STC Summit 2020 Takeaways

I’m glad to be attending and presenting at the annual STC Summit again! Background image credit to Liz Fraley.

The virtual elephant in the Zoom room

Rule #1: Don’t say the P word.

We’re all getting used to many virtual adjustments and #STC20 is no exception. The Sunday evening orientation session was an excellent ice breaker to connect with other attendees and get acquainted with the virtual conference platform.

A theme highlighted during orientation is that being flexible to a new conference format is synonymous with how our work evolves. We should embrace it! Bonus: change creates opportunities to make the most of new possibilities in the form of live blues music.

Complementary skills and business acumen

A standout theme I noticed during day 1 was not specific to technical content—in a good way.

There was a focus on raising awareness around possibilities, as well as limitations to overcome, for us to become better professionals. For example:

  • The impact of bias. We should all be aware of our implicit and unconscious blindspots and intentionally shift our behavior to mitigate biases that hinder our judgement.
  • The importance of SEO. Search Engine Optimization continues to be important for our personal online presence and our content effectiveness. Data shows that search engines like Google (or YouTube) are the top channel that customers seek information and smart speakers only respond with the #1 search result for any given question.
  • The opportunity to shape your story. This was highlighted in the opening and closing keynotes and another session about personal branding. Dream big and focus on valuable outcomes for yourself and others that your work impacts.

As Jack Molisani shared, visionary companies (and successful professionals) respond to market changes while staying true to core values. We need to constantly learn, unlearn, and re-learn.

Our content enables customer value

If our content continues to focus on features and functionality, then we are limiting the trajectory of our careers and the value of our work.

Proper customer empathy means considering their value and JTBD (jobs to be done). Hint: the job they have to do is NOT use your product or service!

We need to constantly practice and re-learn how to adjust our perspective to customer context and their ROI.

The technical stuff

Of course, there were plenty of sessions on the tactics and methods we need to create and improve technical content.

Training and instructional design. Our work has logical overlap with learning and development functions. A few sessions shared great insight about how to engage learners and how to create effective training materials. One of them was cat themed and no one was mad about that. Unsurprisingly, sessions about training highlighted user perspective and what’s best for the folks who need to learn.

Ontology and taxonomy. Classifying content properly, whether it’s structured or not, is essential for both internal and external functions. As content delivery becomes more complex, classification becomes more important.

Natural Language Processing (NLP). Playing with the Watson Natural Language Understanding demo is a fantastic why to get more familiar with the capabilities and potential.

Screenshot from Nicky Bleiel‘s presentation

Artificial Intelligence. Buzzword much? For good reason! The combination of AI and humans (yes, we still need to be involved) unlocks exciting potential. AI needs our content. And we need to augment and train AI to do what we need.

Conversational user interfaces. Is your content ready for our new reality of chatbots and smart speakers? Many sessions provided guidance for us to keep up.

Screenshot from Alan Houser‘s presentation

Help STC help you

STC provides opportunities for career growth far beyond the Summit. Education sessions included chances to interact with the STC Board and Editors of STC publications, plus sessions about mentorship and volunteering. It’s no surprise that our community strives to share our knowledge and time to further each other’s careers!

Joining the board, volunteering with communities, contributing to publications, and practicing mentorship are all excellent ways to advance professionally—often in ways that are difficult (or unavailable!) to replicate during our regular jobs.

Check out the Intercom Editorial Calendar for submission guidance!

STC Summit 2018

The #STC18 Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference organized by the Society for Technical Communication, which took place this year in Orlando on May 20-23, 2018.

Incredibly, it was the 65th anniversary. This milestone illustrates the longevity of the STC organization. This year’s theme, Communicate the Future, exemplifies the forward-looking focus that we will all benefit from.

I attended to represent as President of the STC San Diego Chapter and to present about Future-Proof Writing – an extension of my Effective Content Framework tailored for the conference theme.

