STC Summit 2016: Reactions From a First-Time Attendee

by Alison Phillips

It was a pleasure and privilege for me to attend the STC Summit in Anaheim, California this year. As a first-time Summit attendee, I had no idea what to expect and wasn’t even sure if the conference would be worth the time and expense involved. An introvert by nature, I was also unsure whether I could feel at ease in such a large group setting.

I am pleased to say, however, that I came away with more inspiration and information than I can summarize in this short article. I left the Summit overflowing with ideas and could fill pages just trying to recap some of the things I learned and the topics I discussed with the many people I met. Instead, I want to take a few moments to encourage those of you who have not attended the STC Summit or other STC conference that participating in such events is well worth it!

Education

Each day at the Summit offered numerous educational sessions on a wide variety of techcomm-related subjects. The sessions focused on spreading knowledge and promoting excellence in technical communication. The subjects spanned a wide range of themes, including leadership and career, strategies and trends, technology and development, and writing and communication, among others.

STC Summit 2016 lightning talk
The educational sessions at the STC Summit ended with several “lightning talks.” Speakers had five minutes to give quick, often humorous talks that examined techcomm topics from creative angles.

Vendors and corporate sponsors filled an expo hall at the Summit, which provided a relaxed forum to walk up and learn about products and services I already used, wanted to know more about, or didn’t even know existed. Throughout the Summit, there were product demonstrations and presentations, and experts from each company were onsite to answer questions and connect with the attendees.

Networking

Arguably the most important aspect of attending a professional conference is the wealth of networking opportunities. I made connections with people from the moment I walked through the door, and many of those relationships developed over the course of the Summit. I met people from all parts of the country (and from around the world), working in a multitude of roles, in industries ranging from large corporations and governmental organizations to academia to tech startups.

It was delightful to follow the chatter on Twitter (#STC16) throughout the conference, where people reacted to the sessions they attended, shared photos, or contributed to general discussions. But even more valuable for me was meeting the people behind the tweets.

If you’re already active on social media, the conference provides an opportunity to meet some of your contacts in person, and of course, expand your network. Ben Woelk’s blog post, “Why Professional Conferences Matter,” mentions the quality and value of the in-depth, in-person conversations we are able to have at conferences that would not be possible via the quick snippets we exchange via most social media outlets.

How do I find the right conference to attend?

There are conferences related to technical communication happening all over the country and the world, all year long. Research online, reach out to your professional network, or talk to your employer to select conferences that will have the most value for you. Here is a short (and by no means all-inclusive) list of a few upcoming techcomm conferences:

What about costs?

The admission fees (and travel) vary from conference to conference and can seem daunting at times, but here are a few tips to help keep the expenses down:

  • Register early: Many conferences offer discounted, “early-bird” rates for signing up well in advance.
  • Speak or volunteer at the conference: There may be discounted (or free) admission for volunteers, organizers, and speakers, depending on the conference.
  • Convince your boss: STC provides some ideas you can use to help convince your boss if you think your company could send you to a conference to promote your professional development. Even if your company won’t pay for the full ride, they may be willing to sponsor a portion of your trip. Mike Doyle’s post, “How to Justify Conference Attendance,” also has some helpful tips.
  • Search for other ways to get there: There may be scholarships or contests sponsored by STC chapters, drawings for free admission, etc. If you don’t enter, you can’t win!

Take the next step!

Conferences like the STC Summit can help expand your knowledge in the field, cultivate your professional network, and generate ideas that can be influential in your professional development. If you can, use conferences as a springboard to step out of your comfort zone. Discuss your ideas and solicit feedback from the company of like-minded attendees. For you, the next step may be introducing yourself to more people, promoting your company or services, presenting at a conference, or taking part as a volunteer or conference organizer. You may be amazed by how much you gain from your experience!

Alison Phillips began her career in technical communication in 2005. She currently works as a technical writer for arvato Bertelsmann. Alison has served two terms as the STC/SM chapter Secretary and is currently running for chapter Vice President.