The poster competition is returning to TCUK19

Once again we are inviting anyone who is planning to attend the conference – either as a delegate or as a presenter – to submit a poster. We will choose the best 20 of the submissions and have them made into pull-up display stands that will be on display in the exhibitor area throughout the conference. Those whose posters are on display will have an opportunity to discuss their poster ideas with other delegates. The posters on display will be judged and there will be a prize for the best poster and the funniest poster.

There are only a few rules and requirements:

  • The poster must be your original work and must be on a technical communications-related subject.
  • The file must be submitted so it is suitable for printing at 800mm x 2,000mm (portrait orientation) in PDF set to 300dpi. Any images included in the banner artwork will need to be high resolution.
  • Posters can be accepted only from those who are attending the conference.
  • Entries must be received by 19th August 2019 – send to claire.kelly@admin.co.uk.

Here are a few places that provide tips for creating good posters:

We look forward to seeing your entry!

TCUK19 Speaker Ellis Pratt – Let’s make a podcast!

Ellis Pratt will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Let’s make a podcast”.

We’ll look at the podcasts that can help you in your technical communication career. We’ll also look at how we make the Cherryleaf Podcast, and how you could create a podcast of your own.

Furthermore, we will create an episode for that podcast, asking some of the delegates about their experience at the conference – what they learnt, what they liked, what they will do after the conference.

About Ellis Pratt

Ellis Pratt is a Consulting Technical Communicator and Director at Cherryleaf, a technical writing services company. He has been working in technical communication since the early 1990s. He has a degree in Business Studies, and is a member of organisations such as the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the ISTC Management Council. Ellis was a contributor to two books: Current Practices and Trends in Technical Communication, and The Language of Technical Communication.

TCUK19 Speaker Ellis Pratt – What skills will technical communicators need for the upcoming years?

Ellis Pratt will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “What skills will technical communicators need for the upcoming years?”.

The ways organisations support end users has changed over time. This is because new technologies emerge, products change, and users become more confident in using technology on a daily basis. We’ll look at how User Assistance is likely to change, and the skills technical communicators may need to have in the near future. We’ll also look at how Designers are facing similar issues, and how they are adapting.

About Ellis Pratt

Ellis Pratt is a Consulting Technical Communicator and Director at Cherryleaf, a technical writing services company. He has been working in technical communication since the early 1990s. He has a degree in Business Studies, and is a member of organisations such as the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the ISTC Management Council. Ellis was a contributor to two books: Current Practices and Trends in Technical Communication, and The Language of Technical Communication.

TCUK19 Speaker George Bakalios – Making the most of challenging situations or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Challenge

George Bakalios will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Making the most of challenging situations or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Challenge”.

 

In the fast pacing world of technology nothing remains the same for a long time. New challenges come up every day and work can become overwhelming very easily. In this presentation I will talk about how one can embrace the challenges, see the positive side of them, and how this can develop the individual’s skills and boost their careers. I will be using my personal journey as an example and how the various challenges I faced over the years proved to be opportunities and equipped me with the skills to progress my career.

About George Bakalios

George comes from an Electrical and Computer Engineering background having studied at both the University of Patras and UCL. He started his career in Athens working as a Documentation Specialist for Nokia Siemens Networks before moving to Cambridge to be a Technical Author at Arm. After a few years working on a number of Arm CPU projects, in 2018 George took the role of a Senior Manager in Technical Communications leading a very diverse team of Information Developers spread throughout the globe.

TCUK19 Speaker Joaquim Baptista – Inspire with Comics (Workshop)

Joaquim Baptista will be giving a TCUK19 workshop on “Inspire with Comics”.

Successful software products accumulate features over time, becoming more complex and harder to explain.
When complex products are combined with staff turnover, knowledge of product features erodes over time, and the software products are used below their potential.

Comics can teach staff how to recognize the situations that products solve, as a starting point for further exploration of documentation and user interfaces.

After the workshop, the participants should be able to:

* Identify good comics.
* Identify people stories behind product features.
* Craft insightful comics to explain product features.
* Explain products with coordinated sets of comics.

About Joaquim Baptista

Currently working at Farfetch, Joaquim has documented large and evolving software products that require industrial writing processes instead of just writing craftsmanship, since 1997.

In 2014, Joaquim adopted comics as a way to quickly introduce product features to new users, or to add insight to training lessons. Later, Joaquim adopted comics to show how users experience a product, and to explain the many problems solved by a larger company.

Before tackling documentation, Joaquim worked as trainer, programmer, system administrator, and academic researcher.

TCUK19 Speaker George Bina – Docs as Code and DITA

George Bina will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Docs as Code and DITA”

Treating Documentation as Code and using similar tools as developers is a trend known as “Docs as Code” that gained a lot of adoption in the recent years. “Docs as Code” approach is usually associated with source formats like Markdown, Asciidoc while DITA is associated with a heavy, old, monolithic CMS, as if DITA implies that CMS. In reality, this is not the case, DITA is a perfect fit for “Docs as Code” solutions and it is actually used as such in a number of projects. It provides also many advantages like semantic tagging, built-in reuse functionality, validation frameworks for both structure and business rules and more.

About George Bina

George Bina is one of the founders of Syncro Soft, the company that develops oXygen XML suite of XML editing, authoring, development, publishing and collaboration tools. He has more than 20 years of experience in working with XML and related technologies, bringing many innovative ideas to reality and contributing to XML-related open-source projects.

He presented at many XML, DITA, and technical communication conferences, giving passionate presentations and challenging the technological status quo, trying to get the audience to think outside the box, and re-imagine the future.

TCUK19 Speaker Charlotte Claussen – When correct and complete is not enough – how to give users reassurance (Workshop)

Charlotte Claussen will be giving a TCUK19 workshop on “When correct and complete is not enough – how to give users reassurance”.

Even when we deliver correct and complete information, we can still leave our users in a state where they feel insecure and find their tasks difficult.

In this workshop we will discuss what can make users insecure, for example inconsistency, assumptions of what the product is meant to do, or lack of context. We will look at concrete examples to spot potential triggers of insecurity, and we will discuss how we can make changes that can give the users the reassurance they need.

Examples for exercise will be provided, but I also encourage you to send examples of your own. Due to security requirements, digital materials must be sent to TCUK 3 weeks before the conference.

About Charlotte Claussen

Charlotte is a technical writer with experience from start-up-agency, and corporate environments. She has always been interested in how people know what to do with stuff, and why they sometimes get it wrong. She currently works for Cisco, excited about the enterprise challenge of reducing cognitive load for users while meeting the requests of customers.

TCUK19 Speaker George Lewis – How to publish your docs every 10 seconds like Amazon

George Lewis will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “How to publish your docs every 10 seconds like Amazon“.

The traditional documentation approval and release cycle doesn’t fit with products that use continuous integration. I mean, Amazon updates their products every 10 seconds (ok 11.7s)!! How can they possibly have time to compile HTML in a desktop publishing tool and then publish? 

 “Docs as code” arose out of the need to align documentation processes with code development processes. So the approach has been driven by developers and DevOps teams to use the tools they already have such as simple text-based authoring with Markdown or ASCIi doc combined with static site generators.

 But this was not enough, so now we have developer portals tools such as Readme.io and APIary. Does this mean there is no place for the powerful DTP tools we are comfortable with such as MadCap Flare or FrameMaker?

 In this presentation we will look at the docs as code workflows and tools, and see how a feature-rich DTP package like MadCap Flare can be used.

About George Lewis

George heads up the Service Delivery team at 3di. Having started his career in tech comm nearly 20 years ago in Germany, George has served his time as a writer of documents as well as a consultant helping organisations automate their documentation workflows.

 George is passionate about developing the people and processes necessary to bring tech comms into the 21st century.

 

TCUK19 Speaker Liz Gregory – Sign says 10 miles to Bognor Regis – signposting your help content

Liz Gregory will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Sign says 10 miles to Bognor Regis – signposting your help content“.

Signposting gives us information. Go this way, stop here, expect deer on the road. This is as important in help content as it is on our roads. All users start somewhere, need to know where they are, and have a destination in mind. Are they in the right place? Where else should they be?

 If you’re a newbie, or more used to printed manuals, this presentation will help you signpost your help content. This paragraph is a navigational aid – it tells you whether you’re looking at the right presentation for your needs. Would it have been more useful at the top? Let’s find out!

About Liz Gregory

Liz Gregory MISTC is the sole technical author at tvONE and writes about commercial AV hardware and software. She has a background in chemistry and education and is a champion of user-first content. Liz’s current big project is raising a wonderful daughter while continuing to be the sole author supporting 500 products. She’s learned a lot about juggling deadlines, priorities, and being organised: plan, plan, plan, and always carry a contingency nappy. She is a dedicated member of the Thames Valley ISTC group, and enjoys knitting, web comics, and ball pits.

TCUK19 Speaker Mark Monaghan – It started at 10 – how technical communication guides us through life

Mark Monaghan will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “It started at 10 – how technical communication guides us through life”.

Technical communication sets up our expectations for learning from a young age. This session highlights some of the familiar and some unexpected places one person experienced the fruits of our profession, and suggests how the lessons from these early encounters can continue to inform the documentation process throughout a career.

 

About Mark Monaghan

After a meandering career including TEFL, mechanics, and coaching, Mark completed a degree in Astrophysics at Maynooth University. It was here that he wrote his first technical document, after getting frustrated with verbally explaining to each individual in the class how to fix a particular bug in the virtual machine with the image reduction software. He now works at a fintech company.

TCUK19 Speaker Michael Bergstrom – Ten STE Myths Busted

Michael Bergstrom will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Ten STE Myths Busted”.

This presentation draws on some of the material written in Mike’s article “The Great STE Myth”, published in the Winter 2018 edition of Communicator. It tackles the inaccurate hype surrounding Simplified Technical English, exposing ten of the myths that are continually propagated in an attempt to keep this controlled language alive. Mike’s view is that STE is a standard that has failed miserably to find its way out of its aircraft maintenance procedure niche and should be best avoided as far as possible in favour of Plain English. “Writing STE is like writing with a pair of boxing gloves on” he claims. This presentation is bound to create some fireworks and ruffle some feathers of STE proponents, but one of Mike’s self-proclaimed hobbies is ruffling feathers.

About Michael Bergstrom

Mike Bergstrom started his career as a graduate Electrical & Electronic engineer in 1983. He has worked in design, development, applications and product management in many electrical/electronic engineering disciplines including IC design, high power analogue design, computer hardware and communications. He has been a technical translator and technical writer for the last 25 years, most of it as a freelance technical author/documentation consultant. When it comes to technical writing, he has seen it all. Mike currently works at Elekta as a technical author team leader. He considers himself an engineer who can write, rather than a writer who can engineer.

TCUK19 Speaker Andrea Flolid – What’s on Second?

Andrea Flolid will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “What’s on Second?”.

As a follow-up to last year’s presentation, Who’s on First, I will advance to second base and cover What’s on Second. Once you have completed audience analysis, the next step is to identify what your customers need to know.

