Chicago Conference (STC): how good? How to plan!

Subject: Chicago Conference (STC): how good? How to plan!
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2001 08:44:51 -0500

jkajpust wonders: <<Never have been to something like this before, I may be
asking a naive question, but how good are the seminars that go on during
the conference. I'm thinking about going, but since I have to pay my way,
I'm concerned about what I'll get out of it.>>

I've been to four or five STC conferences and never regretted going; I
usually learn at least several new things, always meet a bunch of
interesting and really bright people, and come back to work turbocharged and
chock full of good ideas. If I were paying my own way and not making money
hand over fist as a contractor, I'd think a bit harder about going, and
would probably go less often, but I'd still budget to attend every few
years; as working vacations* go, it can't be beat.

*my definition of any work-related excursion or educational experience
related to my profession, but heck, I admit it: I'm a learning junkie, and
get high on these things.

The quality of the seminars is something that varies widely; there's a lot
of material pitched at beginners, less material pitched at experts, and some
material that is entirely self-promotional, and that may bias you for or
against the conference. (For example, something like WinWriters would be a
better choice if you need a much more intensive focus on a narrower topic,
Windows help systems in this case.) My first recommendation for the best way
to separate the wheat from the chaff is to do a preliminary triage to find
the topics that most interest you (I'm down to about three per time slot at
this point), and when the conference proceedings arrive in the mail, have a
quick glance at the papers for those topics to see whether they're likely to
be as good as they sounded. fwiw, I recommend having the proceedings mailed
to you so you can do this advance planning and won't have to schlep them
around at the conference.

My second recommendation is that you try to fit in at least one
"progression" per day, and hit the networking or SIG luncheons on at least
two days. Unlike a formal talk, the progressions usually involve half a
dozen "speakers" sitting at different tables (one topic per table) and
joined by as many people who choose to sit at that table; every 15 minutes
or so, you move on to another table and another topic. Because progressions
are not as tightly scripted as speeches, there's much more interaction, and
the speaker gets to deliver a concise message and then elaborate upon it
based on the interests of the participants. That makes for a nice break from
the usual "sit and be lectured to" session. The luncheons are similar, only
you don't do as much table hopping <g> and the topics tend to be much
broader. FYI, I'll be giving a progression on audience analysis during the
information design session, and will be hosting tables at one or two of the
luncheons, and I'm looking forward to that more than most of the rest of the
conference sessions.

My third recommendation is to wake up early enough to hit the free breakfast
buffet with your brain already nearly functional. It's a great place to meet
and talk to a variety of people, most of whom are surprisingly unsurly and
verbally unchallenged for such an indecent time of the day. <g>

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"How are SF writers like technical writers? Well, we both write about the
things we imagine will happen in the future!"--Sue Gallagher


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