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:


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.


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.


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

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?


~ 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.




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 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 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.


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 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?


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?


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.


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.)


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 Meg is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @megalightheart.

Check out all the articles in this series:

Convince your boss – TCUK 2019

How to justify attending the Technical Communication UK 2019 conference

Here are some suggestions for justifying why your manager or supervisor should send you to the TCUK 2019 conference. Below is a sample letter or email you might send.


Dear [your supervisor’s name]:

To help provide [your organisation] and my colleagues with the most current professional knowledge and skills in technical communications, I would like to attend the Technical Communication UK 2019 conference from the 10th to the 12th of September 2019 at the Chesford Grange Hotel in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

This event delivers over 30 sessions and workshops during the three days of the conference, with speakers from companies like ours who describe how they implemented solutions to work smarter. There are a number of sessions this year focusing on the role of social media in improving the ways in which companies can share technical information with their customers. There is also a vendor exhibition showcasing the latest technologies that can support technical communication.


To have an idea of how our company might benefit, the sessions that I find of particular relevance include: [customize the list from]
[topic relevant to your work]
[topic relevant to your work]
[topic relevant to your work]


The all-inclusive residential rate of [select appropriate rate] covers the conference from Tuesday morning to Thursday afternoon. It includes all receptions, the keynote address, 3 streams of open sessions, workshops, special events, dinner and Gala dinner, and networking opportunities. The value is very competitive when compared with similar conferences offered by other organizations, and as the conference is in the UK there are no overseas travelling costs.

A customised conference package can also be built from individual options such as a one-day admission to the conference for [select rate], and specially negotiated room rates of only [select rate] per night.

Summary of Benefits

Attending the Technical Communication UK 2019 conference will enhance my technical communication skills, keep me updated on the latest industry best practices, and help me to deliver the best information to our customers. I will be able to pass on much of what I learn to my colleagues, and my copies of the speaker presentations will be available to our team for reference.

I am very interested in discussing how the company could support my attendance at Technical Communication UK 2019. I will do whatever I can to make attending the conference a part of my employer-supported training this year. Thank you for considering my request.

[your name]

Writing your speaker bio, talk title, and description

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


This is Meg Lightheart, the complex-topic presentation coach. TCUK have asked me write some articles that will help speakers through the presentation planning and delivery process.

TCUK need to get your speaker bio, and your talk title and description up on the website, so I thought this would be a good time to give you some guidance on how to put those things together. If you’re not used to writing what amounts to marketing copy, it can be feel a bit clunky and mysterious to approach.

Use what you find in this article to get something up on the site, then you’ve got a few weeks before the final version for the printed programme is due, so there is some flexibility to tweak.

As always it’s not about you

What is the purpose of the talk title and description? In a conference, there are a lot of people, and probably other talks going on at the same time as yours.

You want the right people to come to your session, and to dissuade the people who will find it less appropriate, so they don’t waste their time.
The same, weirdly, can be said about your speaker bio. Ostensibly about you, really about attracting the people who will get the most out of your talk. More about that later.

There are three ways your title and description attract people.

1. Create curiosity

The mechanism of curiosity is creating questions in people’s heads, and not answering them just yet. There are heavy-handed ways of doing this (those “shocking truths” Buzzfeed article links, anyone?) but a bit of curiosity is a good thing. If people know everything about your talk before they come (or feel like they do, which is effectively the same thing), they’re not going to turn up.

2. Set the tone

What are you like as a speaker? Okay: what are you like in conversation? How would your friends describe you, your significant other?

Laugh-a-minute or serious business?
Zoomed-in or 1:25000 scale?
Up-close-and-personal or that’s-quite-close-enough?
Richard Dawkins or Doreen Virtue?
By-the-book or iconoclast?

Everything pertaining to your talk has to match how you’re going to be in the session. And, yes, you can be a little aspirational, but mainly go with what you’re comfortable with. A frivolous bio will bring in the frivolous-prone, so if you turn out to be all headmistress in person, it’s going to be a bad surprise.

3. Show value

People will come to your talk because you offer them some value. That might be entertainment, it might be learning. Go back to the planning questions you did when you were planning your session way back in April. What’s important to your listeners? What do they need and want, in this domain? Your talk title and description have to clearly show what they’ll get by coming.

Marketing is about attraction.

Whereas when you’re planning your talk, you’re designing it for the people who will be there, we’re kind of doing the opposite here: designing communication that will attract those people to be there in the first place.

Clear, then clever.

An old saw in marketing circles is “Clear, then clever.”

~ First off write your title to clearly describe what it’s about.

