Speaking at the STC Summit: One Tech Writer’s Journey from “No Way!” to “Been There, Done That, Got the Badge Ribbon” (and how you can too) *

By Allie Proff | STC Member

A few years ago, I attended my very first conference. I was amazed.

Up until that point, I had only worked in one group in one company. I’d worked there for nine years, so I was experienced, but only in my own little corner of the world. It was eye-opening and refreshing not only to learn the content from the sessions, but also to see what other people did at other companies around the world. I’ve heard people refer to the networking that goes on as the “conference within the conference.”

At that first conference, another attendee and I were discussing the speakers, and what we learned. “You should sign up to be a speaker,” she said. “That’s crazy!” I replied. But it got me thinking. I really love helping people and explaining things.

“I can do this,” I thought.

How often had I given a presentation to my engineers or other writers within the company? I mean, I am a technical communicator, right? I should be able to verbally present my writing. I may be horrible at improv or comedy, but I can do well when I have a chance to really research, prepare, and practice.

Then the doubts started to set in.

Who was I to give a session? I didn’t feel like a recognized expert in anything. Then I started reviewing notes of sessions I attended. Some of my favorite sessions were research-based or case study-based. A presenter didn’t have to be the smartest person in the world. Sometimes value comes from time spent summarizing hours of research. Value can also come just from having a different experience or approach, and even more so when the presenter found some valuable lessons learned from a failed experience.

My fellow attendee also pointed out a speaker’s entry fee is waived or reduced. My company’s policy was to send a new person to conference every year, which helps everyone get an opportunity to grow and develop. But the travel budget is separate from the conference budget, and my company was willing to pay for my flight and hotel if I paid my own way for the registration fee. I’d get to come again next year. Awesome!

These thoughts simmered in the back of my mind until I just happened to be on the website one day and saw the call for speakers. “What the heck,” I thought to myself. “All they’re asking for is an idea of what I’ll present and the learning outcomes for the attendees. Conference is still seven or eight months away. I’ll try and see what happens.”

So I submitted two ideas that I’ve been wanting to research for a while and waited. One idea was rejected, but the other was accepted! I was elated and terrified at the same time. It seemed surreal to see my name in the program.

I investigated. I explored. I practiced my presentation on family and friends. I tweaked my presentation. I presented at a brown bag lunch and learn at work. I tweaked my presentation some more. Finally, the conference arrived.

I practiced (yet again) in the speaker rehearsal room, and felt very supported by the conference staff and helpers. I attended sessions and networked, and finally my turn came. It wasn’t the best presentation in the world, but it wasn’t the worst either. A number of people told me they found my session very useful and thanked me for compiling all the information into one place. The experience was so positive and rewarding that now I look forward to what topics I can research and present next year.

I’ve presented at three different conferences now over the course of three years. I don’t consider myself special or outstanding, and even though I enjoy being with people I’m an introvert at heart. There will always be people who know more than me about any given subject, but there will always be people who know less than me and those are the people I can help.

Now it’s my turn to say to you, “You should be a speaker.” Even if you’re relatively new to the profession, or newly graduated, you still can make valuable contributions. Take a question you’d like to have answered, and submit that as a topic. Stay focused on your message and one to three key takeaways. Look up public speaking tips by TED coaches on the internet. Practice on friends, family, and coworkers. Present at your local chapter or at a smaller conference first, if that would help boost your conference. You can do it!

One of the great things I appreciate about the Society for Technical Communication is how supported I’ve felt by everyone I’ve met. If you’ve been a presenter, I’d love to hear about your first time. If you’ve never presented but are inspired to try, I’d love to hear from you as well and offer my support.

See you next year!

*This article first appeared in STC Notebook (available at https://www.stc.org/notebook/speaking-at-the-stc-summit/)


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