I just got back to Dallas late last night after attending the WritersUA Conference for Software User Assistance. WritersUA is one of three national conferences for technical writers in the United States. The other two conferences are the Society for Technical Communication’s (STC) Summit and LavaCon Conference. The STC Summit is in May and LavaCon is in the Autumn.
Each conference has tried to differentiate itself. From my non-tech writer – have no opinion on the Oxford coma or spaces after a period – world I see WritersUA as having focused on training, STC Summit, while it also has training, is more rounded and provides a lot of networking opportunities, and LavaCon tends to focus more on strategy and the bigger picture of technical communications. However, before anyone decides to comment disagreeing with my assessment be assured that I probably agree with your assessment as well and this paragraph is mostly designed to show differentiation to those who aren’t overly familiar with the industry.
As a vendor and coordinator of writers at the last two events, I actually get to participate in very few of the actual sessions. We’ve had tables at the events so most of our time has been spent either at the tables or if the table happened to be placed in Siberia then we have used the time to do some strategic planning for the company. Connie and I have seen each other three times since purchasing TechWhirl last April. Yep, you guessed it: we’ve met face-to-face at LavaCon, STC and WritersUA. We talk just about every day but the distance between Dallas and Charlotte means we never get to just “drop by.”
We’re not the only company who uses conferences for business. Many, like us, have made conferences a large part of their yearly marketing expense because it is really the only time there is a large concentration of our consumer / customer group (readers consume, we sell to customers). From my observations almost all of the vendors at WrtiersUA used at least a little time to do more than just answer attendee questions because just like having only a few times a year when the consumers are in one place, it’s also one of the very few times that all the vendors are in the same place. Core companies get a chance to work with supporting companies like consultants or maybe you’re everyday technical writing magazine to discuss future plans.
I really enjoy the conferences for a lot of reasons. First and most of all, it does the soul good to be around our readers and those that we’re working so damn hard to provide information. I seem to have X amount of energy before I need to refuel with some good vibes. Goodness knows I was running near empty as I drove to Memphis, but after a few days of good BBQ and conversations I’m feeling much better. Second, and this one is sort of related to the first, it was good to get some face time with Connie so we could do a little planning and work out a couple areas that needed some deep thinking. And third, of course, it’s always good to spend some quality time with our current and potential customers.
Conferences aren’t doing well these days thanks to the economy and narrow minded employers who feel that if you aren’t sitting at your desk 24/7 then it’s time “lost” rather than seeing conferences as a way to help their people improve their skills and networks. Now, not all companies have this view but it’s a view that is certainly more predominant now than a few years ago. Conferences and the chance to get together need to remain a part of our business landscape. They’re too valuable to see go the way of
Yahoo the newspaper industry.
As the work world starts looking more and more like the famous Apple 1984 commercial, conferences provide a brief opportunity to add more to work careers than just another deadline and deliverable. They add ways to build a community and more importantly keep one thriving.