Posted by: communicationcloud | August 3, 2009

Technical Communication 2009 plans

In his onemanwrites blog recently, Gordon McLean looked forward to the Technical Communication UK conference later this year, and considered which sessions he might like to attend. I was impressed by this forward planning – it’s not uncommon for me to only begin thinking about what I might do at a conference over breakfast on the first day. Planning ahead in detail is not my Thing.

But I do have a strong idea of what I want to get out of attending this event, so I wondered if maybe I could look at it in this way. So, here I’m putting down what I think I might end up doing. Maybe I’ll come back in a couple of months, and update with what actually happened!

Before I get going, here’s the conference programme, so you can see what I’m talking about.


The conference itself doesn’t actually start until Tuesday, but I’m involved in organising it, so I’ll probably go along on Monday night and pitch in to get everything  set up for greeting delegates for the workshop day on Tuesday. No idea who else will be there on Monday, so I might end up spending the evening in Eastwood Hall’s jacuzzi and sauna, which I remember from last year were a nice place to be.

Tuesday: Workshop day!

I’m not sure which workshops to go to yet. I’d be really interested to see the Madcap tools in action on some really interesting documentation, but I’m not sure yet what they’ll be doing in their workshop. I’m not particularly looking for a new software package at the moment, but I’m still interested in what’s available: you can’t always see the limits of your existing tools until you’ve had a good look at what the alternatives offer.

There’s probably a bit of organisational running around to do on Tuesday too, but hopefully not too much.

If my memories of last year’s conference serve me right, the place to be on Tuesday evening is the bar. It’s a great place to see who’s arriving and make them feel welcome. Hopefully I’ll be a little less thirsty than I was at this point last year, though – although I did make some great new friends on that evening!

Wednesday: the conference begins!

Hmm… this is where it starts to get tricky for me. There’s so much good stuff on the programme that it’s going to be difficult to choose. I’d like to go to all 10 of the pre-lunch sessions today…and if the sessions are as interesting as they look like they’re going to be then I’m going to need some time to digest all the new ideas too. I’ll need to pace myself!

I’ll definitely go to the keynote session by Peter Anghelides. After that, probably Matthew Ellison’s talk about design patterns for information architecture. I’m very involved information design and architectures in my day job, and Matthew’s very knowledgeable about this area. I’m sure David Farbey’s session will be interesting too: I saw him give a version of the same presentation at the Information Design Association conference earlier this year. He ran a survey asking users what they think of documentation… and the finding are very interesting. That said, Sophie Hurst’s talk on consistency looks good too; all the more so because it’s an area I don’t know much about.

Right then, next session! This one’s easy for me: I saw Kim Schrantz-Berquist at the ISTC conference 2 years ago, and she’s a great speaker with a lot of knowledge to impart. Plus, I love the idea of a few quick tips that will transform my writing style (I’m the first to admit it’s needed!)

And then Linda Urban talking about networking and building business relations. This has long been a big part of my job, and I’m really interested in what other people are doing to build these relationships. The abstract says this session is going to be “interactive”, which I’m hoping means we’ll get to do some swapping anecdotes and tips, as well as learning from Linda’s experience.

That does mean I’m going to miss Galyna Key’s talk about working on Scrum projects. That’s a shame, because we’ve recently started using Scrum at Red Gate, but I’m guessing Galyna’s talk will have a lot of general introduction to Scrum, which I’m very familiar with already – and so I’ll catch up with her for a coffee and a more in-depth chat at some other point. Maybe I’m wrong about the level of her talk, though, in which case I’ll have to rethink.

Lunchtime at last! That looks like a busy morning.

After lunch there’s the ISTC AGM. I’ll definitely be there; I’m on the Council so it’s pretty important to go. It’s also a good opportunity for me to put some faces to names for some of the ISTC members I communicate with regularly through the rest of the year.

The decision about the first session of the afternoon is easy: Chris Atherton is a friend, and since I met her we’ve had many long (and very boring to our partners and other onlookers) conversations about information design, and how readers or listeners process the information. The research she’s done on how the different uses of slideware in verbally delivered information affect comprehension is fascinating, and I’m really looking forward to her presentation about it.