I plan to use my increased involvement with our Customer Success team to move from Audience Analysis (who) to Content Development (what). My presentation is outlined below:

• What we did to collate customer feedback.
• What we did with this feedback to create an improvement plan.
• What we did to implement this change.

I will conclude with some specific examples of improved documentation based on customer feedback.

About Andrea Flolid

Andrea Flolid is a Staff Information Developer at Arm. She started her career over twenty years ago designing consumer phones and remote keyless entry systems at Motorola. After taking a career break, Andrea switched gears from engineering to technical writing. Since Andrea wrote most of her own technical documentation at Motorola, this wasn’t a very big stretch. However, switching from RF circuitry to semiconductor IP required a steep learning curve. In the end, providing her customers with high quality, technically accurate products has always been at the center of Andrea’s career.

TCUK19 Speaker Liz Gregory – Ten hundred topics? Try planning with mind maps

Liz Gregory will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Ten hundred topics? Try planning with mind maps“.

 

 

Topic-based authoring is like managing your life on post-it notes. They’re small, there can be hundreds of them, and sometimes you walk off with one stuck to your shoe. It’s hard to work small but see the big picture.

A visual person, I found my solution in mind maps. I use structure, colours, and icons to plan and manage my project, topic types, effort, progress, and issues within our agile framework.

This presentation will outline the techniques I use in Mindjet MindManager. Mind maps aren’t for everyone, but if you like your information visual, maybe they’re for you!

You can download a trial version of Mindjet MindManager here: mindjet.com/start-your-free-trial-english/ and have a go yourself.

About Liz Gregory

Liz Gregory MISTC is the sole technical author at tvONE and writes about commercial AV hardware and software. She has a background in chemistry and education and is a champion of user-first content. Liz’s current big project is raising a wonderful daughter while continuing to be the sole author supporting 500 products. She’s learned a lot about juggling deadlines, priorities, and being organised: plan, plan, plan, and always carry a contingency nappy. She is a dedicated member of the Thames Valley ISTC group, and enjoys knitting, web comics, and ball pits.

TCUK19 Speaker Martin Block – Office working: Tips for an easier life

Martin Block will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Office working: Tips for an easier life“.

This presentation is a light-hearted (but hopefully helpful!) review of how to make our lives as technical communicators a little bit easier in the office environment. Its aim is to provide those new to the profession with some tips on how to thrive as office-based technical communicators, and to prompt older hands to reflect on their own office survival tactics.

 

About Martin Block

Martin Block FISTC has worked as a technical author in the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries, and currently writes for Remsdaq Ltd, a technology company based on Deeside near to Chester. He did a doctorate in physical oceanography (studying sand pick-up over ripples) before which he taught secondary school mathematics for a couple of years. Martin is a keen mountaineer and photographer, and has self-published a book – ‘Five Weeks One Summer’ – a diary of his 5-week solo trip to the high Alps back in 2004.

TCUK19 Speaker Andrea Szollossi – There are `10` types of people in this world…

Andrea Szollossi will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “There are `10` types of people in this world…”

GitHub’s 2017 Open Source Survey has shown most respondents find incomplete or confusing documentation a problem in the open source software space. However, more than half of the respondents also admit they rarely or never contribute to documentation.

Based on my experience of writing open-source documentation at the Government Digital Service, my talk will look at ways of getting your tech community involved in producing documentation.

From technical writing workshops to content critiques and from pair writing to skills exchange, I will cover successful approaches to engaging the tech community and the less successful approaches that led me there.

About Andrea Szollossi

Andrea is a technical writer at the Government Digital Service. Coming from an academic research background, she finds writing for government service teams very rewarding and impactful. Andrea particularly enjoys pair writing and the docs-as-code approach to writing documentation.

TCUK19 Speaker Chris Hester – Jack Denies, Ten Implies: The Power of Nonverbal Communication (Workshop)

Chris Hester will be giving a TCUK19 workshop on “Jack Denies, Ten Implies: The Power of Nonverbal Communication”.

Nowadays, we are so mindful about the words we speak that we forget what our physical presence is saying. Recognizing our nonverbal communication is particularly important for those of us who participate in video calls. Do our facial expressions and gestures support our words? How can we use others’ nonverbal cues to inform what we need to say or do?

In this workshop, we’ll discuss the rhetoric and types of nonverbal communication, as well as learn techniques for identifying and improving our nonverbal communication skills. Participants will discover how nonverbal communication can facilitate productive conversations and form stronger connections.

About Chris Hester

Chris is the Corporate Content Strategy and Operations Manager for UL, an STC Fellow, and a fair-weather cyclist. Prior to joining UL, she worked independently, delivering successful content strategy, taxonomy, and information architecture projects to a variety of clients, including those in the advertising, construction management, entertainment, financial services, and healthcare industries. She has been actively involved in the technical communication community as a volunteer and is a co-organizer of the Chicago Content Strategy Meetup group.

TCUK19 Speaker Jen Phillips – There are 10 kinds of people in the world: Developers and Users

Jen Phillips will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 on “There are 10 kinds of people in the world: Developers and Users”.

It can seem like developers and users are not even the same species, so getting them to work collaboratively can be quite the challenge.
I’ve seen rigid structures that prevented developers and users from ever speaking directly. I’ve also seen developers making changes at direct user request with little strategic oversight. I firmly believe there is a happy compromise to be found and I’m dedicated to building it.
I will talk about some of the processes and techniques I’ve tried, making the changes in ways that work for everyone, and some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

About Jen Phillips

Jen is a word nerd who generalises in anything techcomm-related that needs doing, including software testing and documentation. She has made a career out of getting into other people’s business and helping them out, turning this to all aspects of the software lifecycle and broadening her skills considerably along the way. She aims for improving quality in all aspects of the products, services and corporate culture she can reach, with everything from designing better processes to running regular wellbeing workshops.

TCUK19 Speaker Matthew Ellison – Top Tech Comms Technology Trends from the Past 10 Years

Matthew Ellison will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Top Tech Comms Technology Trends from the Past 10 Years”

The past decade has seen many technology changes that have significantly impacted our work as Technical Communicators – not least the explosion in use of mobile devices that were almost unheard of 10 years ago. This presentation examines the trends, and picks out some key changes that Technical Communicators should be most aware of. These include responsive Design, micro content, open source development tools, and cloud-based authoring.

About Matthew Ellison

Matthew runs UA Europe, an independent training and consultancy company that specialises in user assistance design and development. He has over 30 years of experience as a user assistance professional, including a period in the US as Director of the WritersUA Conference. Matthew has in-depth knowledge of user assistance technologies including HTML5, CSS, and jQuery, and he has trained hundreds of authors on a wide range of tools including Flare, RoboHelp, and Help+Manual. He is a past winner of the ISTC’s annual Horace Hockley award.

TCUK19 Speaker Charlotte Claussen – What others think we do – why it matters and how to set them straight

Charlotte Claussen will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “What others think we do – why it matters and how to set them straight”

Through my career I have heard many different, often incorrect, statements of what my role should be, and what type of work I should be doing. And I have met many frustrated writers whose colleagues don’t understand or prioritise their work.

In this presentation I will discuss how others’ perceptions of our role affects our work, and what we can do about it. I will share some of my own mistakes and successes, and I will present a few suggestions on how you can make your own small investigations and use the findings to improve your own work conditions.

About Charlotte Claussen

Charlotte is a technical writer with experience from start-up-agency, and corporate environments. She has always been interested in how people know what to do with stuff, and why they sometimes get it wrong. She currently works for Cisco, excited about the enterprise challenge of reducing cognitive load for users while meeting the requests of customers.

TCUK19 Speaker Chris Burden – A picture is worth a thousand words – so here’s 10 useful things to know about pictures

Chris Burden will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “A picture is worth a thousand words – so here’s 10 useful things to know about pictures“.

A technical writing skill often overlooked is the skill of creating illustrations. Having a clear, well thought out graphic can have quite an impact on your readers and how they absorb the content you have created.

I am not an artist and have had no formal training in the subject. For this presentation I will share some of my 20 years’ experience in technical writing and creating illustrations. I will cover typical tools available and the pros and cons of using illustrations in technical documentation. I will talk about the different types of illustrations you may be asked to create and how you can go about creating them.

By the end of the presentation you should have at least 10 useful bits of graphics and illustration knowledge.

 

About Chris Burden

Chris is currently working as a senior technical author at 3di Information Solutions; an industry-leading supplier of out-sourced technical writing services. With over 25 years of technical writing experience, Chris has worked on many different products across many different industries. He started his career as a technical writing at Hewlett Packard in the late 80s. However, as that questionably fashionable era ended, Chris was lucky enough to be able to move on and work on a wide range of hardware, software and service products from industries as diverse as medical, financial, forestry, security, car parking, cash machines, and even military equipment.

TCUK19 Speaker David Bailey – 10 To Midnight: Solve the last-minute rush

David Bailey will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 on “10 To Midnight: Solve the last-minute rush”.

We always work 10 minutes before the midnight deadline.

It’s a classic release documentation problem: you can’t write content until the software is stable and ready for release. But that’s the worst time to access SMEs, do the research, and write good-quality content. We write in a rush, or we release documentation late. It’s a lose-lose scenario for both writers and readers.

David will describe how he has driven a solution to this problem, and how you can apply a similar solution yourselves, by both turning everyone into writers, and by “shifting left” documentation writing.

About David Bailey

David is the Lead Information Architect at White Clarke Group, managing the Information Architecture team.

David has worked in technical communications for nearly 30 years, including technical writing and content development areas, working on a range of documentation: from product descriptions, to user guides, to detailed technical information. David has worked for multiple companies in the software sector, including ServiceNow and Orbis Technologies.

David has driven improvements in documentation at White Clarke Group, and currently manages transition of White Clarke documentation platform to a hosted help-based system.

TCUK19 Speaker George Lewis – 10 steps to streamlining your localisation: How we halved the production time for a 28-language documentation suite

George Lewis will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “10 steps to streamlining your localisation: How we halved the production time for a 28-language documentation suite”.

Producing documentation is a challenge. Producing documentation in 28 languages is tougher. But getting all 28 languages on every single page while halving the time it takes is downright ridiculous …. or is it?

Promethean sells their interactive displays for classrooms in 154 countries. To cater for these countries, the documentation is required in 28 languages.

Due to the cyclical nature of the education business new products must be available in time for the purchasing season; if you miss that window, the product is doomed. So the documentation can’t be late.

In this talk we shall discus the key steps we took to help Promethean halve the production time for their documentation. We shall cover aspects such as why we selected the tools we did, how information design played a key role, and some of the challenges we faced.

About George Lewis

George heads up the Service Delivery team at 3di. Having started his career in tech comm nearly 20 years ago in Germany, George has served his time as a writer of documents as well as a consultant helping organisations automate their documentation workflows.

George is passionate about developing the people and processes necessary to bring tech comms into the 21st century.

