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!

The View from Outside In: What Users Don’t Care About and What to Do Instead

This post is based on my presentation at STC Summit 2019, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and incorporates takeaways from Alan Porter and John Bowie. Featured Image credit: Stéphanie Walter.

Customer interactions are becoming synonymous with content interactions. Today, content must be available for more than single-channel troubleshooting, documentation, training, or lead generation. All content must be available across all touchpoints to satisfy user intent at every stage of the customer journey.

But all too often, organizational divisions and siloed knowledge lead to different teams who publish different types of content in different channels.

Spoiler alert: Your customers don’t care.

Presentation slide courtesy of with text The customer doesn't care where your content comes from

Invert your perspective to outside-in

Do you care about your customers and incorporate their perspective into your strategy? Your answer is likely an emphatic YES, as it should be! However, that’s not enough to create and sustain an optimal customer experience. Committing to an outside-in approach means prioritizing customer value over what seems best for business (or your team) now.

When it comes to content experience, outside-in perspective means challenging the status quo of how you create and deliver content.

It’s time to evolve to a mature content experience that puts customer value first. What does that look like? The answer is complex in terms of the many variables involved, but simple to describe in terms of what it looks like in practice.

A mature content experience has two main components:

  1. Seamless content delivery – customers can access the exact information they need in whichever channel they are interacting.
  2. Feedback loop to business objectives – all content interactions are correlated to desired outcomes or analyzed for actionable insights to improve products or services.
A Powered by MindTouch graphic depicting Seamless content delivery - customers can access the exact information the seamless content experience—delivering content customers need in whichever channel they are interacting

Seamless content delivery

Content channels are splintering based on customer demand. Some key stats from Gartner about self-service illustrate the influence of customer self-service expectations:

  • 15% support interactions will be handled via artificial intelligence by 2021 – a 400% increase from 2017
  • 85% support interactions will start with self-service by 2022 – up from 48% in 2018

Both technology and human-controlled processes will need to improve to accommodate these interactions. On the technology side, artificial intelligence and machine learning are already getting incorporated into your tools to automate engagement.

The harder change to make will be, as Gartner recommends, to distribute consistent knowledge across all self-service and assisted channels. Consistent knowledge delivery will be a challenge to achieve because it requires people and process alignment. So we need to start the tough work now to get our content ready for the technology already en route.

Does your content pass the water test? For consistent knowledge distribution, your content needs to be able to adapt into any channel or device just like water can take the shape of any container.

Image credit: Stéphanie Walter

Two of the most important “containers” on the path to ubiquity are conversational user interfaces (chatbots) and voice assistants (smart speakers). These mechanisms need the same content to be delivered with quite different formats—most significantly, either with or without a visual user interface.We must prioritize the experience of the people interacting with these devices to help them get the information they need.

The future of content during this Industry 4.0 era requires certain characteristics identified by the Information 4.0 Consortium:

  • Molecular
  • Dynamic
  • Ubiquitous
  • Independent
  • Spontaneous
  • Offered
  • Profiled

Incorporate Information 4.0 characteristics for your content to work best for chatbots, smart speakers, and the all-important humans. Approach knowledge as microcontent snippets that are fluid enough for all touchpoints.

Feedback loop to business objectives

An outside-in perspective goes beyond seamless and consistent content delivery. Prioritizing user experience also means taking every opportunity to reduce effort and improve value for your customers.

While you tackle the challenge to align your teams and processes around user-focused content strategy, ensure that alignment is directly connected to your business objectives.

Content measures to consider:

  • Conversions – when a user completes desired goals. Identify both your micro conversions (smaller value interactions moving towards a goal) and macro conversions (completed transactions or interactions of monetary value). Measure where and how your content fits into your conversion landscape.
  • Leading and lagging indicators – measures of activities around content delivery (leading) and the outcomes of content interactions (lagging). Correlate the relationship between indicators to determine which leading indicators are most important to focus on (and act on) to achieve the desired lagging indicators for your business objectives.

Content measures to be wary of:

  • Vanity Metrics – easy-to-measure (and manipulate) data that doesn’t necessarily correlate to anything meaningful. For new web-based content, perhaps after you upgrade your dated PDF outputs, these metrics can be a good place to start measuring. But repeatedly showcasing page views, sessions, bounce rate, or time on page without correlating to value-based outcomes (like conversions and lagging indicators!) does not provide any actionable insights to improve.

After you become a pro at measuring all the right things, look for actionable insights to improve your products or services. As John Bowie of Edmentum called out in his presentation:

You can’t write your way out of a problem you designed yourself into.

Your customers give you invaluable information about what they want when they interact with your content, which includes their search queries. Evaluate content interactions through the lens of data-driven optimization to ensure a feedback loop to the organization.

Find opportunities to improve in a way that reduces customer effort, which may even eliminate the need for some of your content. This highlights why vanity metrics on their own can be unhelpful or even misleading. More content interactions do not always equal better experiences!

If you are responsible for any type of content in your organization, be prepared to disrupt your own methods to achieve a blended content experience that’s best for your users.

Connect to your customers with knowledge

Content professionals have an opportunity to provide more value to customers than ever before, but it takes enterprise-wide collaboration to execute properly.

Their self-service journey cannot happen successfully without your focus on next-gen knowledge management.

Originally published on the blog

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.

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

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