“How to…”

~ Can you add in a benefit?

“How to… so that…”
“How to make … more…”

~ Want to add a number?

“Three ways to… so that…”
“Four questions that make… more…”

~ Specify who it’s good for?

“…for [job title]”
“…for people who…”

~ Get the right level in.

“The least you need to know about how to…”
“Beyond the basics of… ”
“Delving into the depths of…”
“… for advanced practitioners.”
(You’ll be glad you did this – avoids questions that you can’t answer!)

~ Add in an adverb?

Smoothly, easily, quickly. Reliably. Finally.

Clear first.

Want clever?

There’re boatloads of material out there on writing headlines. It’s a dark and sometimes sleazy art.

You can get a grounding in it quite quickly. Note what articles you actually click through on Twitter/Facebook, or from the mainpage of your online newspaper. What blog posts do you click through to? What generic emails do you open?

What about the headline made you click? You can take the format, and just replace with your info. Replace process with process, noun with noun, adjective with adjective, number with number.

(If you’re ever stuck in the WHSmiths at the train station, it can be very educational to spot patterns in the headlines that go on the covers of magazines. Which are so overblown you would never go near them? Which make you curious to open the magazine just for a peek?)

Caveat: Disappointment happens when we picture something, then the reality doesn’t match. Make sure you’re not promising something you can’t deliver. It better really be a hilarious rollercoaster through five life-changing paradigm shifts, otherwise, probably best not to say it is.

Writing your talk blurb

Here’s a down-and-dirty template for writing your talk blurb. You might remember it from when you wrote your proposal. I’m deliberately not giving you examples of actual sentences, as I want you to write this in your style.

Life without: One sentence describing the downsides of life before they’ve experienced your recommendation. Maybe a sentence describing a trend which makes this talk particularly timely.

Life with: One or two sentences describing the benefits people will enjoy after they implement your recommendation.

Specific benefits: What (three to five things) specifically will they be able to do better as a result of attending your talk. Remember curiosity… Don’t make them feel like they’ve already heard your talk before you give it!

Optional extras: Who is this particularly good for? Do they get a handout? Is it worshop-style session? You could ask a question too, if you like.

Writing the dreaded speaker bio.

Yup. Writing about yourself is awkward and weird. Also, you’ve not got much space. This is not the time to write out your CV. Again, the purpose of writing your bio is to get the right people to your talk, and put off the ones who won’t get benefit. Curiosity, tone and value still count here.

Particularly let them know why you’re the person who can help them with this specific topic. Numbers can help to do this efficiently: number of projects, number of years, number of systems.

What in your job history means you care about this topic? What lead you to want to pass on your knowledge?

Yes, you can talk a bit about something private too, if you like. Quirky things about what you’re like: fine. Loving coffee and chocolate is not quirky though.

Tone is particularly important here. Jokers can joke (a bit). Serious people? It’s okay to just be serious.

How to cheat writing your speaker bio.

1. Google “conference”, click on a few conference sites and check out the speaker bios.
2. Find one that sounds like you.
3. Replace their details with yours. (I don’t mean just change the name, I mean rewrite each sentence with your information.)
4. Never tell them.

And if this completely stumps you, pick and mix from the below:

[Name] has been a [job title] for [x years].
She particularly likes [job thing you particularly like].
A memorable project she was involved with was [project] where she [fact].
One thing she is proud of is [thing you’re proud of].
In her spare time you’ll find [name] [activity].
She can’t bear [thing that your listeners might not like either].
She particularly cares about [talk topic] because [reason].
Her dream is [publicly acceptable dream].

Go write.

Notice the word limits. And if you have a question, email me, with “TCUK Question” in the subject line, and I’ll answer them all in another article.


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 Meg is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @megalightheart.

Check out all the articles in this series:

How to create your proposal for TCUK

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

Putting together a talk is hard. We get it.

You don’t do this every day, certainly not at major conferences. No one properly teaches you in detail how to do a modern presentation. You have to just kind of piece it together from books and presentations you’ve seen and other people’s slides.

Thing is, there is actually no mystery to standing up and being interesting.

So over the next few months, I’m going to work with the TCUK speakers (if you want) to put together a talk you can be proud of.

So, if you propose a talk or workshop and get accepted, you get some development as a speaker thrown in too. Cool, eh?

You know the advantages of doing a talk at TCUK, right?

TCUK is your industry conference. Doing a talk at an industry conference raises your profile, so people recognise you. You might not need that now, but if you’re ever looking for work in the future, that can be a very good thing.

If you do your talk well, you can help your community.

