and there to have the listeners discuss a variety of topics, including 3D printing, artificial intelligence, the “gig economy,” and Universal Basic Income.
If I had any gripes with the programming, it would be the sheer number of rooms/tracks (seven!). That’s too many choices, in my opinion. On the plus side, there were plenty of interesting topics.
Bottom line: it is possible to find topics of interest to you at an STC Summit, they just might not apply directly to your particular job.
Content management certainly has become the money maker, but has quality writing education taken a back seat? It’s becoming more difficult to see the value in “educational sessions” that exist just to get you to buy a product or to let you know what’s in a development pipeline. I don’t want to overlook the power of networking, but I’d like to see an emphasis on building skills rather than promoting products in the form of educational sessions.
Hi, Scott. While I share your pain, having sat through dozens of “educational sessions” at conferences that amounted to nothing more than product pitches, I think that conference organizers are doing a better job eliminating them. At the STC Summit, for example, I found that the great majority of sessions were people sharing their experience and expertise without shilling for a product or company. Other conferences, I think, are trending the same way. If you’ve soured on attending conferences for this reason, I encourage you to give them another chance.
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