TCUK 2019 Bronze Sponsor – Syncro Soft SRL

Oxygen provides a comprehensive suite of XML authoring, developing, publishing, and collaboration tools. The products are designed to accommodate a large variety of users, ranging from non-technical users to XML experts, and integrates all the major XML-based technologies (including DITA). They are available on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, etc.) and in various different forms (as a desktop application, Eclipse plugin, or browser-based tool).

The suite of products include:

• Oxygen XML Editor: All-in-one comprehensive XML authoring, publishing, and developing tool
• Oxygen XML Author: User-friendly, visual XML authoring and publishing tool
• Oxygen XML Web Author: Intuitive XML editing and reviewing tool in any modern web browser
• Oxygen XML Developer: Industry-leading tool for designing XML Schema and transformation pipelines
• Oxygen WebHelp: Convenient, interactive tool for publishing DITA and DocBook content on the web
• Oxygen PDF Chemistry: Attractive PDF output from HTML or DITA through simple CSS styling
• Oxygen Content Fusion – Easy to use, flexible collaboration platform for any type of documentation workflow

TCUK19 Speaker Tony Dzumaga – 10 Things about SVG and Technical Documentation (Workshop)

Tony Dzumaga will be giving a TCUK19 workshop on “10 Things about SVG and Technical Documentation”.

This workshop will focus on SVG files to show where to use them in technical documentation; we will look at the anatomy of SVG files and the tools we can use to create them. Finally, we will focus on many examples using the diagramming tool Lucidchart.

You will be able to participate online using examples in Codepen and Lucidchart.

Finished examples will include online help using Flare and RoboHelp, printed output using FrameMaker and Word, Lucidchart schematics and diagrams, plus many more.

We will be firmly in the graphics zone, focusing on icons, infographics, schematics, and flowcharts.

About Tony Dzumaga

Tony is a Fellow of the ISTC and has worked in technical communications since 1996.

His documentation experience includes being a courseware developer and trainer in the project management sector, creating boat manuals in nine languages for a luxury yacht manufacturer and developing online help for a SCADA suite of software tools in the oil and gas industry.

Tony has experience of multimedia and graphics from being a Sony Centre and Apple Centre manager in the past.

He is currently working to create technical help content for Apteco a digital marketing software company.

TCUK19 Speaker Alexandru Jitianu – DITA and Markdown

Alexandru Jitianu will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “DITA and Markdown”.

DITA is a great choice for writing technical documentation. Ideally, all contributors to a project should use it to provide content. But sometimes, subject matter experts (like developers, engineers) will prefer to give content in another format. We will explore what possibilities arise when this other format is Markdown, a good match for structured authoring cases in which a minimal markup is enough.


We will explore various solutions like:


– getting DITA format directly from the developers
– getting Markdown format from the developers and integrate it into the DITA pipelines

About Alexandru Jitianu

Alex Jitianu has been working for more than 12 years as a software architect for Syncro Soft Ltd., the producer of the popular Oxygen XML Editor. During this period, his main focus has been in the development of technical documentation tools and DITA specific support. 

TCUK 2019 Bronze Sponsor – MadCap Software

Logo for MadCap Software

We Develop Innovative Software Solutions Backed with World-class Technical Support

MadCap Software was formed in 2005 by industry veterans with decades of experience in the technical communication and documentation industries, with the objective to develop great products backed with world-class technical support.

Today, MadCap Software is a trusted resource for thousands of companies around the globe for single-source, multi-channel authoring and publishing solutions designed for technical communication, knowledge management and content development. From authoring, publishing and translation, to cloud-based project and content management, to contribution and review in the cloud, you can streamline content delivery and manage the entire content development lifecycle with MadCap Software.

TCUK19 Speakers Zsuzsa Nagy & Derek Cooper – 10 records – CPD records keeping (Workshop)

Zsuzsa Nagy and Derek Cooper will be giving a TCUK19 workshop on “10 records – CPD records keeping”.

We will use example CPD records to improve (or start!) record keeping. We will also explore what else CPD records can be used for – turning a “chore” into a toolkit for on-the-job appraisals or job searches. The workshop is open to everybody. To get most out of the workshop, participants are requested to attend the session with their laptop and do about 1-2 hours of prep work.

About Zsuzsa Nagy

Zsuzsa Nagy has over 15 years of experience in the field of information design and is a Fellow of the ISTC. She has worked on manuals in various industries, including telecomms, microprocessor design, and inkjet print electronics. She has been keeping CPD records since she joined the ISTC in 2010.

About Derek Cooper

Derek Cooper is a Fellow of the ISTC and has been working in technical communications since 1992. He has written technical, service and user manuals, training courses and software help systems on a wide range of subjects. He has considerable experience with the Information Mapping and DITA topic-based writing methodologies. In his spare time he is active as a STEM Ambassador, discussing careers in engineering, technology and science with students of all ages at schools. As the chair of TCUK, he takes a deep interest in the process of making the conference successful and enjoyable for all attendees.

TCUK19 Speaker Chris Burden – An explanation of safety notices and how to build them in Flare

Chris Burden will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “An explanation of safety notices and how to build them in Flare“.

Health and safety information in documentation is typically managed and controlled using standards and guidelines.

In this presentation we will review the standards and guidelines that need to be considered when writing documentation for the EU market. Then we will look at how these harmonized standards relate to the federal US system and their documentation requirements.

We will focus on health and safety issues and the use and design of safety notices; what they need to include, what they are used for, and recommended content.

At the end of the session we will share some of the CSS and Flare tricks and tips we have developed at 3di for creating single-sourced safety notices that can be used for multiple outputs, while still complying with standards.

About Chris Burden

Chris is currently working as a senior technical author at 3di Information Solutions; an industry-leading supplier of out-sourced technical writing services. With over 25 years of technical writing experience, Chris has worked on many different products across many different industries. He started his career as a technical writing at Hewlett Packard in the late 80s. However, as that questionably fashionable era ended, Chris was lucky enough to be able to move on and work on a wide range of hardware, software and service products from industries as diverse as medical, financial, forestry, security, car parking, cash machines, and even military equipment.

TCUK 2019 Silver Sponsor – TWi

    TWi is a leading technical writing and information design service provider, based in Ireland. We partner with clients who require scalable and fully managed documentation solutions to meet their changing needs. We work mainly with multinational clients in the Software, Fintech, Utilities, Engineering, and Pharma/MedTech industries. Thanks to technology and Ireland’s time zone, we’ve worked with teams around the globe.
    Clients avail of our technical communication expertise and knowledge of documentation best practices, tools, and strategies to create deliverables fit to accompany their innovative creations. Typical deliverables include SOPs, technical guides, user manuals, online help, training resources, and white papers.

    Partner with us to turn your documentation into an asset by:
    – Enhancing knowledge transfer
    – Promoting usability, customer safety, and user satisfaction
    – Generating increased sales
    – Growing internal capacity to meet future documentation needs
    – Supporting legal, quality, and regulatory compliance

    TCUK19 Speaker Mike Hamilton – Micro Content, Chatbots, and Machine Learning – What Do They Mean for Technical Authoring?

    Mike Hamilton will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Micro Content, Chatbots, and Machine Learning – What Do They Mean for Technical Authoring?”.

    In our high technology world, the need for quality content is always growing. However, how that content is delivered or received is constantly evolving. In this session, Mike Hamilton will introduce the concepts around “micro content” and how it will impact traditional technical authoring. The session will cover how your content can support your existing publishing requirements (PDF, HTML5, eBook, etc.) and be made compatible with micro content at the same time. Learn how to prepare your content for use as source material for automated chat feeds, bots, and other automated delivery techniques.

    About Mike Hamilton

    Mike has over thirty years of experience in training, technical communication, multimedia development, and software development at several organizations including Blue Sky Software/eHelp/Macromedia where he ran the RoboHelp program from 1998 to 2005, Cymer, a leading supplier of laser illumination sources to the semiconductor industry, National Steel & Shipbuilding, and the US Navy.

    Mike is often a featured speaker at industry events, including the WinWriters Online Help Conferences, STC (the Society for Technical Communication) Annual Summits, TCWorld events, TCUK, SOAP, and many more events. Mike has also appeared at the Microsoft Campus and STC regional conferences and events.

    Mike is also frequently quoted in technology articles in various trade publications.

    TCUK19 Speaker Olly Kirillova – Don’t Panic! Applying 10 Risk Management Principles to Technical Communication

    Olly Kirillova will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Don’t Panic! Applying 10 Risk Management Principles to Technical Communication“.

    Have you ever felt as if you are on fire because the deadlines shifted again? Although there are some risks that you cannot prepare for, there are many others you can control, predict and plan for. 

    Technical communicators can apply risk management strategies to prepare for different outcomes. A proper risk management plan is what will keep you sane and in control. In this session, I’ll cover the basics: what constitutes a risk in Technical Communications, how to identify and evaluate risks, and, most importantly, how to set up an effective risk mitigation framework and finally stop panicking.

    About Olly  Kirillova

    Olly Kirillova, a technical communicator, content developer, and a bit of a control freak. Being a technical communicator for almost ten years, I worked in diverse projects, aimed at skilled IT professionals as well as completely non-technical users. I believe that user needs come first and always advocate for people I write for. My inner perfectionist finds joy when the documentation tasks are on track and risks are well-managed. Besides technical communications, I’m interested in project management, UX, and travelling.

    TCUK19 Speaker Ken Davies – Taking the Jump from 00 to 10 – Building HTML-Based Documentation from an infrastructure of PDF Help Files

    Ken Davies will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 on “Taking the Jump from 00 to 10 – Building HTML-Based Documentation from an infrastructure of PDF Help Files”.

    Developing online help when all other content is written in PDF format is much more than converting text to an HTML format. Creating HTML content requires a different type of writing, user experience understanding, and work methodologies. This means that much of your content needs to be created again. So how does the author make it happen while development moves on?

    Creating online help is possible with a range of modern techniques, such as topic-based authoring, Kanban methodologies, and CSS. As a result, you can deliver new content on the latest product features and minimise the documentation backlog.

     

    About Ken Davies

    Ken entered technical communications by accident while traveling. In Taiwan, he wrote marketing copy for a mini motherboard that spurred a trend in small PCs. He also worked at anti-virus giants Trend Micro.
    Continuing his exploration in technology back in the UK, he worked at map specialists 1Spatial and at Venda, pioneers in e-Commerce software.

    He loves seeing the ways in which writing can help the user and immerses himself in blogging and attending meetups.

    Currently at Microdec (part of the Access group), he has spent the last 3 ½ years designing their online help as the sole technical author.

    TCUK19 Speaker Jen Lambourne – Ones and zeros: An introduction to managing documentation like code

    Jen Lambourne will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 on “Ones and zeros: An introduction to managing documentation like code”.

    To treat documentation in the same way developers treat code requires more than a new set of tools. ‘Docs as code’ can fundamentally changed documentation culture, transforming how subject matter experts and writers create and iterate content together.

