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