Ed Marsh of ContentContent has a new podcast out, and it features me! Who would’ve guessed? Ed and I recorded this on April 11, 2015, and had a great time recording our conversation. We could’ve gone on for hours! (Or at least I could’ve gone on for hours, LOL.)
Check out the podcast, and be sure to check out more of what Ed has on ContentContent. He’s got good stuff there! Enjoy!
As the year 2014 winds down, many have summarized the past year, as a reflection of all that has transpired. When I started to think about the past year, I wasn’t sure that it was all that great of a year at first, but the more I thought about it, I realized that despite some less than desirable things transpiring towards the end, there were actually a few good things that happened that were worth noting.
1) This was the first year that the number of hits my blog received for the entire year topped over 10,000 hits. It was a goal I had hoped to achieve, and I had to work for it. My stats would falter if I didn’t write an original blog post (like this one), and I think, despite the new achievement, my stats didn’t reflect what I had hoped, but I put that on myself. This was a very busy year, and it was difficult for me to keep up with writing original posts. So despite that, I’m glad that so many people still enjoy the content that I share here, whether it’s original content or shared content. I try my best to share what I find interesting in the hopes that others will find it interesting, too, and perhaps learn from that little piece of information as well.
2) I was able to travel to some new places and do new things. I went to the Intelligent Content Conference in San Jose, CA back in February, and went to the STC Summit in Phoenix in May. Not only did I have an opportunity to enhance my knowledge during these conference through the fantastic learning sessions, I also met a lot of new people. I love that I have some wonderful new professional connections as well as new friends. These conferences also gave me the chance to strengthen professional connections and friendships with technical communicators I met in the year before and the year before that. Becoming more ensconced in the tech comm community has meant a lot to me, and I have appreciated every connection I’ve made or deepened in the last year.
3) My writing opportunities changed. While I was writing mostly for my blog this year, I also wrote for other outlets instead. Some of those opportunities folded or didn’t work out, but other opportunities arose from the ashes, including two top ten articles for Content Rules’ blog, and a new opportunity to write for STC Intercom (which will be seen in the new year). I thank those who helped make those opportunities, and appreciate your faith in my abilities when I’ve sometimes doubted them.
4) I gave more presentations this year. I presented at the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Conference, but I also did my first presentation at the STC Summit. I also presented for the first time to a non-tech comm audience at the e-Learning 3.0 Conference at Drexel University this year. In other words, I pushed myself to do more this year and put myself “out there” more, even though I think there are others who have more to contribute than I do.
5) I had an opportunity to stretch myself professionally at work. I became more confident in my abilities to be a project manager and content strategist working on new websites at work with assignments I was given. I learned a new CMS (Adobe CQ) as a skill I’ll be able to carry with me going forward, and I was chosen to help with the most important part of the company’s new external site–the Careers section. I spread my wings so much in my job this year, and gained myself back in the process. My knowledge and full abilities were suppressed for so many years, that having the chance to truly use them and have people find them to be valuable helped me immensely.
6) In a somewhat unrelated topic, while I stretched my mind, I shrunk my body. To date, I’ve lost about 40 pounds this year. For once, I kept to my new year’s resolution, even if didn’t actually start until May or June! Part of my success was due to the tech comm community. Many have supported me or taken this journey with me. I love that the tech comm community’s reach goes beyond tech comm–and with this support, I know I will be able to continue to lose another 40 (or more) pounds into the next year.
I took a quick look at last year’s year in review, and in some respects, this year’s review isn’t that much different in overview. What makes this year different was that many of the events were new experiences, new faces came into my life both online and in-person, new relationships were forged, and old relationships became deeper and stronger. Networking connections have become friendships, both professionally and personally. For a person who lives a highly isolated life as I do, this is so incredibly valuable to me. I’ve always supported social media because it supports connections between people all over the world. Social media keeps me connected to all of you who support me–whether it’s through this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or LinkedIn.
Thank you all for being there for me through the good times and the bad. It’s because of these connections that this upcoming year, which is going to be filled with a lot of changes, that I know I’ll be okay. I have a support system that I didn’t have a few years ago. And hopefully, I’ve been part of others’ support systems as well. I know that several people were kind enough to reach out to me after my last blog post, and I felt humbled. I also reached out to a few people who were happy to offer help when I asked. I know that as I go forward in the next year, the tech comm community is one that I can easily crowdsource for feedback in my steps forward. My experiences this year reinforced this for me more than ever, and it’s not one I take for granted.