If you have a boss, it’s an impressive thing to have done, and shows that the investment in your ticket was worth it.

Oh, and hold on, as a speaker your ticket would be free, wouldn’t it? So not only are you raising your profile, and helping out your professional network, but you’re getting a free ticket to a darn good three-day conference.


Ah yes, the but.

Okay, not but.


And… it’s difficult to choose. Maybe you have lots of half-ideas. Maybe you just have one, but you’re not sure if it’s good enough. Maybe you just know that this is your year, but the whole process seems a bit overwhelming.

Right now, I’m going to help you move through the thinking process rapidly, come up with a ‘good enough’ idea, and even give you a bit of guidance as to how to propose it, so you can make sure you’re going to be considered.


This is the first part of a series of articles you’ll get access to if you’re accepted as a speaker for TCUK. I’m going to advise you via articles like this with pretty much all aspects of planning and delivering your talk.

There’ll be support for:

  • planning the scope of your topic so you know how to filter what’s in and what’s out
  • sequencing the information in a way that’s logical and interesting
  • getting the response you want to your talk
  • giving evidence to make your topic engaging (including how to tell stories without being cheesy)
  • handling the Dreaded Q&A in a confident way
  • dealing with The Nerves
  • even how to write the title, blurb and your speaker bio.

I’m going to share with you some of the secrets of putting together verbal information so you get and keep people’s attention (it’s different to written info, you know)… And, yes, we’ll maybe talk a bit on PowerPoint.

All because TCUK11 was the most fun and friendly conference I’d ever attended.



Taking the terror out of the terrifying ‘Call For Papers’.

When Chris Atherton first suggested I put my hat in the ring for TCUK back in 2011, I went to the requisite page and found something I found, frankly, intimidating.

The ‘Call For Papers’. Dunh dunh dunh.

First of two confessions: I don’t have a degree. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. So Call For Papers was a totally alien phrase to me, which just made me think: But I don’t have a ‘paper’.

Second confession: my method of putting a talk together is – what’s a nice word? – fluid. My talk doesn’t really crystalise until the night before the date or the morning of. Those of you who remember my talk from TCUK11 might remember I showed you the literal envelope on the back of which I had my notes.

(Don’t worry – if you’re going to be following this series of articles to help you put together your talk, we’ll be finalising details well in advance of the night before your talk. Unless last-minute is your preference, in which case, knock yourself out.)

So the idea of having a ‘paper’ with which to answer the call was more than a little intimidating.

So, let’s dismantle that myth straight away.

Actually, I just checked the website and this year it says ‘Call For Proposals’, so a bit less scary, but still.

The purpose of that form on the website is for you to suggest a topic and the kind of ‘story’ your approach to that topic will follow. It doesn’t even have to be your final title, or even very detailed. And thank goodness, because as we start working in depth on your talk, it’s going to morph and probably morph again before you arrive at something definite.

I’ll give you a format for what to type into the Call For Proposals box in a minute.

So, for ‘Call For Proposals’ read: Call For Half-formed But Promising Suggestions.

(At first I typed ‘Call For Sketchy Suggestions’, but that is more for the gala dinner. Ditto: Suggestive Sketches.)

Also, the website says that your bio and your abstract will be used in the printed programme. I’m reliably informed we have until the end of May to finalise the title, blurb and bio, so don’t let that intimidate you. At this stage, it’s all flexible. The important thing is to get something in.

Avoiding the worst presentation planning mistake.

Here’s a scenario.

The phone rings. I answer it. I pass it to you and say, ‘Update them on your week.’

What’s your first question?

‘Er… who’s there?’


If it’s your boss or best customer, that’s one conversation. If it’s your grandmother, that’s another. If it’s your personal trainer, or that strict dietician you’ve been seeing, yet another.

We can’t begin to plan a conversation without thinking who’s going to be part of it.

But all the time people are planning a presentation and the first thing they think is ‘What will I say?”

Or even worse, they double-click PowerPoint and think ‘What will I put on my slides?’

No no no.

Your first question is:

Who will I be talking to, and what do I know about them?

I mean, of course you know this. It’s common sense.

But if you’re finding it difficult to decide on a topic, it’s because deciding on a topic in a theoretical vacuum is a total nightmare.

‘Cook some food for some people.’ Er… Okay, who’s coming? How many?

See what I mean?

So, please stop planning your talk (for a moment) and think about who’s going to be there.

What do you know (or suspect or guess) about the TCUK population? Think about ten technical communicators you know. (We’re going to do this in much more detail in a couple of months when we get around to properly planning your talk.)