    Based on our experience introducing docs as code for all technical documentation at the Government Digital Service, this talk will explore:
    • what docs as code looks like in theory and practice
    • how to map workflows to the docs as code approach
    • what tools, design, and skills you’ll need
    • the benefits and limitations
    • how it can transform relationships with experts and users alike

    About Jen Lambourne

    Jen is a writer who loves a gnarly content problem. As Head of Technical Writing at the Government Digital Service (GDS), Jen leads a team of writers producing technical documentation and guidance to help people build, buy and reuse technology across the UK government. She likes using developer tools to manage docs, redefining how writers work with engineers, and creating inclusive, user-centred content that helps others.

    TCUK19 Speaker Margaretha Hopman – ISO 20607 … just another standard that tells you how to do your job?

    Margaretha Hopman will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 on “ISO 20607 … just another standard that tells you how to do your job?”.

    ISO 20607 “Safety of machinery – Instruction handbook – General drafting principles” is a new standard that will be on the list of harmonized standards for the Machinery Directive. Standards are usually rather boring documents, but this very practical type-B standard might help you in creating the right content for instructions for use with machines.
    After a brief recap of what the Machinery Directive (2005/42/EG) says about instructions for use, I will explain the main points of ISO 20607. I’ll suggest an approach for an updated workflow and there will be a checklist to help you get started.

    About Margaretha Hopman

    Margaretha Hopman has been a self-employed content creator since 1991, working mainly as a technical writer, occasionally as a trainer and sporadically as an instructional designer. She has worked with various authoring tools, but MadCap Flare has been her tool of choice for the past 8 years. She loves designing documentation structures that work and that are future-proof.

    In summer, Margaretha spends a lot of time in her garden to grow her own fruits and vegetables. In the winter months, she attempts to master the art of watercolour painting, and she goes ice skating as often as possible.

    TCUK 2019 Silver Sponsor – CAD-IT UK Ltd

    CAD-IT are experts in Service Lifecycle Management and are dedicated to the improvement and advancement of all aspects relating to a product in its service life. By leveraging technology and readily available assets we can enhance our customers’ product and service quality, efficiency, profitability and customer satisfaction.

    We deliver software solutions, services and consultancy support for our customers. We specialise in assessing our customers’ service landscape and helping them improve how they design, support and maintain their products in the field by leveraging technology and process change. This increases the quality of the support and reduces costs across several functional areas.

    TCUK19 Speaker Ant Davey – Editorial support, a better solution for SMEs than style guides

    Ant Davey will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 on “Editorial support, a better solution for SMEs than style guides”.

       

      We’ve all used style guides as professional writers, but they don’t always work for the amateurs. This session looks at how we used the OPTI competency model to develop an editorial management competence at the Rail Safety and Standards Board. A competence that involves iterative technical editing support from the specification of the project to final delivery. I’ll talk about how we got it included it in project management processes. About how we have started to implement it in some major documentation projects for the rail industry. And about some of the early results we’ve seen.

      About Ant Davey

      The last 35-plus years have, in some ways taken my career full circle. After graduating I worked as a marketing executive, writing direct mail letters selling customer service consultancy, and developing the training materials. Who knew I was already into a branch of technical writing? An encounter with some career consultants introduced me to the term ‘technical writer’. A what? After five years in technical PR I got my first real TW job, writing software manuals. Finding that six verbs weren’t enough, in 2006 I entered the rail industry. And now life has come full circle, to content marketing.

      TCUK19 speaker Margaretha Hopman – 10 most baffling experiences in my nearly 3 x 10 years career as a content creator

      Margaretha Hopman will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “10 most baffling experiences in my nearly 3 x 10 years career as a content creator”.

      My career as a self-employed content creator started in February 1991 and I have worked for over 80 companies since then. Most jobs I do not even remember, but some jobs, some co-workers, some bosses left me speechless. In this session, I will share 10 (maybe more) experiences that some of you may recognize, others (I expect) will be as baffling to you as they were for me. Of course, I will also share what I learned from these experiences.

      About Margaretha Hopman

      Margaretha Hopman has been a self-employed content creator since 1991, working mainly as a technical writer, occasionally as a trainer and sporadically as an instructional designer. She has worked with various authoring tools, but MadCap Flare has been her tool of choice for the past 8 years. She loves designing documentation structures that work and that are future-proof.

      In summer, Margaretha spends a lot of time in her garden to grow her own fruits and vegetables. In the winter months, she attempts to master the art of watercolour painting, and she goes ice skating as often as possible.

      TCUK19 Speaker Chris Hester – Smitten with Strategy: What we get wrong (and right) about content strategy

      Chris Hester will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Smitten with Strategy: What we get wrong (and right) about content strategy”.

      It’s not uncommon in content strategy to focus more on content and less on strategy. Content is concrete: we know what we’re working with. On the other hand, strategy can be ambiguous: is it a plan or process? A set of tools? Project goals? All of the above?

      This session introduces the concepts of strategy and provides a foundation for thinking strategically about our content work. As we move from deliverable-focused thinking to a strategic-thinking mindset, we’ll cover the myths and realities of strategic thinking, techniques for strategic thinking, and learning how to view content projects through a strategic lens.

      About Chris Hester

      Chris is the Corporate Content Strategy and Operations Manager for UL, an STC Fellow, and a fair-weather cyclist. Prior to joining UL, she worked independently, delivering successful content strategy, taxonomy, and information architecture projects to a variety of clients, including those in the advertising, construction management, entertainment, financial services, and healthcare industries. She has been actively involved in the technical communication community as a volunteer and is a co-organizer of the Chicago Content Strategy Meetup group.

      TCUK19 Speaker George Bina – Interactive Intelligent Style Guide

      George Bina will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “Interactive Intelligent Style Guide”.

      Style guides started as set of rules written in prose that people had to learn and follow when writing content. Using a style guide is a necessity in order to avoid repeating mistakes. To eliminate the overhead of learning all the rules before starting to write, we need intelligent style guides that enforce their rules automatically, detecting problems and offering possible solutions the writer can choose from. Such style guides are not only possible, but immediately available to you!

      About George Bina

      George Bina is one of the founders of Syncro Soft, the company that develops oXygen XML suite of XML editing, authoring, development, publishing and collaboration tools. He has more than 20 years of experience in working with XML and related technologies, bringing many innovative ideas to reality and contributing to XML-related open-source projects.

      He presented at many XML, DITA, and technical communication conferences, giving passionate presentations and challenging the technological status quo, trying to get the audience to think outside the box, and re-imagine the future.

      TCUK19 Speaker Jean Rollinson – 10 commandments of technical writing – are they still relevant?

      Jean Rollinson will be giving a presentation at TCUK19 entitled “10 commandments of technical writing – are they still relevant?”.

      What are the ten commandments of technical writing? Many versions have done the rounds on social media, but in this presentation, I will look at the list that appeals most to me and consider whether they are true and whether they work for all situations. I will then move on to consider whether, with the changes and developments in technical writing, they are still relevant. For example, with the rise of content on demand and users only reading bits of text relevant to their situation at the moment, we can’t always know the context or what the user has already read.

      About Jean Rollinson

      I have been a technical author and editor since 1994 and have worked mostly in the software industry. I am happiest playing with MadCap Flare, but I also try to help other people use Word efficiently. I spent nearly 13 years as a freelance technical author and editor while my children were growing up, but I prefer the stability of permanent work.

      TCUK 2019 Bronze Sponsor – Edissero

      Logo for Edissero

      Edissero has been a specialist recruiter of technical communicators since 2003, helping many different companies and organisations, from blue chips to technology start-ups, find the best technical communicators for their technical and business information needs. We help companies in the UK and Europe recruit permanent and contract, full-time and part-time technical authors (from graduates and juniors to expert-level), documentation managers, content strategists, knowledgebase managers, eLearning and instructional designers, editors, bid writers, and user experience designers.

      With 16 years in this specialist market, we love what we do and are proud of our long-term partnerships with our clients and candidates. They tell us we are thorough, efficient, no-nonsense and nice to deal with.

      We look forward to seeing you at TCUK 2019! Please visit our stand to:

      • Register with us and talk about how we can help you further your career.
      • Discuss how we can help you recruit a technical communicator.
      • Take advantage of our 1-to-1 CV MOT service (please bring along your CV).
      • Enjoy a sweet treat from our ever-popular chocolate bowl!

      TCUK – The how, when, where and what

      By Derek Cooper

      (Reprinted with kind permission from the January 2019 edition of InfoPlus, ISTC’s free monthly online newsletter for scientific and technical communicators.)

      Happy New Year from the TCUK organising team.

      We’ve been busy with the early stages of planning for TCUK 2019 – the tenth anniversary of TCUK in its current form – and later in this article I want to tell you about it.

      green logo of the TCUK conference 2019

      But first, I want to give you a brief insight into what planning our conference involves, to help you understand the compromises we have to make, how those compromises affect your experience of TCUK, and how we fine-tune them to give you the best experience we can achieve.

      Venue selection criteria

      The criteria we apply when we choose a venue include (but are not limited to) a series of important requirements:

      • The venue must include syndicate rooms for the three presentation streams, with the ability to combine two of them for keynote speeches. The third room should be close to the other two.
      • Sponsors of the conference must have a suitable, large area where they can network easily with delegates during the conference and in the evenings. Ideally that area should also provide space for refreshments served between presentations.
      • Restaurant food must conform to a high standard, and must provide a good choice for delegates including those with special dietary requirements.
      • It must be possible to combine syndicate rooms for the Gala Dinner.
      • There must be bar areas where attendees can network and relax in the evening.
      • There must be sufficient bedrooms available for the expected number of attendees, and those bedrooms must be clean and comfortable, and must be within the same building as the conference facilities.
      • Access for disabled delegates must be supported fully by the venue design and facilities.
      • The venue location must be reasonably easy to find and must be within reasonable distance of transport links including major roads, rail, and international airport links. Ideally it should also be reasonably close to a city, town or other location where attendees can sample the local amenities.
      • There must be sufficient complimentary parking space for attendees who drive to the venue.

      Naturally, it must be available for the full week of the conference. Autumn is a popular season for conferences, and we are finding it increasingly difficult to find a conference venue that meets our criteria and that is available for one of the weeks we specify.

      Hotels that support these requirements invariably also provide other facilities such as a leisure pool and gym, but these are not part of our search criteria. If they exist at the hotel (which they usually do), then they are a bonus that delegates can enjoy.

      Inevitably, there are compromises involved, because all this has to be affordable for delegates, many of whom pay for their own attendance or who have to justify the cost of attendance to employers. Locations that are within major cities, or are close to major airports, are usually too expensive.

      TCUK 2019

      So, what have we decided for TCUK 2019 which, as I have already mentioned, is the tenth anniversary of the conference in its current form?

      We’ve identified a venue, a date, and a theme:

      Venue

      Our venue for TCUK 2019 is the Chesford Grange Hotel, near Kenilworth in Warwickshire.

      This is a location that meets or exceeds all of our requirements, and that also meets most of the “nice to have” features too. The hotel is located in a rural area close to the town of Warwick in central England. This is in the heart of Shakespeare country, and there are some wonderful visitor attractions nearby including the stunning Warwick Castle.