I’ll come out and say it–I like going to conferences. It’s a great opportunity to learn new information that can hopefully be applied upon my return from the conference. It’s also fantastic opportunity to meet–and later reunite with–tech comm friends whom you’ve previously met either in person or through social media. In the last few years, I found that going to conferences were a great way to truly immerse yourself in the tech comm culture. I’ve said repeatedly that when I’m with my fellow tech comm people, I feel like I’m with my “clan” because I belong with them much more than other groups I’ve been with.
But lately, I’ve started to feel a bit critical about conferences. I’m sure you are thinking, “Why would you be critical about them if you like them so much?”
First, there’s the cost. I know there’s a cost to doing anything, but geez, if it weren’t for waived fees due to volunteering, speaking, or other related work for a given conference, I wouldn’t have been able to go to many of them! It’s expensive! I know that some companies will pay for those travel, accomodation and conference fees, but mine won’t. I’m a consultant who works for an agency. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. The company where I consult wouldn’t pay because I’m not an employee. So for the days that I’m at the conference, I lose pay (even though I’m doing professional development for myself that they can’t offer), and I end up spending almost the same amount as I would have earned during that time away–and again, that’s even with the waived fees I’ve mentioned earlier.
Second, there’s time. Conferences are usually just a few days, but when they are all over the country, and very few near me, it’s not only the cost to go somewhere far away, but also the time that’s needed to fly somewhere and back. For me going to the US West coast, that’s about two days right there. I applaud those who are coming from farther distances overseas, who can afford and make it over here, as it’s not only a huge cost, but a huge time commitment as well. Again, being an hourly contractor, I can’t take too much time off, or it affects my income.
Third, perhaps I’ve attended just enough in these years, but it seems like the same stuff is being talked about over and over. Like I said, maybe it just me. I know that sometimes topics need to be repeated because there are always new people who want to learn, and there can be a shift in interests. For me, I tried to delve into almost everything, and where my professional concentrations and interests lie…I’m not finding anything radically new. It’s more about reinforcing ideas I’ve learned before or experienced by trial and error. Nothing wrong with that. I also find that while a big push right now seems to making sure that silos are torn down between different departments and tech comm pushing for more visibility in company culture, it’s not exactly happening from my standpoint. It’s hard to be a one-woman army against a global company (although I’m still trying and am happy when I achieve a small success). Should I be looking at new topics to learn about at future conferences? Maybe. I’ve also attended sessions where it’s something that I’m interested in, but in the end I can’t apply it, which is frustrating. For example, in content strategy, there seems to be a big push into content marketing, and the company I’m working for is still trying to grasp the basics of content strategy, so how can that help me at this point?Like I said, perhaps that’s my problem, and not the problem of the conferences.
Lastly, the best part of conferences is the worst part too–socializing. There were a few conferences recently that I would have liked to have attended. They were within my field, I’d been to one of them before, and I knew lots of the people who were attending. So many of these attendees are people whose company I enjoy very much, both as professional colleagues and as friends. When I go to a conference, it’s a fantastic opportunity for all those tech comm introverts to hang out together, and feel comfortable being themselves with no one questioning them. I know I can always find someone to hang out with at conferences, and I’ve made so many fantastic friends. So what’s the problem? When they go to the conferences and I can’t, I see all the photos and posts on social media about the great time they are having, and well…I feel left out. I know that sounds childish, but it’s true. I don’t get out much as it is, so conferences are a great way for me to get out an socialize with my tech comm friends, and truly enjoy myself in a relaxed atmosphere with people who can talk about life and “shop” and it’s all interesting to me. When I see everyone else going to these events and I can’t, I’m back to being the kid sitting in the corner feeling left out. I hate it. Again, that might be my personal issue, but I got the sense that I have some tech comm friends who also couldn’t go to some of these conferences this year had the same aching to be there too, but couldn’t, and felt left out. I know we were missed, as those who attended told us that they missed us–and I appreciate that, but it’s just not the same.
There are SO many conferences during the course of a year between STC local, regional, and national events, as well as independent conferences like Lavacon, IDW, Intelligent Content Conferences, GALA, TC-UK and so many more, nobody could possibly have the time or money to attend all of them. Heck, so many are popping up these days, it’s even a struggle to choose which ones to attend! Being a working mom, I definitely don’t have time for all of them. The two that I missed this month were not only because of time and money in general, but because of the big project I’m working on at work needs my undivided time during my work hours because of an upcoming due date, and the load of work that needs to be done. I couldn’t break away even if I wanted to unless I wanted to fall severely behind in my work and work weekends and nights once I got home. Even the few I went to last year had consequences for me going away when I did.
So what’s a person to do? I think the social aspect of it all gets to me the most right now. I truly enjoy the company of technical communicators, and I wish I could spend more time with them. I can’t even attend the local STC meetings for my chapter each month because of distance and time (not so much the cost). Yet, I see several of my tech comm friends always out and about at various conferences during the year, and I wonder how they can pull it off based on the issues I mentioned above?