  • What are those people like?
  • What is their working environment like? (Yes, I know it’s varied, so have more than one answer.)
  • Think about their working day – what’s involved in their job?
  • What’s hard about being a technical communicator? Technical aspects of the job itself, but also general issues (things like having to influence people without official ‘influence’).
  • What’s important to technical communicators? What do they like? Want? Need? Dream of?

Do this however you like – take a walk and ponder these questions, get a big old piece of paper and some postits, open a spreadsheet, talk into your voice recorder app… Whatever works.

Spread your net wide.

Sometimes it’s hard to choose a topic because we forget what we know.

Let’s start with the obvious things.

List the work topics (software, methods, processes) you’re familar with.

Now slightly harder.

What do you know about outside your job? The obvious things. Hobbies, parenting, sports… Add them to the list. (Trust me.)

Okay. Now we get down to it.

Go through your past week. Check your What’s App, your emails, your diary, your photos, whatever it takes to recreate your week.

  • What else do you deal with confidently?
  • Or what have you learned to manage, even if you don’t love it?
  • Notice not just ‘technical’ aspects, but also communication and management skills, writing, organisation, time management skills. Doesn’t matter if it seems ordinary to you at the moment, we’re making a long list, not a filtered list.
  • What do you love about your job? What do you seem to deal with well, maybe better than some other people?

Get at least 20 things on this list. If you’re finding that hard, you’re setting your bar too high. Stop being such a self-sabotaging perfectionist and list more things. Quantity not quality, for now.

Create a mental Venn diagram.

So on one side, you’ve got a list of technical communicators and their needs, wants, challenges.

On the other side, you’ve got a massive list of things you know something about.

Where do they cross over?

Are there topics where you have an unusual or non-standard take on a topic?

Is there a new development in the field that your tech comm colleagues are uncertain of? Could you give an overview/framework?

What have you learned the hard way?

Don’t think ‘lecture’ think ‘recommendation’.

A great way of getting your thoughts together is to think: What would I recommend on this topic? Recommendations tend to come from our own experience, are tailored to the people we’re talking to, and have the other person’s best interests at heart.

You don’t have to be an expert to recommend something. There’s a dumpling restaurant that I consistently recommend to people. Am I an expert in Taiwanese dumplings? No. Doesn’t stop me recommending it and giving reasons for my recommendations (the stuffed chillies, oy). So don’t let that ‘But who am I…’ thought stop you from putting a proposal forward. (We’ll talk in a couple of months about how you make your level of knowledge sufficient, even desirable, to your listeners.)

You don’t need to have a clear plan to propose a talk.

All you need to propose a topic for a talk or a workshop is a perspective on an idea. You don’t even need to know exactly what your title is going to be, nor even have come down on even the exact sequence. I’m going to give you systematic ways to work out all the details of your content, including the title, the blurb and your speaker bio, as we go through the next few months.

What to write on the proposal form

Here’s a simple format for making a proposal.

1. Life without your recommendation. Start off describing the need that your talk relates to. Describe your listeners’ lives without your recommendation. A couple of sentences saying why this topic and why now.

2. Life after your recommendation. Then describe how people’s lives will be different after listening to your talk and putting your recommendations into practice. What will be better? What will be smoother, faster, cheaper, less stressful?

3. Your recommendation. Outline what your recommendation is. At this stage, phrases like ‘Something around…’ or ‘Some ways to…’ are absolutely fine. Book proposals are written before the book is complete, not after.

4. Evidence. This fits into two categories.

Firstly, what kind of evidence are you able to supply about your recommendation? If it’s from your experience in a recent project, give us a sentence or two outlining the scope and relevance of that project. If you’ve got studies or surveys or ‘hard’ data, mention that here. If it’s just something you’ve been noodling around about for a while, that’s fine too, just let us know what led you to be thinking so deeply about this topic.

The second category of evidence is: Why you? You are not expected to be the world’s expert in this topic. What you need to show here is some indication of your experience as related to this topic. What have you gone through that means you have focused particularly on this topic? We don’t need your CV here, but a bit of background relevant to the theme of your recommendation is helpful when reviewing your proposal. (Maybe put this info in the Speaker Biography section of the form. I’ll help you edit it for public consumption later.)

And that’s it.

What happens next…

You’ve got until 3rd April to submit your proposal. If it were me, I would change that in my head to 27th March or something just so I didn’t have to do it in a mad rush when life throws a spanner in my mechanism as it were, but that’s just me.

If you’ve got questions about this article, feel free to drop me a line. I can’t really give detailed advice on each idea, and I’m not on the committee deciding who goes through, but, you know, fire away.