      Date

      The conference dates for your diary are from 10 to 12 September 2019. This is a week earlier than the earliest week we usually reserve for the conference during September, and this has been forced on us by restricted availability.

      Theme

      And for the theme – our title for TCUK 2019 is simply “10”.

      This title – prompted by the tenth anniversary – is deliberately enigmatic. You can use your imagination and interpret it in a number of ways, for example:

      • Ten years – the past, the future.
      • Ten things you have learned during the past decade.
      • Ten Commandments of technical communication.
      • We’ve deliberately presented the theme title in figures in case you might interpret it as a different number base – binary 10 might lead you to explore the impact of digital technology on technical communication.

      The choice is yours – these are just suggestions. We offer a prize for the most innovative and imaginative interpretation of the theme.

      As usual, we will also be looking for off-theme submissions from presenters who have something to say that doesn’t fall within the formal theme context.

      Timetable and deadlines

      We will be publishing the timetable and deadlines early in January. Note that the earlier date of the conference will affect these timescales.

      Please refer to the social media channels for further news of the conference details. I’ll also include updates in future issues of InfoPlus.

      TCUK 2019 Silver Sponsor – 3di Information Solutions Ltd

      “Complexity made clear”
      3di has delivered technical communication and localization services to global companies, government organisations, and technology and software businesses since 2002. Our in-house team of 40 is based near Guildford, in Kraków and in Edinburgh. Quite a few of us are attending TCUK as delegates.

      Our customers and suppliers love working with us and keep coming back. The people we work with day-to-day like our friendly and reliable approach and our focus on quality — we don’t let them down. The people who pay the bills like our competitive rates and our focus on efficient processes — we save them money.

      Visit our stand at TCUK to:

      • discuss your work and the challenges you face
      • brief us about projects you have coming up
      • tell us about your availability to work with us and our customers
      • find out more about our partnerships with Kothes, and with Madcap

      For more information visit our website www.3di-info.com.

      What are your top three technical writing tools?

      Earlier this year, Ferry Vermeulen asked speakers at conferences earlier this year what they consider their top three tools of choice for their technical communication needs. He received over 70 responses which he published in “Technical Writing Tools: The Ultimate Expert Choice” on his blog.

      Many of the responses are perfect for this year’s conference theme: From Novice to Expert – Writing Your Career Path as a Technical Communicator. Dive into the article for inspiration!

      • Find out who feels that a certain tool is like a map of her brain (or at least, if she were Data from Star Trek).
      • Learn how many are using Github and why.
      • Discover who considers “talent” a tool!

      If Ferry had contacted you, what would you say to him? You can add your thoughts in the comments at “Technical Writing Tools: The Ultimate Expert Choice”.

      You can also continue the discussion at the TCUK conference or on Twitter (and include @TCUK_Conf or the hashtag #TCUK16).

      From Novice to Expert – Writing Your Career Path as a Technical Communicator

      Anjali Gupta works as a Technical Writing Consultant with Adobe Systems, the Diamond Sponsor for TCUK16. She is smitten by Adobe products (especially FrameMaker and RoboHelp) and plans to learn and teach some great, new workflows to users. She loves to explore new communication styles and media. Anjali has written an article for us where she shares her thoughts on the 2016 conference theme.

      From Novice to Expert – Writing Your Career Path as a Technical Communicator

      It is one of those Monday mornings, when I am rushing to the office, skipping breakfast again. First thing that I want to do, after I reach the office, is to sip 2-3 cups of coffee and get rid of the usual Monday sickness. An email from my boss is the last thing that I am expecting to see on my smartphone screen. And Beep. It’s an email from my boss.

      Hi Anjali, the Online Help looks great. Thanks for such a quick turnaround. It’s a pleasure to have an expert like you in the team.

      I have been working through weekends to complete a crucial delivery. And this totally makes my day. A wide smile covers my face while I start for office. I remember the days when I had just started off in the field of technical communications and with the little experience that I had at that time, I was someone who was nervous and not very confident about my skills.

      Being a Technical Communicator requires you to be quick with learning tools and technologies, determining what users need, and helping users accomplish their tasks with the various types of content you create. The communication needs to be precise as well as engaging.

      At this point, when I sit down introspecting, I feel that I could have done a few things better. So if you think you are a novice in this field and want to plan your career path to be an expert technical communicator, imbibe these quick tips:

      • Understand that technical communication is more than just technical writing.
        I agree that these two terms are closely connected. But, as the world around you evolves, you will see that newer communication media and changing user preferences will open up opportunities for you to communicate in many ways, not just through writing conventional user guides and help manuals. So explore a variety of writing styles and methodologies and embrace new media.
      • Be patient. In fact, be very patient.
        Your first write-up will be rejected, your following write-ups will be heavily edited, and your first appreciation mail will not come easily. But you will have to be patient to excel. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s crucial to learn from them. Actually, this is how a writer grows: Write > Revise > Enhance. Remember, smart and steady will win the race here.
      • Keep up the investigative skills. Ask a lot of questions.
        Do not worry, if in a product demo, you ask something that leaves someone in the room amused. If you have done your user analysis, do not hesitate to play the user. Keep your probing skills sharp. It won’t take long for people to notice that somebody in the room has understood the product and the user community really well.
      • Keep sharpening your technical skills. Bridge the demand and supply gap.
        Gone are the days when writers used to work around with basic word processors. Today, as users want to see content in various formats, like interactive How-to videos, mobile and search-friendly articles, you as a technical communicator will have to match up to those requirements. Be well-read and flexible so that you can use both technology and skills to produce user delighting content.
      • Be collaborative and grounded.
        Collaborate well with your team and stakeholders. Be grounded and professional when it is about giving and accepting suggestions. Do not take reviews personally. They are done to improve the document. However, if you also choose to improve with each of the reviews (which is highly advisable), you will realize that success will be closer.

      The Novice Technical Communicator – Where does my journey begin

      This is the first in a series of articles based on our 2016 theme for TCUK: “From Novice to Expert – Writing Your Career Path as a Technical Communicator”.

      Fountain pen and ink bottle resting on an open blank notebook with 2 closed pens lying next to the notebook

      For a person entering the world of technical communication, this world may seem exciting and yet daunting. The role of a technical communicator is constantly evolving with the changes in technology and constantly presenting new challenges.

      There are many avenues to be travelled upon – for example, you can choose writing, editing, illustration, designing or publishing. Regardless of the avenue you choose as a technical communicator, you need to be able to understand complex (technical) information and convey this to your audience in a meaningful and appropriate way.

      On the job, you would work with a range of specialists – designers, engineers, technicians, marketers, product developers and publishers. You would need excellent communication skills to be able to deal with different types of personalities and extract the information you need from them.

      The career opportunities in the field of technical communication are plenty. At this point, you will be asking yourself, where do I begin my journey as a technical communicator?

      Here’s our take on how you can kickstart your career in technical communication.

      What does technical communication involve?

      Typically, technical communication involves creating documentation for technical processes, software programs and systems.

      You could produce end-user content – from the user’s perspective – that provides useful information on the product functionality and usability, which helps to solve the user’s problem, answer their questions and meet their needs.

      Your everyday work could involve creating new documents, updating or rewriting existing documentation, performing user research and presenting the information in the most appropriate manner. You could commission or illustrate photographs and diagrams, test materials and work with digital platforms for delivering and publishing content.

      Other types of documents you could create include:

      • articles, case studies and white papers
      • educational content
      • product manuals and specifications
      • policies and procedures / standard operating procedures
      • API documentation
      • how-to guides
      • blog posts

      The field of technical communication is moving beyond merely authoring classic documentation. Documenting what developers do is a growing area. Straddling the field of user experience while keeping one foot in technical communication is a popular choice. Technical communicators are expected to understand and utilise a variety of software programs, tools, methods and digital platforms that aid content creation.

      Which industries need technical communicators?

      You will make careful considerations about the industry you want to work in as a technical communicator.

      Before you choose the industry you want to work in, firstly, decide what you want to write about and try to follow your passion.

      There are many industries that require the skills of a technical communicator, such as:

      • aerospace, defence and manufacturing
      • architectural structure and engineering
      • digital technology
      • educational services
      • government agencies and organisations
      • information technology
      • telecommunications
      • scientific research labs
      • publishing agencies

      Use the internet (or any available resources!) to research which local industries are recruiting technical communicators – you can widen or narrow your search based on your results.

      Professional mentors and training

      The most difficult part of embarking on a career is breaking into the field. We have highlighted a few steps to guide you.

      Step one: Research the company you want to work for

      Use online and offline resources to find out what you can about the company you would like to work for.

      • Website – Most companies have a website – a shop window – which gives you an insight into the company history, present and future. Use the website to understand what the company does. Learn about the company products – even write your own (product) article based on the information you have so far.
        Download (free) resources such as case studies and white papers to give you an idea of the type of content that is being written and the level of skills required to produce that type of content.
        Make note of the things you think you can improve on as you navigate the website. If asked at a later stage to share your thoughts, then you refer to these notes.
      • Social Media – Take a look at the social media channels the company uses to promote their brand and products. This will give you an insight into the way in which the company engages and interacts with its customers and audiences online.
      • Publications – Take a look at trade magazines or other publications where the company contributes content to or is featured in.
      • Contacts – Make a note of the persons responsible for producing technical content. You will find contact information such as an email address or social media profile available on the ‘Contact Us’ page of the company site. Always use the preferred method of contact when reaching out.

      Step Two: Make contact and get a mentor

      In step one, you collected a list of contacts you can approach.

      Start off by introducing yourself and let them know who you are and what you are looking for. You could send them a copy of the article you wrote or other pieces of content that showcase your skills to generate interest.

      This would give them an opportunity to learn something about you. If they are interested in your work, they will contact you and request you to either contribute to a project that suits your skills or guide you through the hiring process for a role at the company.

      You may have to contact several technical communicators before you receive a response. But it’s worth your time – in the end you may just land your first role as a technical communicator.

      Entering the field of technical communication is challenging, but there are professionals out there who can mentor and guide young professionals looking for a break.

      Step Three: Memberships and Training

      Become a member of a recognised technical communication organisation or institute.

      This is a great way to meet professional technical communicators, join groups, attend events and find mentors and more contacts.

      Many memberships offer discounted events, courses and workshops for you to attend.

      The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators is the largest (non-profit) body in the UK that represents the technical communication profession. The ISTC offers a range of professional communities, events and courses for its members. The ISTC has a mentoring programme.

      Becoming a member of a professional organisation shows that you are proactive and curious about your field.

      Here is a list of technical communication organisations you can consider joining:

      Write your Tech Comm CV

      Writing a CV for any profession is a tough task.

