Friday, October 3, 2008

Know Thyself ... Know Thy Audience: Reflections on STC's Career Day

By Wolf DreamWalker

Two major themes permeated STC's Career Day: first, know you audience; second know yourself.

The answer to "Who is our audience?" is ... everyone. The beauty of being a technical communicator is that the opportunities for work are virtually limitless. Clarity of thought and action are crucial to unravelling and understanding the exponential complexities of today’s technology. Everybody needs us - even those in non-technical industries.

Knowingly or unknowingly, every one of us has embraced the role of a technical communicator at least once. This role is not related to any job title, such as Technical Writer or Information Officer. Rather, it is an extension of what we are and do. As, Stacey, one of my fellow students put it so succinctly “We take complicated stuff and turn it into simple stuff."

The question, then, is not whether we are or should be technical communicators but how can we be more effective. As one of our speakers, Rob Hanna, clarified, we need to develop the seven habits of a highly effective communicator, namely: confidence in ourselves, passion for our work, an undying curiosity of the world around us, creative problem solving, non-stop growth in skills and knowledge, and comfort in the midst of chaos.

Networking, résumé writing, and interviewing are excellent activities for developing and enhancing these seven habits since they necessitate developing a deep understanding of ourselves and the needs of our audience.

The primary purpose in networking according to Patrick McCormack is to “.... embody the potential of a positive experience;" that is, for our audience. And the only way to do this is to get to know the people we are talking to, talk their talk, and develop an affinity with their view of the world.

Hanna’s seven habits are also revealed in the use of key words in our résumés, according to Pam Peterson. Key words let our audience know that we are attuned to their needs while enticing it to prevue illustrations of how we have met similar needs in the past.

Furthermore, Andrew Brooke stressed that these habits are exhibited in how we prepare for a successful job interview. We need to be proactive in finding everything we can about our audience's values and needs. The interview, itself, is simply the arena in which we reveal our understanding of that audience and demonstrate how our skills, knowledge and background can meet its needs.

Know myself ... know my audience. Enough already! I got the message.

Report on STC Career Day 2008

By Stacy Donaldson

The day began with Alan Wilson taking us on a canoe ride…into the river of planning. He introduced the technical writing diagnostic and expressed the importance of continuous education: be a lifelong learner. As a technical communicator, it is important to look after yourself and keep up-to-date with innovative technology. Wilson stated “with a bit of intelligence, imagination and nerve, you can do anything.”

After we “dried off”, we learned that technical writers come from diverse backgrounds and end up in various roles and companies. Beth Agnew told us to “be bold, be aware of things you can do, even if you think you can’t.” Rob Hanna discussed seven habits or traits that technical writers possess –or should possess: be confident, be passionate, explore you subject matter area, can problem solve, professional development, technical aptitude and comfort with chaos.

All of the presenters reiterated that it is important for technical communicators to take advantage of their unique skills and interests and look for opportunities inside their comfort level. Leverage your technical abilities. Focus on the word communication. You do not have to be an expert in the field you are/or will be working in; you simply must be able to communicate and write intelligent subject matter.

As for networking skills, Patrick McCormack reminded us of proper dating etiquette. Barbara Stuhlemmer discussed the 300 Rule and key online networks:, and When networking, stay positive, give a handshake, and have a business card ready to give out. McCormack maintains that performance comes first and credentials come second. Be memorable and compelling. Study the vocabulary of the industry and know acronyms. Once you have impressed potential employers, show how you will benefit their organization.

Pam Patterson reminded us that a resume is the most important document we will ever write. When writing your resume, think of yourself as a product: Sell yourself. Be flexible. Investigate the company you are applying to work for and find out who is going to interview you. A reoccurring theme of the day was audience analysis: every presentation and discussion included these two words. Andrew Brooke explored interviews in more detail, as it is the interview that will get you the job. There were six points that Brooke addressed: know your audience, know yourself, be honest, be proactive, get another job (e.g. tech communicator, tech writer, info developer) and go to 11 (give 110%).

Overall, the seminar was very informative for anyone interested in a career as a technical communicator. All of the presenters gave beneficial advice and information. Bernard Aschwanden and Ana Parker-Richards did a fantastic job organizing the day; and provided great food, which is always a bonus. From this seminar it is evident that the STC is a positive organization that motivates and supports technical communicators.