Reflections on a Conference (TCC 2009)

I’d like to offer a few general impressions and some specifics. First for the general ones:

  • As always, our community was interested in being challenged. The conference was intentionally designed to offer a cross between tool-oriented sessions and ones related more to how we document rather than the tools we use. Last year, the tool-based sessions were a big hit; this year, the general consensus was that companies are less interested in spending money on new tools and more interested in how writers can be more efficient with what they currently use.
  • Documentation is undergoing a serious facelift. New avenues for reaching users directly are available and need to be optimized. Developers can now connect directly with users (via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Forums, etc.) making the standard manual less important. While it remains an important tool, it is no longer the main or only way to reach users.
  • This last point does not mean that we technical writers are becoming obsolete – only that we have to change how we work. We have to, as Miriam Lottner and others pointed out – challenge ourselves to meet these new requirements and new avenues for documentation.
  • This led right into another session that was presented later in the day – on social networking. How can we use the same tools our end-users use – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. WritePoint’s Kelli Brown will be leading the WritePoint Innovators-Needed discussions as we move more and more into this field and already some really great ideas are taking form. Kelli has called for a meeting later this week to begin this exciting road and see where this will take our company and industry!
  • This year, the conference offered a 3-part series related to DITA and managing content – and all three sessions were very well attended. People were very interested in seeing DITA Live – a joint session between Alex Masychef of WritePoint and Andy Lewis of Radvision. Andy explained how WritePoint helped Radvision implement a DITA solution, its benefits and the general workflow. This was a great starting point for many who have heard about DITA and wanted to know more.
  • Another session that had a high number of participants was Ben Goldfarb’s Mind-Mapping. Ben is always a great presenter, and people were clearly very interested in the topic.
  • Avigail Frij (another WritePoint presenter) offered two sessions – the one about Effective Training Materials was especially in-tune with Miriam’s message and offered a glimpse of a new WritePoint joint venture for a new training platform that enables you to combine the best of video and PowerPoint or Captivate clips.
  • Another highlight was the amazing amount of networking going on throughout the day – everywhere, in the rooms, in the halls, in corners and during lunch, people were talking about what is happening in our industry today and the best ways to remain effective and important in our jobs.

Those were some of the more general comments I had about the conference. I think it was an amazing success because it is something for which our community is hungry. While many of us work in documentation teams, even with these other technical writers we rarely have the time to network and track how things are in a more global sense. Beyond the sessions that really offered challenging and advanced subjects, there was plenty of time to just talk to others and see how this economic situation is effecting them, worrying them, and pushing them to better their skills.

I was thrilled to see more than a dozen WritePoint graduates at the conference. One told me that she attended last year and felt that she had enjoyed it, but only this year did she really feel that she understood, had gained, and taken part as a full member of the technical writing community.

If I could name two things that dominated this conference, it would be the economic situation and social networking (specifically as a means for innovation and opening the doors of technical communication with our end users).

On a personal level, I would like to thank the entire WritePoint staff for putting in so many hours on this conference. The nice part was hearing from so many a recognition of how hard we worked. Ezriel Yellin, former list owner and one of the Techshoret moderators spoke out at the final session and declared that the next Techshoret Communicators Conference would take place on February 25th, 2010 – again in Jerusalem. We’ll look into it and let you all know – but one thing seems a certainty: We’ll be back – next year in Jerusalem – hopefully better, stronger, bigger, and, as ever, in tune with where our community and industry are going.

Thanks to all who attended for making it an incredible day and, my final personal note…yeah, I realize that 250 cookies wasn’t enough and have made myself a note to aim for 400 cookies next year!