Despite the fact that Denver, Colorado is one of the driest cities in America, it still rained for two out of three days during the Society for Technical Communication’s 2019 Technical Communication Summit, for which Denver was the host city. But the rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the more than 800 conference attendees, who enjoyed three days of learning, networking, and playing in the Mile High City. The Summit featured inspiring speakers, educational presentations and workshops, ample networking opportunities, an exhibition hall with new and exciting tech comm products, and of course the Mile High City itself, with its great restaurants, parks, and the breathtaking Rocky Mountains on the western horizon. The Summit was presented by the Society for Technical Communication, and was sponsored by Adobe, SmartDocs, Whatfix, and Oxygen XML, among others.

Location: The Hyatt Regency Denver hotel, in the heart of downtown Denver, functioned as the Summit headquarters. Most of the conference events were held in the Hyatt’s Centennial Ballroom and adjacent meeting rooms, and visitors attending the conference from out of town were able to make reservations from a block of rooms secured at a special rate by STC. Travelers not interested in renting a car could take Denver Airport Rail direct to Union Station in downtown Denver, and from there ride the free 16th Street shuttle bus to 16th and California streets, one block from the Hyatt Regency Denver.

Click on the following tabs to learn more about what happened on each day of the conference!

Before the opening keynote presentation marked the official start of the conference on Sunday evening, there were pre-conference workshops throughout the day on both Saturday and Sunday. These workshops covered a wide range of topics, including training for the Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) exam (as well as an opportunity to take the exam itself), Design Thinking, API documentation, infographics, information design, source control, UX, and content strategy.

On Sunday evening Peter Morville, who is perhaps best known as one of the founding fathers of information architecture, officially launched the 2019 STC Summit with his opening keynote presentation, Tomorrow’s Architects. Peter began his presentation by stating that he was going to “tell you the story of my life.” He then reassured the audience: “Don’t worry. It’s the short version.” It may have been the short version, but it covered a lot of ground: John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, information architecture, the Library of Congress, the Winchester Mystery House, Frank Lloyd Wright, dog walking, the ethics of design, merkwelt, willpower + waypower, elephant society, and a quote from Ghandi: “there is the same connection between the means and the end as between the seed and the tree.” Moral of the story? Planning is not just the process by which the path to a goal is determined, it is also, and perhaps more importantly, the process by which the goal itself is defined.

The opening keynote presentation was followed by a welcome reception in the Centennial Ballroom and the opening of the Expo Hall. The welcome reception included drinks and a catered dinner, and Peter Morville stuck around to sign copies of his new book, Planning for Everything.

Monday and Tuesday were long, full days; jam-packed with education sessions, networking, SIG meetings, exhibits in the Expo Hall, and exploring Denver. Both days started at 7am with continental breakfast in the Centennial Ballroom, which was followed immediately by the education sessions which started at 8. Lunch was from 11-1 and included speed networking and SIG (special interest group) meetings. After lunch the education sessions resumed and continued throughout the afternoon, wrapping up around 5pm. But the fun didn’t stop there: on Monday evening there was the Annual Business Meeting, followed by “Dine Around,” a dinner and networking event hosted by the STC Rocky Mountain chapter. On Tuesday evening accomplishments by select members of the STC community were recognized at the STC Honors event, and the STC Carolina chapter won both Gold and Pacesetter Community awards (congrats, guys!) The Honors dinner was followed by karaoke at Jazz@Jacks, sponsored by LavaCon and Comgenesis, and again hosted by the STC Rocky Mountain chapter.

Some highlights from the education sessions included:

  • Anne Marie Queeny’s talk on Ian Fleming—the creator of James Bond—and his disciplined approach to writing
  • Nate Wolf and Julie Dwyer’s sessions on the intersection of UX and tech comm
  • Tom Magliery’s session on structured authoring and XML
  • Tom Johnson’s “Introduction to API Documentation” session
  • Sarah Bosak and Patty Viajar’s session on how Edmentum uses in-product support

Wednesday was the final day of the 2019 STC Summit. The education sessions, workshops, SIG meetings, and karaoke were over. The only event remaining was the closing plenary session, “Tech Comm’s Influence and Impact”. Saul Carliner, Ginny Redish, and Karen Schriver—three luminaries of technical communication—joined forces to take a look at the current state of tech comm, how we got here, where we are headed, and how technical communicators can use research to expand their influence.

Saul Carliner, Professor and Director of Graduate Programs at Concordia University, was up first with “Who Are We? A Report on the 2018 Census of Technical Communicators.” The census, which was sponsored by STC and conducted by Saul and his colleagues at Concordia University, provided detailed information about the tech comm community: educational backgrounds, current job titles, career satisfaction, and more. At the end of his presentation Saul summarized his findings: technical communicators are, for the most part, satisfied with their careers, feel secure in their jobs, could benefit from additional professional development, but, despite their security, have concerns about their lack of influence in the corporate hierarchy.

Janice (Ginny) Redish, PhD and Usability and Communication Consultant, followed Saul’s assessment of the current state of the field of technical communication with “Technical Communicators: Where we’ve been, Where we’re going,” a brief history of tech comm and some thoughts about future trends. Ginny discussed the origins of technical communication and how the industry has changed—and stayed the same—over the years. She then turned her attention to the future of tech comm: a strong job outlook, evolving tools and media, and the expanding influence of technical communicators.

Karen Schriver, PhD and President of KSA Communication Design & Research, built on the foundation established by Saul and Ginny with her presentation “Improving your professional value: Using evidence to influence decision making”. Karen began her presentation by exploring the disconnect between the perceived and actual role of a technical communicator, and then went on to analyze the ways in which faulty research claims can be used to sway opinions. Karen recommended a wary regard for unsubstantiated arguments, and advised audience members to “become a critical consumer of evidence.”

After the closing plenary the conference attendees dispersed, returning to their homes and jobs. Their time in Denver was well-spent learning new skills and sharing their personal experiences, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, and exploring a fun and exciting city. If you missed the 2019 Technical Communication Summit you missed a good time, but luckily for all of us the Summit is an annual event. See you next year in Bellevue?

What about STC Carolina at the Summit?

Stay tuned for a recap that highlights your STC Carolina chapter’s accomplishments at the 2019 STC Summit!

Dave Lines

Director of Project Management, MetaMetrics

Recap contributed by Dave Lines. Dave is Director of Project Management at MetaMetrics, an education technology company located in Durham, NC. Dave lives in Durham with his wife, three kids and Louise: the best black lab in the entire world!