STC Summit 2012: Student Volunteer Perspective

Posted: May 28, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I spent four–five, effectively–days last week at the Society for Technical Communicators 2012 Summit. I was a student volunteer, which meant that I got in for free in exchange for helping with registration and room monitoring. There was no way I could say no–the summit was actually happening in my own town, Chicago!

Saturday was a pre-conference event, the Madcap 2012 Roadshow. It was free admission for summit attendees, and I’d heard of Flare and knew it was something I was supposed to know about, so I decided to go. Anyways, some of my tweeps were going, so it was a good chance to meet up IRL!

I actually did understand some of it. Speaker Mike Hamilton was a rockstar of a presenter, and was fun and easy to follow.

I believe I knew the least about Flare out of everyone there, so I had to do a lot of “guessing” and fill-in-the-blanks to figure out what they were talking about at any given time. I like guessing games, though. Oh, and they gave us the most fabulous breakfast!!

The first day of the Summit, I was arriving in a flurry from my choir gig. I was also parking at the L, since that was $5 and parking at the hotel itself was $20, so I had a few blocks to scramble down. It’s funny how I wear a nice suit and leather bag but still end up running barefoot across the hotel lawn. I think I ended up making it exactly in time.

We divvied up volunteer duties. It was a little complicated for me since I was switching between both registration and room monitor jobs, so I just let them give me whatever was easiest for them. As a result, I got assigned to a lot of under-attended talks that were sometimes really good, but just didn’t have the mass appeal on paper that the more in-demand ones did.

The keynote speaker was Scott Berkun, who gave a good enough talk that I bought one of his books. Both, I felt, were enjoyable, but didn’t contain anything particularly revelatory for me personally. Maybe because I’m an artist (and yes, I am an artist as Berkun describes, much to the detriment of my lifestyle and livelihood, though I’m trying to kick the art habit), I just kind of felt like I already think the way he proposes.

It’s hard to say what else I did at the summit, because I just used my program to kill a roach.

I worked registration during one of the quieter periods, which was nice because I got to say hi to so many people, some of whom remembered me later.

I worked various sessions, which mostly meant I took a headcount and had to run out of the room if there were any problems and find someone to fix it. I actually did get called to action a few times, which was fun. It makes me feel like a hero! Not in a Superman kinda way, but firefighter or something.

If there’s one thing that I learned, it was to ALWAYS do a sound check before you start a talk. The majority of speakers had their mikes too far away from their mouths and had to be interrupted because we couldn’t hear them.

The other thing I learned is that “technical communicator” is too generous a term for most of us. Only a few of the speakers I saw had any actual public speaking skills. The ones that did were great, but they were the minority.

Maybe all the other people were “technical writers” or “documentation specialists.” But this is the Society for Technical Communicators, and if you consider yourself a “technical communicator,” you need to communicate orally. And communicating orally is only 20% words. (I’m making that statistic up by roughly averaging the estimates in the second paragraph of this.)

I was living off-campus for the Summit, as my house is a 45 minute drive from the hotel. So I missed out on all the social activities, even the ones I really wanted to go to, like the jam band and the tweet-up. But it would have meant little sleep, and I get cranky if I don’t get my beauty rest.

I’ll still be eligible to student volunteer next year in Atlanta. Hopefully I can find a place to stay so I can go! I have always wanted to go to Atlanta. I love the South (that’s where my mom is from) and my parents actually met in Atlanta, though I’ve never been. So, hope to see you all next year!


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