Then, sometime in May, I’ll start you off on your planning journey. We need to get the title, topic and bio sorted by end of May-ish, so that’s where we’ll begin.

Then we’ll gently get going on gathering and clarifying your ideas so that by, say, August things will be crystallised, and September you’ll be ready.

Sound good?


So go and propose something!


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 Meg is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @megalightheart.

Check out all the articles in this series:

TCUK – What’s in it for a newbie?

Charlotte Branth Claussen
Charlotte Branth Claussen
Charlotte Branth Claussen shares her own experience

Are you not sure if you’re ready to go to a conference?
Are you not sure if TCUK is the best choice for you?
– I’d say go!! And here’s why:

You don’t need the background knowledge of a senior

You might find that some subjects are presented on a level that’s too advanced for you. That’s OK. See it as inspiration on what to read up on when you get home. At the same time, given the diverse backgrounds of technical writers, you might experience that you have knowledge that is interesting for others.

When I attended my first TCUK, the specialist theme “anything but text” touched on theory I knew very well from my university education in art history and cognition. On the other hand, I was lost when hearing about DITA 2.0 when I still had no idea what DITA was. That was perfectly OK. In a coffee break, I said out loud that I had no idea what DITA was all about, admitted that I was confused about all the talk of encoding, standards and software applications. Frankly, I’m one of those who see programming skills as a necessary evil, so I’m glad I opened my mouth. I went home with a basic understanding of the essence of DITA, ready to explore a field I would have otherwise ignored.

TCUK has a good balance of focus and diversity

I find it inspiring that TCUK each year has a specialist theme. It gives you the opportunity to explore different angles on a common theme and, indirectly, on technical writing in general. With a common theme, different approaches tend to become clearer.
Keynote speakers are carefully selected to offer you insights from a well-known insider in the field, an intriguing story, and input from a related field.
Sessions and workshops are selected by quality, and fit with the specialist theme and diversity of the programme in general.

TCUK makes you feel welcome

The conference is a reasonable size, participants stay at the conference hotel, and the conference is evidently a not-for-profit event with the volunteer spirit showing. No need to be a networking genius – you will soon find yourself involved in discussions or informal chats. TCUK has a uniquely intimate atmosphere and is populated by technical communicators who are passionate about their field. When I attended TCUK for the first time I was not just accepted; I was welcomed and offered help and encouragement.

Why you should attend TCUK 2013 – a personal perspective

If you have ever tried to explain to someone what a technical communicator does, you will know there is no easy answer. We cover a range of disciplines (writers, editors, illustrators, information architects and so on). We work in just about any industry and sector you can think of, from healthcare and consumer goods to utilities, financial services, government and military organisations… and everything else in between. You’ll find us anywhere that clear communication is important.

Technical Communication UK (TCUK) is the one event in the UK that brings us together. If you only practise one discipline in one sector, you may feel this diversity is irrelevant. But sometimes it’s the diversity that brings the spark of inspiration – it gives you a fresh perspective, leading to ideas and concepts that you can transfer into your own everyday work. From personal experience, I’ve attended sessions at TCUK on documenting and illustrating machinery (I don’t do that) and on creating motivating e-learning materials (I do some of that), and each time I have come away with ideas I can use in a number of different ways.

Our profession is changing rapidly. Every time someone develops an innovative product, we provide the support that the people who use it need. Every time someone thinks of a new way of presenting information, we have to decide whether we want to make use of it. We can’t stand still – if we do, we’ll appear to be moving backwards. We could, I suppose, do all this ourselves – but I find that I can learn as much in three days at TCUK as I would in weeks of ploughing through online resources.

I’ve mentioned “our profession” – and if you’ve read the recent edition of Communicator, you’ll know I believe that we have to keep up-to-date if we want to consider ourselves to be “professional” technical communicators. I don’t know where else I’d get the level of update that I get at TCUK, as there is so much more than just the presentations. I’ve learnt a fantastic amount in conversations over dinner, at the bar in the evening or at one of the fringe events.

The vendors are there too. They may consider they have a captive audience – conference attendees who are all interested in what they have to sell. But I look at it from a different perspective. I have a “captive vendor” and five minutes at a stand has saved many hours of frustration (and time is money).

There are only two people at Clearly Stated: Andrew joined me in July last year. I decided to take Andrew to TCUK 2012 as I thought it would be a great way to open his eyes to the potential of what we do. The result was that we came away from TCUK with a contract that we would not have obtained in any other way, and a host of ideas for further business development. We are now investigating opportunities for technical communication business that would not have occurred to us before. It was definitely well worth the money.

Alison Peck, Clearly Stated