Talkin’ About Technical Communication
As foreshadowed previously, last night I had the pleasure of speaking at the Technical Communication P2P group down at Communitech. A dozen or so folks braved the wintery (!) conditions to hear me go through a presentation with the intriguingly bland and broad title, How Tech Communicators Can Help Businesses (you can find a PDF version of the slides at the bottom of this post).
I set the slides up so that they’re pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t repeat the content here; instead, I’ll spend a little bit of time on my motivation for speaking and on the conversations that came up during and after the presentation.
First, I was invited to speak by Greg Campbell, one of the P2P’s champions/organizers. I’ve spoken at this P2P once or twice before, and to be honest I always feel a bit out of place. For many people, “Technical Communication” means documentation, installation and user guides, maybe some help menus, and things of that nature.
By contrast, I’m a marketing guy, which in some circles makes me the mortal enemy of a tech writer (disclaimer: I dislike that term, because I find it artificially limiting), because marketing’s all about lies and fluff, while tech writing is about precision and truth. But here’s the thing: I think a much larger component of communications is technical communications than others seem to recognize, especially in the world of B2B tech. I mean, that’s why I joined this P2P years ago and come out to the sessions/meetings whenever they don’t conflict with my Simpsons Trivia or soccer schedules: I want to learn from other technical communicators, even if they haven’t plied their trades towards solving marketing challenges.
Now, I’m mindful that not all technical communicators care about, or want to get into (or even work with), marketing, and I raised that concern with Greg after he asked if I’d be interested in presenting. He replied by saying, “I feel that your descriptions of what you see happening are legitimate and even if there are people who disagree with your conceptualization of your experiences, they are still valid.”
OK cool, talking about my own experiences and observations is easy enough.
So, I prepped a presentation that basically tried to show that (in my opinion) many of the problems encountered in B2B tech marketing (or, indeed, even in other industries) are abstractly similar to the challenges that technical communicators overcome every day: trying to provide a reader or an audience with an answer to a question or a solution to a problem, within a larger communication whole.
Maybe some of the attendees were inspired to explore marketing? Who knows! At the very least, maybe we can all get along better!
The session itself was fine, albeit not quite as interactive as I would’ve liked. No one got up and left, so that’s good.
Afterwards, we had probably 20- or 30-minutes of lively conversation around a handful of topics, including:
- What does it mean to be a technical communicator? My position is more broad than most: do you communicate about technical stuff at all? Then you’re a technical communicator.
- The frequent friction between technical communicators and marketing: what causes it? how can it be resolved?
- The importance of having a core message (see the slides): many folks seemed very receptive to this concept, and reported that it’s often lacking in their own experiences
- The challenges convincing your company that technical content is a worthwhile activity/investment
- The parallels and differences between what I’d presented (B2B tech) and some of the other industries represented (e.g., Insurance)
- The value of authentic communication
- Ways to learn what words/language your audiences use: for learning about customers, I like interviews/conversations best of all, whether formal or informal (e.g., just chatting at a tradeshow or during a meeting) but other sources include RFx docs and NPS responses
All-in-all, it was a fun – and, I hope, useful – evening; my thanks to Greg and the P2P for the invite!
Oh yeah, here are the slides 😉