Friday, April 24, 2009

2009 Conferences - Never mind the quantity, experience the quality.

In the current economic climate one of the first items that get cut in any budget squeeze is usually travel, and subsequent attendances at industry conferences. But, judging by my experiences at the two industry conferences I’ve attended so far this year, DocTrain West and WritersUA, this is a false economy. Yes attendance was down at both, due to aforementioned budget and travel restraints, but they were two of the best conferences I’ve attended in years.

Simply put, those people who were at the two events, were fully engaged in the conference. The conversations were compelling, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. The speakers seemed to be of a higher quality and all the presentations were equally worthy of note and attention. The organizers of both conferences had put together excellent sessions with distinct themes. Most of the time I found myself attending one excellent session while at the same time wishing I could have been at a different concurrent session that sounded just as interesting. The most difficult aspect of these two conferences was scheduling your time.

Having spoken to several people who also attended either one, or in some cases both, of these conferences, it seems that I am not alone in these opinions.

So why in a time of economic belt-tightening are the conferences so much better?

Firstly I believe that the majority of people who at the conferences, speakers and attendees alike, most likely had to give a good justification for being there. While you should always have a good reason for attending any conference, having to justify the expense can be a great motivator and help you to determine a real need. Everyone who was there, was there to learn. And if I perceived one over riding sentiment from both conferences, it was that they were unparalleled opportunities to learn from industry experts and peers alike.

It was noticeable that attendance at sessions on the last day was just as high as those on the first day, and that conversations started over breakfast continued on into the evenings. Conference attendees put in much longer hours than they do in the office.

Secondly, the organizers and presenters have realized that sessions that are little more than thinly disguised marketing pitches very quickly lose you confidence and respect. The result is that most sessions today are highly focused on presenting real world results, or best practices based on experience.

Everyone I spoke to at both conferences also believed that by being in attendance they had given themselves, and their companies, a competitive advantage. Whether it was new technologies that they hadn’t considered before, like wikis; learning how to apply industry standards like DITA; or new techniques that could save time and money, such as the application of controlled languages, or a greater use of graphics; all had come away with something that more than justified the cost of attending.

In a couple of weeks I will be at the STC National Summit in Atlanta, and I will be interested to see if the trend towards increased quality and excellence continues.

[If you are at the STC Summit I'll be speaking on Tuesday 5th May at 1:30pm in the Hanover AB room, or you will be able to find me at Booth #109 for most of the show.]

NOTE: This blog entry was first published as part of my WebWorks blog

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Future is Today

Back in December I posted an entry on this blog about how observing my daughter do a homework assignment had made me rethink the way we need to approach presenting information. In business we are still bound to the book paradigm that was created in the nineteenth century, and that we, as "adults," are more comfortable with because it's the way that we were taught to find and assimilate information.

My conclusion was that today's generation approaches information gathering and learning based on a different more chaotic model, where social interaction is more important than structure. In short to survive and prosper we should start designing information not for ourselves, but for the next generation.

Today I came across this video - which makes the point much better than I ever could - the video's focus may be education, but it applies just as well to the future of corporate communications.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Writing about Wiki - New Book Project

I mentioned this in passing on my Twitter account the other day, but as it was officially announced today, I thought I'd post a few more details.

WIKI: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit
by Alan J. Porter

Looking for a way to increase team collaboration, manage your company’s knowledge? Do you need a way to manage projects with customers or suppliers outside your company firewall? Would you like your customers to provide feedback on the information you publish? Then a wiki might be just what you are looking for.

Perhaps you have already decided that you should use a wiki, but are not sure how to go about it. Maybe you have a wiki but would like to encourage more people to use it. Or you would just like to learn more about the practical applications for this fast growing technology.

Then this is the book for you.

WIKI: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit will introduce the concept of wikis, and show why they are becoming the must-have communications and collaboration technology for businesses of any size.

The book will also include several case studies highlighting the ways that various companies are using wikis to solve differing business and communications issues, and the resulting benefits in terms of both efficiency and customer satisfaction.

WIKI: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit will be available early next year, but we will keep you informed with excerpts and news along the way.

The official web site for the project is HERE, and it will be updated as the project progresses.