To The Summit

Sacramento Convention Center

Sunny Sacramento

May 15–18 I attended the annual conference of my professional association, Society for Technical Communication, held in Sacramento this year. Recently restyled The Summit, it is in fact a convergence of luminaries in the field of Tech Com from all over the world. Less luminous practitioners like me get to attend, too.

Actually, the main reason I went this year was because at last year’s Summit in Dallas, I met a number of STC Fellows and Associate Fellows, colleagues who have otherwise achieved name recognition in our profession, and lots of fellow word nerds. They all share a passion for promoting the Society and the profession of Technical Communication with a willingness to give from their experience. Last year’s conference was only my second STC Summit, the first one being also in Dallas in 2003. You could say, I go to the Summit when the Summit comes to me.

Typically I wouldn’t want to attend two years in a row. I prefer to spread my educational opportunities over a variety of resources. And of course, there’s the added expense of air travel, lodging, and meals for non-Dallas Summit locations. Some technical communicators are fortunate to work for companies that will still agree to pay for their employees to attend this kind of learning experience, but I don’t seem to be able to time my employment just right. Last year I paid the conference registration fee myself, but my contract employer’s client agreed to cover my salary for the days I was away from the office.

Last fall when the Call for Proposals went out for conference speakers and session topics, I did a crazy thing. I submitted a topic idea to present as part of the Lone Writers Special Interest Group (SIG) Progression at this year’s Summit. It’s good experience for a first-time conference speaker. You give the same short presentation three times to three different groups of attendees who choose to come to your discussion table for a 15-minute period each. (Ah, there’s the Summit coming to me again!)

Though unemployed last September when I agreed to take part, I expected that surely I’d be employed come this May? And even if the employer wouldn’t agree to pay any of my expenses to go to the Summit, at least I would have an income from which to pay it all myself.

But I cautioned the session moderator, Ed Marshall, that I might not be able to follow through when it came time to commit to the conference expenses. He said he understood and was just glad to have my proposal to add in hopes that he’d have enough topics to get the Lone Writer session accepted.

And it was. We learned in late November that our progression made the cut for the conference program. It was a nice surprise to also learn that we’d get the same discounted rate on the registration fee that full-session speakers did. I could register at the early bird rate no matter when I registered. I planned to wait until the last minute to put that charge on my credit card, say, May 15 just before my plane took off?

In January all speakers were asked to execute a Letter of Agreement. Whoa! This was serious. I suppose it was time for me to make a final decision about going to the Summit. The STC Office wanted the signed agreements returned by February 15. OK, I’d still have three months to find that employment … so I could afford to pay my own expenses for the trip. It could still happen.

In uncharacteristic optimism, I made a reservation at one of the conference hotels. At least that wouldn’t cost me anything until I checked out. I visited to see what kind of flights I could get with AAdvantage miles. I had plenty of those in my travel budget. Booking the flights only “cost” me a $7.50 fee. Otherwise, I wasn’t out anything yet and could still back out, though I would forfeit some miles.

But on the heels of these non-committal commitments, I received notice that all speakers were expected to register for the Summit by March 1st. “Register” meant “fork over the dough”. Yikes. I really wanted to hang onto my money longer than that … I was having serious doubts about being able to justify the conference expenses. I expressed my concerns to Ed.

His response relieved me of some of the time pressure and also reminded me of the reason I wanted to attend the Summit again this year—to reinforce the professional connections I had made last year with colleagues like Ed and to continue to build my network of other professionals. Volunteering as a progression speaker was just an added benefit to me. No delusions of imparting great wisdom from my wealth of experience to an adoring group of hungry listeners. I could only share an example from my work life, offer it as a suggestion, and hope that it would generate discussion—at the least, in commiseration, and at most, in seedlings of ideation.

That settled it. I would go. I would pay if I had to. Professional networking is an investment in myself, in my business, in my reputation. On the other side of that two-way street, it’s also an investment in my colleagues and my profession, as well as in those who are newer, less experienced in the field than I am, whom I might just be able to help after all.

But there was no time to bask in the touchy-feely. Shortly, a discussion arose about the speakers writing papers for the conference Proceedings. It seemed that even progression speakers were being urged to write a paper about their topic. The printed or electronic proceedings I’d received from previous STC conferences were kinda sparse in the number of papers they contained. I’d guess that they didn’t come close to representing half of the programmed sessions. And they never included proceedings for the progression format sessions! I could understand why “more is more” in this case, but what had I gotten myself into?

(to be continued)

    • Ann Smith
    • May 30th, 2011

    Since you had to write a paper, was it funny? I’m betting it was well received.

      • Paula Robertson
      • May 30th, 2011

      Well, no, I hope it wasn’t funny! It was entirely professional. I’ll send it to you, Ann.

    • Judi
    • May 30th, 2011

    I, too, am waiting for the next installment. I read your post on being unemployed. Sounds like you are coping much better than many would (including me), but I am not envious of the way you are having to live. I, however, am proud of you for choosing to be true to yourself and trying to fulfill your dream. Let me know if I can help in any way.

      • Paula Robertson
      • May 30th, 2011

      Which post on being unemployed? That’s what they’re all about, one way or another…

    • Cora
    • May 30th, 2011

    Oh I can’t wait to learn what happens next. I’m impressed that you had that many miles to spend – it takes a lot these days.

      • Paula Robertson
      • May 30th, 2011

      Ha! I still have enough for a Business Class round-trip ticket to Europe!

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