I’m still grateful for social media to keep me in touch with all these great people I meet at conferences who have become my friends. But I still have to pick and choose conferences, going forward. I might not make it to the same conferences every year, partially because I want to check out new venues and paths. I’ve only committed to attending my local STC chapter’s regional conference so far , but I’m thinking of checking out another this year. I’ll most likely go to the STC Summit, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m thinking of seeing if I could do one overseas (Europe) instead of two on the West Coast, depending on what I can save up and swing financially. I like travelling, andt I need to expand my horizons a little bit.
In the end, maybe it’s my inexperience that makes conferences tough for me. I’m always wanting to learn new things, and I know conferences do their best to bring new information to the tech comm masses. I can easily say without reservation that I have learned things that I could bring back and made me a stronger technical communicator. But how many can you attend before you feel like you’ve heard something before, or because it comes from people who are WAY more experienced than you, you’ll never completely “get it” or never have a chance to experience what they’ve done anytime soon? This is the frustration that haunts me. For me, conferences are the best option for professional development, and yet it’s hard to get excited about some of them. Personal burnout? Maybe. Yet, I ache to see my tech comm friends, because I enjoy seeing them so much. It’s a dilemma.
For those of you who have been technical communicators for a much longer time than me, how do you do it? How do you choose? How are you able to work with the time and cost issues, as well as finding conferences that will engage you other than socially? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
One of my former professors recently asked me for a small favor. Her first-year students are writing up blog posts after attending a plain language presentation, and she asked if I could provide some tips for how to write a great blog post, in light of the work I’ve done with this blog. Of course, I said I’d be happy to oblige.
Of course, that meant I actually had to come up with some actual tips! After some careful consideration, I think there are a few key elements I’ve found that make a blog posting successful.
First, it’s all about the mind set. I don’t think many people necessarily know what they want to say, or think of themselves as “bloggers.” So, the primary step is to have the right attitude. My blog post titled, “I’m not a writer. Wait…you say…I AM?” outlines this concept. As I said in that post, I never thought of myself as a writer until very recently, and in some instances, I still don’t. It’s all about the attitude and the right mind-set of having to write.
Second, I would simply say to write from the heart, and don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Use the blog post as if it’s a one-sided conversation with someone else out there on the Internet. You might not know who your audience is, but that audience is out there! I would know–this blog just passed the 9100 all-time hits mark at this writing, and it’s still counting towards that 10,000 hits mark! (Remember, this blog started out as a combination of a grad school project and a whim a year ago. I never expected anyone to read it at all!) It’s important to have an opinion when writing these posts. If you thought that the presentation was boring, you should say so, and say why. If you liked it, then say so, and why. People are attracted to blogs because of the opinions of the writer. It applies in social media too, if you think about it. Why do we follow certain people on Twitter, Facebook or Google+? Because there is something about the point of view of a particular person or group that you find interesting, entertaining, or informative. The same thing applies to blogs, which is really a long-form extension of Tweeting, if you ask me. 😉
Third, make sure that if you don’t have all the facts, admit to not having all the facts. It’s okay if you aren’t the world’s foremost authority on a topic, but supply support or backup for what you do know when you can. For example, if there’s a link to a recording of the presentation you saw, include it in the blog post, so other people can listen, then read your interpretation. If possible, include a small image (like the one I have above) that helps to visually set the tone as well. I rarely leave out an image, and if I do, it’s because it’s related to curated content that doesn’t have an appropriate image to post.
Fourth, even though you have an opinion and you’ve presented your facts, don’t write unprofessionally. What I mean by that is don’t use profanity or be offensive, and make sure your grammar and formatting is as correct as you can make it. Your blog is just like a portfolio or the clothes you wear. It is a reflection of you, and you want to present yourself in the best light possible, even if you are speaking about something controversial. I know I’ve written about controversial topics in the past, but I would try to provide my point of view as clearly as possible, with as much supporting evidence as I could provide. You don’t need to be über formal, but you have to respect your reader’s intelligence. If you do this, he or she will respect you in return, even if the reader has an opposing point of view, and will continue to visit your blog.
Lastly, edit, edit, edit! Even as I’ve written this post, I’ve reviewed it, and proofread, and re-written several sections multiple times. It’s like any other writing process. Nobody nails the perfect post on the first try. There have even been times where I’ve written the post, saved the draft, and walked away for a while to come back with new insight or a fresh eye to tweak it some more.
I think this covers the basics of how to write a great blog post. Be yourself, present yourself in the best light as you write your words, and have fun with it! This is what has worked for me, and hopefully it can work for you, too. You might be surprised by the response you get as a result.