      Being new in the field could mean that you may not have much experience. Use your CV as an opportunity to showcase your skill set and any relevant experience. For example:

      • Experience – If you have graduated from university – write a brief paragraph about a piece of course work you produced. Include skills that would be relevant to the role you will apply for – research, information gathering, use of imagery, and writing style used to produce course work.
        If you have your own blog or have written any articles or product reviews, then reference those in your CV. This could act as a portfolio of your work.
        If you were employed whilst you were a student then include your dates of employment and a brief sentence about your role.
      • Skills – List the software packages, methods and tools you used to produce your work with.

      From writing the CV to choosing the right format for the content is perhaps the biggest hurdle. Take a look at these sample technical writing CVs to get an idea of how the CV should be formatted, and begin writing the content.

      Your CV should read easily and follow a simple format as follows:

      • Top of CV – Name, address, contact details and social media profile – include a link to LinkedIn profile. Brief tag line of objective.
      • Body of CV – Work experiences till date – professional or voluntary. A list of skills, qualifications, certificates, and link to portfolio (if works are available online).
      • End of CV – Education.

      The clarity of your CV should indicate the clarity you will bring to the job!

      The cover letter for your CV should address the requirements posted in the job advertisement. If you are submitting an unsolicited CV, your cover letter should reflect the insights you gathered in step one.

      Build your network online or offline

      When building a new career, how you network with other professionals is key in the progression of your career.

      There are many technical communication leaders and experts out there that you can connect with on social media or even meet at events. You can follow them for regular updates and even post a message to them when you see something of interest from them in your personal feed.

      The internet is a fascinating way to connect with people. Set up your own professional social media profile on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and share your thoughts on the industry, join groups or communities and participate in discussions with other professionals.

      Keep in touch with the people you meet along the way. You never know when an opportunity may arise and you could be contacted – because you took the time to connect with them.

      Our next article will focus on the Expert Technical Communicator.

      Written by: Vee Modha
      Contribution by: Karen Mardahl

      Six ways to feel less nervous about next week’s presentation

      Note: This article is one of a series originally written by Meg Lightheart in the run-up to TCUK 2014.

      There’s a lot I could say about nerves. Nerves are a source of shame – we all feel like we shouldn’t be feeling nervous like those ‘confident’ people we see around us.

      But, let me tell you, I’ve coached thousands of presentations from people from 22 countries at all levels of seniority and everyone gets nervous sometimes.

      I ran a workshop on presentation nerves a couple of weeks ago. Hippy that I am, I like to start by getting everyone to answer a simple question, so that everyone has heard all the voices in the room. My question this time was: What type of presentation makes you the most nervous?

      Answers:

      ~ All of them!
      ~ Small groups is fine, but bigger than 20 is awful.
      ~ I’m fine with presentations to colleagues, but strangers is terrible.
      ~ I’m fine with any number of strangers – give me a room of a thousand strangers, no problem – but people who know me? Yuck.
      ~ Pitching. Pitching ideas when there’s a lot at stake.
      ~ My team is fine, but senior people or customers – that’s when I get nervous.

      Two things to notice:

      1. Pretty much everyone gets nervous at some point. Generally people who don’t get nervous have practiced some serious strategies.

      2. Different things make different people nervous. It’s not the situation itself, it’s the things we think about it that make it hard.

      There are various reasons for nerves – physical, mental, generic and specific – and getting to zero nerves is a bit of a long-term job.

      But. There are some things that you can do which will at least let you take the edge off your nerves, if not bring them down to a manageable level.

      1. Practice unclenching.

      Between now and your talk, practice unclenching. Relax the muscles around your eyes. Relax your jaw and your nostrils. Become aware of your peripheral vision. If you can soften your neck and your shoulders, so much the better.

      You’ll probably find that within seconds, the tension is back again.

      That’s kind of the point.

      We have built tension habits, nervous pathways (hah!) which have been reinforced again and again.

      If you want to feel more relaxed, then you have to practice it, again and again.

      Set a reminder on your phone to go off at various points in the day. Or look for a random reminder app (look for them in your app store) and set one up for 10 times a day, or whatever.

      Or put a dot on your laptop screen, or tie a piece of cotton to your finger, or paint a nail a different colour, anything that will remind you to practice unclenching.

      As any of you who follow me on Twitter will know, I’m a bit of a Twitter junkie. And I check it more than I tweet, so, well, I’m on it a lot. What I did was take Twitter off my phone’s main screen, so I had to go and look for it. That tiny action was enough to remind me that when I was looking for Twitter, that was time to unclench. I had a ready-made 50-times-a-day habit, so I harnessed it. It worked, for a while anyway.

      You’re trying to create a bit of momentum, a new habit.

      Unclench.

      Unclench.

      Unclench.

      So that when you want to unclench and relax, your body is more used to it.

      You can extend this too. If you can practice relaxing more thoroughly, then find a way. Download some relaxation self-hypnosis audio. Try a couple of simple yoga postures. Look up a stretching routine.

      The more you can get your body used to being relaxed, the more you’re able to have it available to you when you need it.

      2. Lower your expectations.

      This is a weird one but I think it’s worth saying. You’re not changing the world, here. You’re doing a talk. If you, consciously or unconsciously, think you’re going to change the world with your talk, you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself. The more risk you pile on, the more nerves you’re going to feel. (And the more disappointed you’re going to feel afterwards, by the way.)

      What’s a realistic outcome to this presentation? Let’s start with: surviving. Getting through it, talking about most of the points you were planning on, answering some of the questions in an okay manner. Survival.

      Then, what? Part of the purpose of a presentation is to lead to discussion, both immediately after and in the coming days. Keep in mind that your presentation is just the start of something (and a 30-minute/45-minute start at that), and you’ll stop thinking you’re going to solve big problems in the world. Keep focused on the actions you’re aimed at, and make those actions probable and doable and you’ll keep things more in perspective.

      3. Do a Find Five.

      Find Five is something I use when I’ve got a situation coming up that is causing me anxiety. Fear comes from a part of you thinking something bad is going to happen. The anxiety often comes from being overly certain of that ‘bad’ outcome.

      In order to counteract that uncertainty, I do what I call a Find Five, which is finding five possible outcomes to the situation.

      I find:

      1. A terrible outcome. eg: losing your job and all credibility.
      2. A mildly bad outcome. eg: You forget a bit of what you were going to say, and maybe you fluff some answers to questions.
      3. A mildly positive outcome. eg: You get through all your points, the reaction is positive, the energy in the room is good.
      4. A wildly positive outcome. eg: You are on fire. New things occur to you that you follow, you make people laugh at the right points, and as a result you get a promotion or a new client.
      5. A surprising, life-changing (and positive) outcome. This is a bit difficult to predict, because, er, it’s a surprise. What I tend to think is that I’ll look back on this talk as a turning point in my life. Maybe I meet someone who becomes a great friend, or I learn something that changes my thinking on a topic, or someone recommends a book that I love, or one of the people attending my session changes the direction of my future somehow.

      All of the outcomes have to be possible but not necessarily probable.

      Look at each one of these five outcomes and see that they are all possible, and really you have no idea what the outcome of your presentation will be.

      I find this reassuring, as it helps me to undermine my false certainty that disaster is coming…

      4. Rather than ‘performance’ think ‘conversation’.

      You know those TED talks that do the rounds? I’ve referred to a lot of them in the past, and they can be pretty inspirational.

      There is a downside to them, though. TED talks are specific to the TED event. They are a platform for people to talk about a surprising or ‘inspirational’ aspect of their work or life. Only the really ‘good’ ones get shared and watched, by and large.

      And, from a certain perspective, that can be intimidating. We end up thinking that our conference talk needs to be ‘inspirational’ and life-changing and remarkable.

      That’s (a) a tall order, (b) largely out of your control, and (c) most often inappropriate, all rolled into one.

      The concept of ‘performance’ contains within it many unhelpful ramifications, including the requirement to be entertaining, the idea that you’re the main event, and, also, nerves!

      Just think for a minute. If you were one-on-one with one of the people attending your session, could you have a conversation about your topic?

      If so, then you can do a presentation.

      What topics would that person be interested in? What recommendations would you make? What kind of words/level of detail would you go into?

      Go with that. It’s just a conversation – admittedly a slightly strange mainly one-way conversation – that you know how to do.

      Yes, this doesn’t mean all nerves go away, but thought about in the right way, it can help you to be a bit more pragmatic about what you’re setting out to do.

      5. Set parameters.

      As we discussed in the article on how to be an interesting presenter, one of the habits of interesting presenters is to set limits at the beginning of the session, and, indeed, in the title and blurb of the talk itself.

      If you clearly say, “What I’m not going to be able to do in 45 minutes today is… What I am going to aim for is…” you’re more able to set limits as to what people are expecting, and which questions you’ll be willing and able to answer.

      This helps with your nerves because you’ve been really clear with your listeners about what you’re setting out to achieve, and that that is achievable for you.

      Disappointment comes from when real-life doesn’t match our expectations. If you set people’s expectations at the right level, well, then there’s no disappointment.

      This also gives you a way of dealing with questions that are outside the scope of the talk. You can just say ‘That’s a little outside the scope of what we’re covering today…’ and handle it however you want to handle it, including but not limited to just moving on to the next question!

      So you can stop scaring yourself with Q&A horror movies…

      6. Work out how not to die.

      There is a part of us that thinks that giving this talk is actually going to kill us, that somehow everything is leading up to this presentation and then that’s it. If you look beyond the talk, there is just the grey fog of nothingness.

      Unsurprisingly, this creates some distress.

      One of the best things you can do in this situation is to imagine what you’re going to do straight after the talk. Where will you be, what will you do?

      Then what will you do later that day? That evening?

      What is happening the next day?

      What about the day after that?

      The next week? What do you have planned?

      What are you going to do with friends or family?

      Next month?

      Reassure the scared part of you that life will continue, populate your future with full-colour plans. It’s okay – you will survive.

      *****

      Meg Lightheart, the author of Presentation Now: Prepare a perfect presentation in less than 3 hours (Pearson 2015) is the UK’s leading complex-topic presentation coach. This article is one of a series Meg wrote in the run-up to TCUK 2014 where they gave a workshop on presentation planning. If you ever want some one-to-one help with presentations, check out megalightheart.com. Meg is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @megalightheart.

      Check out all the articles in this series:

      How to tell stories like a pro

      Note: This article is one of a series originally written by Meg Lightheart in the run-up to TCUK 2014.

      Having coached thousands of presentations, the most reliable indicator of if someone is going to be an engaging presenter is: Do they tell proper stories from their life?

      Why you must put more stories into your presentation

      Stories are a subtle way of talking about your experience.

      One of the phrases I dread the most in a presentation, especially at the beginning, is, “Let me start by telling you a little bit about my history.” (Trumped only by “Let me start by giving you some history of the project.”)

      Now, you are right that one of the silent questions people have about you is “Who is this person and why are they qualified to speak to me on this topic?” There are two truly effective ways of answering this question.

      1. Show you understand what people are thinking and feeling about your topic.

      2. Tell stories that are appropriate to your topic that also show the projects you’ve worked on, the problems you’ve solved, the clients you’ve worked with.

      As you’re going over the story mining you’ve been doing, find examples that help to build your credibility, but kind of by the backdoor, as it were.

