Are you looking for ways to develop your technical communication skills without having to invest the time and money to go back to school, start a course on Udemy or Lynda, or become a certified technical communicator? Or maybe like me, you have done most of that—got that sweet MSTC degree, shoutout to this great API doc course on Udemy, but still need to work on the CPTC cert!—and want to find out how real people are solving the problems you face every day.

Conferences can be a great way to get practical insights, learn new skills and tools, and meet people both in your area and around the world who can help and connect you with resources (and friendships!)—all without breaking the bank or requiring a ton of upfront investment. In this blog post, I run through some of my favorite technical communication conferences…and a few I hope to attend someday!

Virtual options

Not keen on in-person events given the changing guidelines in response to COVID-19? Some conferences in the near-future, like the STC Summit, have switched to be virtual events. Additionally, many technical education companies such as SnagIt by TechSmith are offering limited-time access to tools for educators and virtual remote workers. Trying googling a list, or see this Google Doc (note: this doc is not maintained by STC Carolina).

Review the details across conferences in the following table, then click through the descriptions in the following blog post reel.

Conference Audience Cost When Where Skills
DOCS Practitioners, esp. in Carolinas Under $250 TBD in August RTP, NC DITA, authoring
STC Summit Practitioners worldwide Varies, < $1,000 for members, $250 for students 17-20 May Virtual All things TC
SIGDOC Academics Under $500 3-4 Oct Denton, TX TC research
LavaCon Content strategists $2,450 for 2 attendees 25-28 Oct New Orleans, LA Content strategy
Writers UA Practitioners $700 TBD TBD Writing
Write the Docs Tech practitioners Under $500 3-5 May Portland, OR Tech, software
SpeedCon Students Free 18 Apr Virtual Beginning TC

DITA Oak City Summit (DOCS)

First and foremost, I would like to invite you to attend and consider submitting a proposal to speak at your local STC Carolina’s first conference in a long while, the DITA Oak City Summit (DOCS). Why DITA, you might ask? Not only did last year’s NA DITA conference remind us of the importance of this technology to the local and international community, but also we have fielded requests from current practitioners, newcomers, students, and academics who are all facing the challenge and coming up with creative ways to adapt DITA to the ever-changing technology landscape.

Tree with content-related keywords in the leaves

As such, this conference is an immediately applicable and affordable way to level up your game in structured authoring.

  • Variety of workshops for hands-on practice with DITA.
  • “BYO” bring your own problem session where you can pick the brain of DITA experts.
  • Job-readiness focus on résumé and portfolio building.
  • A track dedicated to 101 for beginners, students, and career transitioners.
  • Two great tracks revolving around the tools and team practices mid-level and advanced practitioners need to succeed in today’s shifting tech comm landscape.

We also have a mix of fun activities like evening socials, networking breaks, contests, prizes, and more to keep you mixing and mingling with local peers, friends, and friends-to-be. (For all the introverts out there, I apologize for the fear-inducing term “mixing and mingling;” I promise there will be opportunities at the end of the day to let you sneak away gracefully if that’s what you need to do!)

STC Summit

The annual Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit is without doubt the premier conference in the field of technical communication, where you can learn from the best in formal workshops, CPTC credentialing, insightful talks, and social mixers. Last year was my first year attending this conference, and I had a blast! Afterwards, I was able to lead two sessions with my team to share what I learned and decide how to apply the key takeaways to our writing practices. For more of what to expect, check out the recap that Sree and I did from last year’s conference, or the blog that Dave wrote.

Special Interest Group on the Design of Communication (SIGDOC)

Sponsored by Microsoft, the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group on the Design of Communication (SIGDOC) is more academic-focused than other conferences in this list. I’ve attended SIGDOC a couple times, and I’m always struck by the warmth and approachability of some of the biggest researchers in the field of technical communication. It’s a great conference for thinking about the bigger picture of the day-to-day problems you face and learning about some interesting research techniques that you might adapt. I’m planning to attend again this year, and hope to see you there! For key takeaways from last year’s conference, check out this blog post.

SIGDOC 2019 Conference Recap

LavaCon

Begun in Hawaii (hence the name), LavaCon is full of content professionals from a variety of backgrounds, not just professional and technical but other disciplines as well, united by content. Previous conferences have featured a virtual track that is livestreamed so you can attend from the convenience of your own home or office. While I have not attended this conference in person, I did once organize a viewing party in grad school.

Image of turtle with an erupting volcano on the shell

Writers UA

The Writers User Assistance (UA) conference is usually a West Coast event, but a couple years ago, it was hosted with NC State University here in Raleigh. Keep your eyes out for when it comes back in town, and in the meantime, catch the recap of the last event.

Event recap: WritersUA conference 2018

Bonus: Joe’s YouTube channel is a great resource for interviews with a wide variety of content professionals. For example, check out his playlist with interviews of some familiar faces from his 2018 conference here in Raleigh.

Write the Docs

Another conference that I haven’t personally attended, this conference typically features a single track where everyone watches the same person give a presentation or lightning talk. Also filled with participatory activities like a doc sprint and unconference component. They maintain a nice page of recorded talks on YouTube. My team has previously each watched a video and summarized it back to everyone in 1-2 minutes as a professional development day at work.

SpeedCon by NC State University

Last but not least, and very near and dear to my heart, is the SpeedCon Unconference, hosted by NC State University’s MSTC program. Ever since I helped organize the conference as a student, I’ve always met or reconnected with someone awesome and helpful in my tech comm journeys. The conference is entirely student-led, so you’re also helping support the next generation of writers. A day-long, fast-paced collection of presentations, workshops, panels, and informal talks, SpeedCon is a great way to build up speaking experience, and the call for proposals is still open!

For another person’s perspective, check out Cathy Sprankle’s recap from the 2018 conference!

Event Recap: SpeedCon 2018

Did I miss any? Let us know what your favorite tech comm conferences are!

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#techcomm #conferences #docs2020

Art Berger

Art Berger

Technical Writer at IBM and VP of STC Carolina

Blog post contributed by Art Berger.