Ad aprile 2005 partecipai a Milano ad una conferenza della divisione europea della STC, il TransAlpine Chapter che non mi risulta più esistere (e anche questo è un segno dei tempi). La ricordo comunque con molto piacere: molto ben organizzata, molto interessante, molto informativa.
Scrissi per “TransAlpiner”, la newsletter del gruppo, un articolo che ricordava i benefici derivanti dalla partecipazione a conferenze simili e che ripubblico volentieri qui.
The STC-TAC Milan Conference: Impressions of a First-time Attendee
Faced with these three days of conference, as a first-time attendee I was like a child that sees a new city for the first time, with all its bright lights and colors. So I had a sort of clear-minded view, which allowed me to gather the impressions that I would now like to express in this short article.
What, where and when. The Transalpine Chapter organizes a two-day general conference twice a year (in April and October). This year for the first time, the Milan conference was preceded by a meeting of the Italian Chapter.
“What’s in it for me?” I hear you ask. What does all this specifically mean for you and for your business? Well, there are at least three benefits:
- Technical knowledge;
- Knowledge of the market, of its problems and of its opportunities;
- Networking with your colleagues (and competitors – why not?).
Obviously, each point intertwines with the others. Let us examine each one in detail.
Technical Knowledge. The Italian Chapter day involved five presentations, plus a final panel discussion about the future of technical writing as a profession. The conference itself involved nine speeches plus a final panel discussion about usability in documentation. A broad range of topics was discussed, and it was in this variety that I found the real value for the attendees: the opportunity to leave the conference with a wealth of inspiring ideas to reflect further on. From the program of professional speakers, I particularly enjoyed the speeches by Umberto Santucci, Bill Gribbons and Erik van Huisstede.
Umberto Santucci (Strategic Problem Solving and Technical Writing) gave an interesting talk explaining how the documentation of a good or service can and must be tailored to the target user. Bill Gribbons (The Migration from Information Design to User Experience Design) helped us to appreciate how the user’s experience in using a good – or a service, for that matter – needs to lie at the heart of a business strategy in order for a company to succeed. Erik van Huisstede showed us that, in designing and writing manuals and instructions for users, a multitude of approaches is possible, though whatever the approach, what is fundamental is to be creative, to pay attention to style and – perhaps most importantly, yet often neglected – to make the user happy.
Knowledge of the market. Even in this age of the Internet, in this world where information is, at least apparently, anything but a scarce resource, existing in copious amounts and readily accessible to all and sundry, the importance of market knowledge should not be underestimated. Participation in industry events of this kind allows attendees to learn and better understand their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the market in which they are engaged. Of course, a conference can in no way substitute books and journals, or other information channels, however talks such as that given by Piero Margutti about the challenges faced by Siemens in documentation management constitute an invaluable source of information on the issues facing our clients, and hence the opportunities available for those involved in technical writing. (Siemens was our kind and gracious host in Milan, and Piero the perfect master of ceremonies.)
Networking. The conference was particularly well-structured, especially as it gave considerable space to socializing. The organizers themselves encouraged the public to interact and exchange their thoughts and business cards during the conference, rather than wait and send an email once they were back in the office. Speaking to strangers, of course, is not always an easy thing to do, however you cannot simply wait for the people to whom you are interested in talking to come up and introduce themselves. We ourselves have to take the initiative. The benefits are many, and of undeniable importance in these fast changing times – the opportunity to meet new people, to win new jobs or simply establish a working relationship, discuss different points of view on a common problem, etc.
It is somewhat similar to what in the corporate world Tom Peters has been preaching to entrepreneurs for years: Managing By Wandering Around (MBWA), namely, the greater effectiveness of a boss who wanders around the office and speaks directly to employees, rather than lock himself away behind a desk, drawing up unrealistic strategies. Last but not least, when it comes down to it, networking is itself just plain fun! An element reflected in the traditional closing ceremony of the conference – the chocolate raffle, offering chocolates from all over Europe. Here I can directly testify to the joy of this event, having won two blocks of Slovenian chocolate which delighted my young daughter for several days on end.
Finally, a word about my impressions. With friend and foe alike present, the overwhelming sense of fearlessness and the willingness to see others as potential project allies was definitely a strength of the participants. I must say that I found the European environment incredibly positive over the three days. By ‘European environment’, I mean the ability to overcome the barrier of an “us and them” mentality, to consider ourselves citizens of the world rather than vehemently defend our own little bundles of clients.
The atmosphere was indeed very friendly and professional at the same time, with an excellent trattoria enlivening the atmosphere on Thursday night.
To sum up in a single word, the organization of the event was simply perfect. (Thanks Jang and Vilma!)
See you at the next conference!