      You come across as experienced.

      Experienced people have experiences to share. If you share your experiences, people remember you as experienced.

      Stories are memorable for you.

      With a only a tiny bit of practice, all you need in your notes is a keyword to remind you of the whole story you’re going to tell, as opposed to having to remember a bunch of facts.

      Stories are memorable for them.

      It’s almost a truism to say that people don’t always remember the facts, but they remember the stories. Why do you think that case studies and detailed testimonials feature so heavily in marketing material? And magazines! Whenever a magazine is looking at an issue, they almost always find the ‘human’ side of it by telling it through someone’s story. Stories are naturally memorable.

      We are hungry for stories.

      As human beings, we hunger for stories. How much of our spare time is spent listening to stories, reading stories, telling stories? Think movies, novels, gossip. In fact, story is one of the universals in every human culture.

      Our sense of interest is designed for stories.

      In fact, I might go so far as to say that our sense of interest is designed for story, if not by story. So in telling stories, you’re giving yourself the best chance of being perceived as interesting, because you’re using the thing that our minds are most easily interested in, the thing that is the epitome, the essence of interest: story.

      The three levels of presentation story zoom.

      I spend a lot of time with clients working on their ability to tell stories smoothly and in a way that adds to their credibility.

      A major issue I see is that people default to the wrong zoom level when telling stories. Functionally, there are three levels of story zoom, each with a different difficulty, impact and risk.

      1. Snippet

      Zoom: looking at the story from very far away
      Difficulty level: easy
      Impact: minor
      Risk: low

      Snippets are what inexperienced storytellers default to when I initially ask them to tell stories. They’re what presenters point to when I say to them, “Where were the stories?” They are the lowest risk but also lowest impact way of introducing your experience.

      Snippets are one to four sentence examples of things that have happened to the speaker.

      They go something like:

      We had a client who got into trouble doing this. As soon as she started implementing this system, she soon saw things turn around.

      I mean, it’s alright. But it’s hardly attention-grabbing, and doesn’t give your listeners much to get their teeth into, as it were.

      Snippets are good for a bit of spice, and perhaps a bit of variety, but need to not be the only form of stories in your presentation.

      2. Full event

      Zoom: eye level
      Difficulty level: medium
      Impact: significant
      Risk: medium

      Full events are stories, about a specific event that generally happened on a specific day, or series of days. Whatever, you can date it. It’s about a time you faced a specific problem, and came out the other side. Normally between 1 and 4 minutes to tell.

      Full events are the zoom level that fascinating, natural speakers use.

      3. Extended setpiece

      Zoom: super close-up
      Difficulty level: harrrrd
      Impact: potentially life-changing
      Risk: very high

      Extended stories take maybe ten minutes or more to tell. They are highly practiced, and can sometimes be the whole of a presentation. “Inspirational” speakers – ex-sportspeople, mountaineers, etc – often use them as the base for their spiel.

      Every now and again, they are beautifully done, and can provide a very immediate and moving message that drives home deeply.

      Mostly, they come off as somewhat overrehearsed, stretching a point, or just told for the sake of being told.

      Almost categorically, I would recommend you avoid these stories – the risk of screwing up is much too high.

      Types of story

      The type of story you tell depends on your purpose. Here are a couple of the major types to get your thinking going.

      Warning story

      A warning story is a way of setting a limit, of saying “If you go all the way over here, bad things will happen.” For example, if you’re recommending people adopt a certain standard, tell a story of a disaster that happened when you didn’t follow that standard. (This might be an occasion for using something you were just involved in, rather than as the main protagonist, but make sure you’re not regugitating an urban myth.)

      To be compelling, the story needs to demonstrate how not following your advice means your listeners will lose something important to them. (Go back to your presentation prep when you were thinking about what your listeners need and value.)

      Benefits story

      This is the flipside of the warning story. Talk about a time when you followed your recommendation and things turned out really well. Again, make sure the things you gain are things that your listeners value. Talking about a time when you learned a mnemonic for an apostrophe rule might be super-appropriate to other writers/grammar mavens, for others maybe not so much.

      Analogy story.

      When you’re explaining something your listeners may find strange or complex, that’s when you need an analogy. Like those movie pitches that go “It’s like Rocky III meets Avatar ON A SUBMARINE” it gives people something to grasp, something from their current experience. Analogies start “It’s a bit like…”

      Analogy stories start “It’s a bit like when I…”

      To choose an analogy story you go:

      1. What aspects of this topic need to be more familiar to my listeners?
      2. What else that they are familiar with shares one or more of those qualities?
      3. What has happened to me from that familiar domain that helps to highlight that quality?

      Don’t dismiss non-work examples, here.

      The four parts of an Event Story

      I mainly want you telling Full Events, or what me might call Event Stories. There are four parts to telling a story that grabs people. It almost doesn’t matter how ‘interesting’ or ‘significant’ the story seems to you. If you include these elements (and emphasise them in the way I’m going to suggest later on) you’ll have a story that holds people’s attention.

      1. Context

      Start by saying when this story happened, where you were, and who you were with and what you were doing. Simple.

      2. Problem

      The thing that makes it a story is there is a problem that you solved. Tell us about the problem. why was it particularly important or hard for you in the moment?

      3. Actions

      What sequence of actions did you take?

      4. Result

      End with the happy (or sad) result.

      Follow these rules like a recipe. Make sure you have all four ingredients, in that sequence, and you’ll be, as they say, golden.

      The things you must never do when telling a story in a presentation

      Don’t make it up

      It’s hard to tell a story that isn’t yours and your listeners will feel it. Also, why are you making this hard on yourself? Find a story that fits the point you’re trying to make and tell that one.

      Don’t embellish

      There is no need to add more drama in. I’ve heard thousands of stories in presentations, and believe me, if you have the four ingredients above in the right order, your story is fine. If you want to amp it up, I’ve got some advice for you in the next section, but embellishment or exaggeration are not the way. Plus, if people find out that you’re not telling the whole truth, they can feel betrayed.

      Don’t sabotage yourself

      Too often I see presenters decide they’re going to tell a story, then they begin doubting their story halfway through. They being to comment or apologise for how ‘boring’ their story is, they start skipping around the four ingredients, or they miss things out to speed through it. Then – ta daa! – their story is crappy. Don’t do this, eh? If you’ve started in on your story, follow the four ingredients all the way through to the end.

      Mistakes of inexperienced storytellers

      There are three easy ways to make your story sound professional. Avoid these mistakes and your stories will go up in their impact.

      Not enough context

      Make sure you set the story in it’s temporal context. That is, tell us when, where, who, what. Don’t take off before we’re on board, okay? Without this context, we don’t feel like we’re listening to a story, and so none of us get the benefit.

      Not enough significance.

      Ever go to a movie and find the plot less than gripping? Get to the end and find it mildly unsatisfying? That will almost definitely be because the writer didn’t make their characters go through enough hard times. Stories that grip us are when we really see that the main character (that’ll be you) is really up against it.

      I’ve heard great stories about insignificant events. Tiling the bathroom, getting a chest of drawers up three flights of stairs, getting a new running habit. Stories do not have to be life-alteringly massive to be engaging during a presentation. We have to understand why, in that moment, this problem was hard. We have to understand why, in that moment, this problem was important for you to solve. Make the stakes really clear.

      If you show us why this was important to you, we’ll be rooting for you when you work on solving it.

      Result is inconclusive.

      Don’t wimp out on telling us how things ended up. If it’s a warning story, describe the repercussions. Don’t exaggerate, but describe. If it’s a benefit story, let us really see the happy ending.

      Story is a complex beast.

      Writers work their whole life making stories that really resonate. There is a lot involved in such long-form stories. For presentations, however, particularly for Event Stories, follow this advice and your impact will rocket up, just from talking on things you know about. Good, eh?

      *****

      Meg Lightheart, the author of Presentation Now: Prepare a perfect presentation in less than 3 hours (Pearson 2015) is the UK’s leading complex-topic presentation coach. This article is one of a series Meg wrote in the run-up to TCUK 2014 where they gave a workshop on presentation planning. If you ever want some one-to-one help with presentations, check out megalightheart.com. Meg is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @megalightheart.

      Check out all the articles in this series:

      How to be a more interesting presenter

      Note: This article is one of a series originally written by Meg Lightheart in the run-up to TCUK 2014.

      Once you have your main structure down, it can be good to think about how to optimise.

      Here are a few… ingredients? elements? that are (largely) easy to implement and make a big difference to the impression you make.

      Contrast

      A major way I see speakers make themselves less than interesting is by not bringing in enough contrast into their presentations. Like most things, you can, of course, go way too far in this arena, but the much more common error is making things too similar.

      Ask any coach worth their decaff chai, and they’ll tell you that when clients come to them with a difficult decision to make, often all you have to do is to help them separate out the options.

      “If you went for Option A, what are the upsides? The downsides? If you don’t go for Option A, what are the upsides? The downsides? If you go for Option B….”

      Once the options, and their attendant repercussions, are clear, all too often the decision is obvious.

      Emphasise the consequences of following your recommendations. If you make your recommendations seem too similar to the status quo, people won’t actually take action, and then, well, you haven’t actually helped them, have you?

      And, whilst we’re on the topic of the status quo, the principle of scarcity tells us that we are often more motivated by what we stand to lose than what we stand to gain. And your real competition is always: the status quo. We love the status quo, even if we hate the status quo. So don’t expect your recommendations to stand on their own. Clearly lay out how your listeners will get more of what they want if they follow your recommendations, and how they will lose some of what they want if they stay the same.

      It’s a good habit to get into to make sure you’re introducing benefits of following your advice (and downsides of not following it) as standard as you move from point to point. Depending on your character, your national culture, and the national culture of your listeners, you can be more or less definite about it, but see if you can make it a pattern.

      Unexpected benefits

      One of the things I often do when teaching a presentation class is to get people to make a three-minute recommendation presentation. After seeing hundreds of these (yes, hundreds), you know the easiest way to make them have more impact?

      Make one of the benefits a surprise one.

      You know when you try something new, and after a few weeks, it’s doing you good, but in ways you didn’t expect?

      Sharing those benefits, the ones that only someone who has implemented your advice would know, makes your topic really compelling.

      The unexpected wakes people up.

      For example, I’m working from a makeshift standing desk. It’s a couple of boxes, and a really nifty laptop stand which is the size and thickness of a piece of A4 card. I’ve also got an ergonomic keyboard which not only separates the two hands, but tents.

      There are obvious benefits. I got RSI for a couple of years, largely from typing on the tiny keyboard on my tiny netbook. So having a better posture means I avoid pain in my thumbs. I can also type longer without fatigue.

      The other thing is: I look really weird, so people come up and chat. They ask about my setup, and, if they’re nice, I can introduce myself. So, yes, I’m the ergonomic tower guy, but I’m also the shy ergonomic tower guy, so it acts as an ice-breaker. It’s nice.

      What benefits have you experienced putting your recommendation into practice? Which of those have surprised you? Do they, perhaps, overlap with the things that are important to your listeners?