I’m not sure about the next slot, but if I haven’t reached information overload by this point, I might attend Steve Cripps’ talk: “Authors don’t do publishing”, which looks like it may be a little bit controversial.

And then, I’m definitely keen to hear David Mackay talking about writing his book. Explaining science in a way that the general public can understand and enjoy is definitely a feat!

Right, then. That’s halfway through Wednesday. Now the really interesting bit starts: there’s always such a buzz of new ideas at the end of the conference day that it’s just great to sit down with someone and talk through all the new ideas. And the sauna is a great place for doing that:) But not for long, though: there’s the gala dinner tonight, so a chance to meet more people, and see them at their best. The UK technical communication awards are presented at the dinner too.

Thursday: more conference sessions

The Thursday usually has a lower energy than the Wednesday, unsurprisingly. But I’m sure Gordon McLean is going to break us in gently with his talk about blogging. He’s a well known and prolific blogger, so I’m keen to hear him talk about it.

I’m not so sure about the 2nd session today. I’m interested in text formatting, so Kath Straub’s talk could be interesting. But I think I’ll probably go to Nigel Greenwood’s talk about quality improvement. I feel it’s something I should be thinking about more than I do.

I’ll probably learn telepathy next, with Justin Collinge. I’m not certain, though. David Jones recently went from redundant to employed again in record time, so I reckon he knows a bit about getting a job. And Lois Patterson’s talk about additional roles that technical authors can play in a business targets a very hot topic at the moment.

Blimey, is it lunchtime again already? I’m the local area groups representative on the ISTC Council, so I want to catch up with other people who run area groups (and anyone thinking about running a group) at some point – so I can find out what the ISTC can do to support and encourage these groups – and lunchtime today looks like the best opportunity.

I may miss a session after lunch and take an extra-long lunch break. I’ll almost certainly need some quiet time by now. And then, I’ll probably attend Richard Truscott’s session about document pictograms… although it depends what talk goes into the currently empty slot: I’ve heard that Andrew Jackson from Pacific Blue may be presenting something on the subject of e-learning.

After that, Adobe. I believe RJ Jacquez is going to be talking on the subject of what the future holds for technical communications.

Which brings me to pretty much the end of the conference. Now I see why I don’t usually plan ahead like this: I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Have other people tried thinking about a conference in advance in this way before, or do you tend more to the turn-up-and-see-what-takes-your-fancy approach?



  1. Break you in gently? I was planning a quick group aerobic session to start…. hmmm might not be the best plan…

    • Thanks for *not* doing that aerobics session. I really enjoyed the talk – especially the bit about kittens;)

  2. Wow, what a great overview – this is hugely helpful actually. The extent to which I plan my conferences varies, but I often end up making spur-of-the-moment decisions, so it’s great to be considering some of these talks in advance. Like you, I suspect I’m going to have a hard job choosing!

    (and thank you for your kind words – I’m looking forward to it too! 🙂

    • I look forward to reading about what you did end up choosing in the end. Your talk was one of the highlights of the conference presentations for me, as I know it was for many other people too. Thank you so much for talking to us!

      • It was my pleasure! I had such a great time; thank you again for the invitation. I really must write a post about the conference; I had such an interesting time listening to everyone’s talks and chatting to all the attendees. Really beautifully organised (and perfectly-sized) conference.

  3. All those great plans! Time to follow up with what *actually* happened…

    Monday-Wednesday went essentially as described, apart from the jacuzzi not working, but Thursday was entirely different…

    It started with a live radio interview on BBC Radio Derby (download podcast here, as long as it’s available on the site; my bit is about 50 minutes in: I did go to Gordon McLean’s talk, which was excellent. But then things started to diverge from the “plan”. Instead of going to talks, I spent much of the rest of the day in really interesting conversations:
    – talking with people about setting up new local area groups for the ISTC (Bristol, Newcastle, Stafford/West Midlands)
    – talking with a software development manager about using Google Analytics to understand what users are doing
    – talking with a customer services specialist about how to approach the project I’m starting to work on at Red Gate
    – getting an ISTC community site project kicked off

    … and loads more.

    It was great!

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