See more conference highlights on the STC San Diego blog: 2018 STC Summit – Cheers to a milestone birthday and the future!

Read more about the conference theme and industry trends: Communicate the future at #STC18 and beyond.

Be a Winner With More Persuasive Presentations

Who doesn’t like to win? Unfortunately, when it comes to more persuasive presentations, chances are you haven’t earned a spot in the winner’s circle. A survey shared at PulseLocal San Diego revealed that only 14% of presentations actually drive action.

PulseLocal San Diego – presentation survey during Arthur Schwartz's presentation


No one wants to give (or attend) a presentation that inspires zero action. Thanks to Arthur Schwartz, we can do better! Delivering more persuasive presentations was the topic of his talk at the latest PulseLocal San Diego event.

Last things first

The key to preparation is starting from the end. Begin your prep by asking:

What is the ideal outcome of my presentation?

It’s a rookie mistake to get caught up in research, structure, or even worse— your slide design—before you hone in on what the actionable outcome should be. When people leave the room, what should they be thinking and what should their next steps be?

For a more persuasive presentation, start there and work backwards.

A strong foundation

After you have a clear vision of the outcome, you can design relevant and compelling content.

Arthur’s formula works for any type of presentation:

  1. Create a powerful story – Frame your content around a story that builds emotional engagement.
  2. Show up feeling like a winner – Use purposeful body language to reinforce positive thoughts.
  3. Engage and energize! – Connect to your audience through their pain points or personal motivation, then educate and empower them with your content.

More pro tips for A+ presos

After Arthur’s presentation, an engaging Q&A revealed other tips to help make presentations more persuasive. Here are the key takeaways.

  • Eye contact – Take moments to focus your attention on individuals for ~3 seconds. Don’t be too systematic about, though, and organically pivot your gaze around the room.
  • Authenticity – When possible, engage with folks on a personal level with individual conversations before your presentation begins. Be the same person when you get in front of the room. If you take on a different persona in “presenter mode” you’ll quickly lose that connection.
  • Comfortable silence – Allow pauses to become part of the presentation. Your audience needs those moments to mentally process your content and you’ll be less likely to use those dreaded crutch words.

Originally published on the blog

Freelance Business Fundamentals – Key Takeaways

STC San Diego collaborates with SD/PEN every year to host a fall workshop. I think they keep getting better every year and this year’s workshop to Kickstart Your Home-Based Writing and Editing Business was my favorite by far.

The workshop included five expert-led presentations:

  1. Alex Bennett – Legal Basics
  2. Janina Goldberg – Time Management
  3. Martin Ceisel – Finding Clients and Copywriting
  4. Nikkie Achartz – Pricing and Profitability
  5. Allison Mellon – Digital Marketing Strategy

Top Takeaways

I have too many notes of action items and resources to list here, so I’m sharing my favorite takeaway from each session.

Legal Basics

Contracts can use overly-broad language to describe how the work you perform for your client becomes owned by them. Verbiage regarding intellectual property may say something like:

“… all processes, methodologies, inventions, enhancements, ideas, improvements, developments, modifications, derivative works, know-how, and trade secrets.”

That basically describes all-the-things! Agreeing to that type of all-encompassing language sets yourself up for risk, especially if you are pursuing personal projects or working with multiple clients at the same time.

To gain some control, first try to push back and ask for more specific contract language that describes the exact type of work you’ll be doing for the client. If they refuses to modify the language, then insist on itemizing other work to exclude.

Time Management

I asked for the cure to procrastination and learned a great tip! When you find yourself procrastinating for something important, write down the reasons you are delaying a given effort.

Forcing yourself to acknowledge why you are procrastinating identifies the root causes, which you can address more directly to give yourself the kick you need dive in.

Finding Clients

There is no excuse to not have a portfolio with at least a few quality examples of your work. Even if you are breaking into a new field, either as a new graduate or career-switcher, you have options to create a portfolio.

  • Create a Spec Ad (speculative advertisement, an ad you create on your own) or other samples just to demonstrate the specific skillset you need to highlight.
  • Volunteer for a professional association or community organization and offer your talents for something that helps them and your portfolio at the same time.
  • If your work is protected by an NDA or you don’t have permission from the intellectual property owner, create a scrubbed or modified version of the piece as an alternative.

No excuses!

Pricing and Profitability

When marketing yourself, focus on the reasons and motivations of your potential client. People are motivated to make decisions based on one of three things:

  1. Fear
  2. Pain
  3. Desire

Weave in specifics about how you can save the client time, money, aggravation, etc. If your proposal directly addresses the problem you work will solve and why you are the best person to solve it, it will be received better.

Digital Marketing Strategy

My favorite takeaway about digital marketing is something I already knew, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t over-focus on keywords for SEO gains when publishing marketing content. Search algorithms continue to evolve towards ranking based on searcher-intent and context rather than exactly matching keywords.

Google cares more about relevancy than other factors. Create content that is valuable for users—what I call effective content—and engagement will become your biggest SEO boost.

Event Follow-Up

To see parts of the workshop that were recorded, check out the YouTube playlist: 2017 Workshop – Freelance Business Fundamentals.

To be notified of future events with STC-San Diego, subscribe to the mailing list.

STC San Diego Workshop 2017

MozCon 2017 Takeaways

I’ve been a technical writer and editor for 10+ years and never imagined I’d attend a content marketing conference. Then, just a couple months into a new role with SEO and lead-gen as an important part of my responsibilities, I was lucky enough to attend MozCon 2017.

I love that my career has focused on technical support content and online self-service because being good at my job helps my company and customers at the same time – that’s still true with my new focus.

I was excited to bring back new insights to my team, which would ultimately benefit our MindTouch customers too.

Sara Feldman at MozCon 2017

My notes of takeaways took up 8 typed pages, but I can summarize the information-dense week with two main themes.

Focus on intent

Google AI is trying to answer questions better and quicker. It’s more important than ever to be the content you wish you found and be the best answer to the queries you seek to rank for. If you’re not the right answer to the question, Google will 86 you.

Conversely, content that doesn’t guide users to the right answer is the most disruptable. Those are your easy-target opportunities. The best strategy is to attempt to understand user intent and deliver what they need, instead of playing SEO games.


User behavior and adaptive technology is evolving rapidly, therefore you should operate as if your biggest lead-gen source(s) could disappear tomorrow. At the same time, it’s essential to be hyper aware of resources vs. reward for each of your channels and prioritize accordingly. Users are increasingly expecting personalized experiences AND they often have different expectations on different channels.

Staying agile (and successful) requires constant testing, measuring, and tweaking. Experiment with different media types and delivery methods and don’t be afraid to take risks or be bold.

STC Summit 2017

The Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference for STC. The #STC17 Summit was May 7-10, 2017 at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor in Washington, DC.


  • The 2017 theme was ‘Gain the Edge to Get Results’ and spanned more than 75 different sessions during the conference.
  • The San Diego Chapter won Most Improved Community!
  • Browse through all the #STC17 Tweets.

Sara Feldman at STC17 Summit

Hot Topics

These topics either had multiple sessions or a lot of interest among conference attendees.

  • Strategies for Introverts
  • Terminology management and translation memory
  • DITA – Even if you don’t have the business case to implement DITA, more people are catching on that you can apply DITA principles to non-DITA setups, a.k.a. structured authoring.
  • Analytics & Reporting – TechComm is paying more attention to content analytics, well beyond just article feedback and ratings.
  • Journey Mapping – Capturing customer interactions has been around for a while, but this specific methodology is getting extra attention lately.
  • Accessibility and ADA Compliance – This is starting to get more attention from a content-perspective.
  • Agile Writing – 4 different sessions explored this topic.

Originally posted for STC San Diego: 2017 Technical Communication Summit Summary