      Proper verbal signposting

      Signposting. Very important. As in: Now we’re talking about this. Now we’ve finished talking about that. Now we’re talking about this.

      Using sequence words like, ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, ‘point three’ ‘finally’, as well as more emotional signal words like ‘unfortunately’, ‘surprisingly’ or ‘this is really important’ can do a great deal to keep your presentation clear.

      There’s a more subtle level of transitioning from point to point which most people miss.

      There are ways of signposting that can kill the interest in your talk, and ways that can kindle it.

      To keep your listeners listening to your presentation, you want to balance safety with uncertainty. Too much safety is boring. Too much uncertainty is unnerving.

      If you meander from story to story, even if you have a clear plan in your head, people can get restless because they’re not sure what’s happening. Do you have a plan? What are they learning? What does this relate to?

      The flip side of that is telling them exactly what topics you’re going to talk about, and even some of the subpoints, probably through one of those bulleted and sub-bulleted slides. This means people will know exactly what is coming up, so there is no uncertainty, but it means that people know exactly what is coming up, so there is no uncertainty. No uncertainty can mean no curiosity.

      No curiosity = boredom

      You have to tread a fine line here.

      Two signposting suggestions:

      1. Tell people your points in advance, but give them keywords that don’t immediately make sense. (“There are two aspects to this. Burnout and broccoli.” NB That’s a real example from a friend of mine.)

      2. Let them know the questions they will have an answer to by the end of your presentation. Someone who does this well is Robert Cialdini, the guy who wrote the classic book on influence (called ‘Influence’). When he presents his six principles, he doesn’t say “We’re going to talk about six principles: Reciprocity, Social Proof, Liking…” He says, “By the end of this presentation you’ll have clear, scientific answers to the following questions: 1. When listing your prices, should you put your lowest or highest price first? 2. How should you discuss the downsides of your offer?…”

      The listener thus gets clarity and structure, but their curiosity stays peaked all the way to the end of the presentation.

      Signposting finesse

      ~ It’s generally not a bad thing to reinforce when you’re moving from point to point. “So that was…. Next…”

      ~ You don’t have to let people know your points in advance, either. You can say ‘There are three aspects to this. The first is….” and then go through it in full. Then “The second aspect is…” Even this can just add a little extra oomph.

      Focus on recommendations

      Think about two people you know, maybe from different domains. If you were recommending, say, a restaurant to them, you might recommend a different one, right? Depending on what you know about their preferences. I’m not going to recommend my local sushi bar to my 92-year-old Nan, for example (“Ooh, sounds like a fishmonger’s.”). And you’re not going to recommend a place that you don’t think is a good place.

      You’re even unlikely to recommend a place you haven’t tried, not without saying “Well, I haven’t tried it, but I hear…”

      Recommendations imply that you genuinely think what you’re talking about will make the other person happy. Recommendations are tailored to the people in front of you.

      Another benefit of focusing on recommending courses of action is you can talk from your own perspective, avoiding the need to pretend to be an expert.

      Make stats human-sized

      One of my favourite books on statistics (what??) is The Tiger That Isn’t. The first chapter is called ‘Is That A Big Number?’

      I love that question.

      Whenever you hear a number, it should be the first question you ask.

      ~ Help people to understand the scale of your statistics by bringing them down to human size. What does that mean for a person? What’s the base rate?

      ~ Compare the numbers to other numbers so we know what’s happening.

      Three things people love

      1. Behind-the-scenes.
      2. Über-practical tips.
      3. The unexpected.

      If you can sprinkle those in, you’ll raise the Interest Quotient (I just made that up) of your presentation.

      Tell stories

      That one deserves its own article. Coming soon…

      Have simple slides

      Don’t get me started on PowerPoint. I’m limiting myself to just one piece of advice here.

      Bullet points lead to list intonation. You stop interacting with your listeners, and start reading (and often rushing) through your boring-sounding list.

      Move the heading to the centre of the slide. Move the bullet points into your notes and their handouts.

      This one bit of advice immediately allows you to keep your conversational tone of voice.

      ***

      Yes, there are plenty of other ways to make your presentation interesting, and yes, there are plenty of interesting speakers who break the guidelines I’ve just mentioned. However, when I queried my mental presentation database, these are some of the patterns that came out.

      Stand by for: stories.

      *****

      Meg Lightheart, the author of Presentation Now: Prepare a perfect presentation in less than 3 hours (Pearson 2015) is the UK’s leading complex-topic presentation coach. This article is one of a series Meg wrote in the run-up to TCUK 2014 where they gave a workshop on presentation planning. If you ever want some one-to-one help with presentations, check out megalightheart.com. Meg is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @megalightheart.

      Check out all the articles in this series:

      How to liven up your presentation with stories

      Note: This article is one of a series originally written by Meg Lightheart in the run-up to TCUK 2014.

      There is one thing you can do which will make your presentation a whole heap more engaging, and it’s not too hard.

      Before I tell you how, let me tell you when I notice this the most.

      When I MC conferences, I get to hear a lot of presentations.

      And you know what?

      I can draw a line straight down the middle between the boring presentations and the interesting ones.

      The one most reliable factor that allows me to do that?

      Stories.

      Boring speakers don’t tell stories.

      Interesting speakers? Tell stories. And not apocryphal stories. Not other people’s stories. Stories from their own life. Often small, everyday, recent stories.

      One day I’ll tell you about my theory of the hierarchy of story, the worth of different types of stories in the context of a presentation. Suffice it to say for now that recent stories from your life have the potential to get people very engaged.

      As human beings, we hunger for stories. So much of culture is built around story. Think about it. Novels. Movies. TV series. Stories are what we pay good money to read and watch.

      Plus it’s the way that informal information is passed between people, and it’s what we hear from each other several times a day.

      ~ How was your weekend? Leads to: story.
      ~ How did your talk go? Leads to: story.
      ~ Did your Mum have a good time when she came to visit? Story. (No, really. Ask me. Bless.)
      ~ What do you think of the new guy? Story.
      ~ How was your meeting? Interview? Date?

      Story.

      Stories get people engaged like no other tool.

      So if you want to get people involved in your presentation without you having to resort to silly gimmicks, you’re going to need to go mining your life for stories.

      Don’t think you have stories to tell? You are mistaken.

      Here’s a way to make this hard: Try and come up with ‘interesting’ stories. Or ‘funny’ stories.

      WRONG!

      First off, people don’t need your stories to be either interesting or funny. They need to them to be useful and appropriate (more about that in a minute).

      Secondly, once you listen to ordinary people telling thousands of ordinary stories (as I have over the past ten years), you realise that what the speaker identifies as a ‘boring’ story is often what listeners identify as interesting. (Also, many people, at a dinner or a party, for example, who think they have an interesting story… Hmmm… “It’s quite an interesting story, actually…” SNORE.)

      Stories (well-told, and I’ll help you with that aspect in a few weeks) hold people’s attention like little else.

      There are two ways you’re going to use story: evidence and analogy.

      Stories are very convincing evidence.

      I used to teach managers job interviewing skills (as in, how to run an interview, not how to attend one). If you want to choose the right person, what you’re looking for again and again is real examples for when the person has used the skill in earnest.

      Anyone can spout keywords (“I’m a team player.” “I’m a proactive problem-solver.”) But that kind of thing is easy to fake, especially if the halo effect kicks in because the person is nice-looking or charismatic.

      It’s much harder to fake experience. When you ask about a particular example of when they actually were a team player, or proactively solved a problem, you can see that they really mean it.

      All the time as an interviewer, you should be asking ‘Can you think of a time when you did that? What’s an example of that?’

      It’s similar when you are doing a presentation. You’ll want to show the benefits of what you’re recommending. The most persuasive evidence for that is when you talk about how you benefited from it, or, maybe, when you helped someone else benefit from it..

      At times, you’ll also want to warn people away from certain courses of action, so you’ll need stories of when you screwed up because you didn’t follow this advice.

      If you want to show that you really know what you’re talking about, talking about a time when you did that is the most persuasive evidence.

      If you share your experiences, people remember you as an experienced person.

      Stories make very effective analogies.

      There are times when you have to make your complex topic simple. One way is an analogy – an image from your listener’s life that brings out important points in a way that helps them understand.

      If you can discuss something that happened to you that shares the qualities you want people to identify in your topic, they can’t help but find things clearer.

      (Don’t worry – I’ll give you some clues when we return to stories in a couple of weeks about how to use stories as analogies in a powerful way.)

      Story-mining.

      You’re going to have to go back through your life, thinking of stories.

      A really good way is to think of problems you’ve solved.

      1. Get a piece of paper and draw a line from your birth until now. Mark on significant events – moving house and jobs seem to be significant milestones which perhaps remind you of other changes in your life.

      For example, I might have

      ~ moving to the States when I was a kid
      ~ moving back to UK
      ~ first house after school
      ~ college
      ~ London
      ~ IT trainer
      ~ moving in with Stuart
      ~ training manager job
      ~ moving to Singapore
      ~ work in Hong Kong and China
      ~ moving back to live with Mum-in-law
      ~ moving to Birmingham.

      2. Then go through each of those areas and do a bit of light brainstorming about problems you encountered and solved. This is not the time to be going over traumatic times, but just thinking: What issues did I face and how did I get through to the other side?

      Off the top of my head, when I lived in Houston as a kid, they thought I had a speech defect – I didn’t pronounce my ‘r’s correctly. Fatherrrr. Motherrr. So they sent me speech therapy, effectively to correct my British accent. If I turned up and worked hard, I got a free book every couple of weeks, so my parents let me keep going. Free books, right?

      When I was a training manager, for instance, I had to train all the staff in all communication topics. I very quickly learned how to research a topic and put together an involving learning session using adult learning principles.

      Erm… When we first started working in Hong Kong and China, I had to adapt to speaking in global English, not my British version.

      You’ll quickly see that at each juncture, you can come up with five, ten, twenty different challenges you faced and (evidently!) got through.

      Caveat: This process doesn’t give us stories yet.

      Stories that grab people’s attention contain a couple more ingredients than we’ve listed so far. In a couple of weeks, when we’re nearer to planning the details of your talk, I’m going to tell you how to select and tell stories that serve your purpose.

      Do the exercise above (and maybe blutack it up and add to it over the next couple of weeks) and you’ll see that story-finding is a breeze.

      You’ll never find it difficult to find interesting stories ever again.

      For now, go through your life timeline, identify major milestones, and list the challenges you moved through and problems you solved (both big and small) and we’ll come back to it later.

      I promise you, you’ll look back on this as a major step towards becoming the kind of speaker you want to be.

      *****

      Meg Lightheart, the author of Presentation Now: Prepare a perfect presentation in less than 3 hours (Pearson 2015) is the UK’s leading complex-topic presentation coach. This article is one of a series Meg wrote in the run-up to TCUK 2014 where they gave a workshop on presentation planning. If you ever want some one-to-one help with presentations, check out megalightheart.com. Meg is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @megalightheart.

      Check out all the articles in this series: