From the Top

(continued from 7/29, “Summit (Seven)”)

The regular program of The Summit 2011 of the Society for Technical Communication began on Sunday evening (May 15), with the usual introductory fanfare and a keynote address by Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media. The keynote speeches are always engrossing, because the Society usually taps talent from outside the realm of conventional technical communication. Although Mr. O’Reilly admitted to being a Society member in the past, he was nevertheless as quirky and entertaining as past keynote speakers, whose work-lives provide anecdotes and insights we would not have heard about otherwise.

The evening closed with a Welcome Reception, where we played the business card game, and I finally got some substantial sustenance! I had volunteered to staff the Consulting and Independent Contracting Special Interest Group (CIC SIG) table for part of the reception, but by this time in my long day (mind you, this is the eighth installment about a single day), the creature comforts were about all I could think of. After repeated trips around the buffet tables and conversely limited attempts to meet the people in my way, I set out for my comfy hotel room and its Jacuzzi tub.

But I just took a shower. It would have taken way too long to fill the Jacuzzi to the water level required to actually use it. A good night’s sleep was a higher priority.

The next morning, I breakfasted at the hotel’s complimentary buffet. It was quite adequate to get me going. The Summit sessions began at 8:30, so I had no time to linger before my morning stroll to the convention center.

Orange Trees on 13th St.But I ask you, Where else can you stride sidewalks lined with orange trees? For the first time, I noticed the round orange fruits hanging overhead. Actually, discarded orange peels on the sidewalk gave me the first clue. Now, that’s what I call fresh orange juice for breakfast!

At the convention center, I located my first session just in time to get a seat. Leah Guren’s session, “Cut the Fluff (A Diet for Text-bloated Docs)” quickly became standing room only. The hour-long session lived up to my expectations, and so I was off to a good start in the marathon that is The Summit. And you thought just getting there was an exercise!

My preplanned session agenda that day included two sessions before lunch, the Lone Writers’ SIG meeting, the CIC SIG meeting, two afternoon sessions, and the Society’s Annual Business Meeting, non-stop back to back. While not exactly lunch, the snacks I was able to snag at the two SIG meetings were adequate substitutes to get me by in that regard, and the price was right. So far, I’ve spent nothing additional for food.

The CIC SIG meeting included a raffle of quite a few prizes. But I think I won “the prize” when they drew my name for free registration at this year’s LavaCon conference in November. I haven’t been to LavaCon, which gets its name from the fact that it was originally held in Hawaii. I haven’t been to Hawaii either! But this year it’s in Austin, Texas, of all places.

Because I have family there, Austin is the last place on earth I’d want to attend a conference—not because of family, not exactly, but because I’ve been there. And been there and been there already! And I’m pretty sure there are no orange-bearing sidewalks in downtown Austin.

Well, what are you complaining about? It’s free registration! The fact that the conference locale is not a choice travel destination for me should be immaterial, right? Let’s just say that I’m expecting a fantastic conference experience otherwise.

The first full day at The Summit ended with another networking reception, this one designed to showcase the Society’s 22 Special Interest Groups. I had volunteered to repeat my table staffing duties, this time for two of the three SIGs I hold membership in. So, between this evening’s repeat of my repeated trips to the buffet tables, I hovered at one SIG table or the other, and also managed side trips to visit other SIG tables.

OK. Enough networking for one day! Sanctuary awaits in the Sterling Hotel Jacuzzi.

But again, it was too late. I wondered if I could have asked the hotel staff to fill the tub for me before I got back for the night? Too late to think of that, too.

Tuesday’s agenda was similar to Monday’s, except I had only the single, Technical Editing SIG lunch-/snack-time meeting and nothing after 5:00. Tuesday evening is traditionally reserved for the Honors Banquet, when all manner of individual achievements are recognized at the Society level. But even the honorees have to pay to attend this formal event. Thus far, I’ve had no incentive to attend…

But there are always other options for this evening. Back in April, the CIC SIG had requested RSVPs for dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant. Citing financial constraints, I had declined. But here at the conference, I connected with colleagues who offered for their employer to buy me dinner one evening, so I conveniently invited them to attend the CIC SIG dinner with me. That worked out well, didn’t it?

Wednesday. Today, the final day of the conference, is when I will finally present my topic at the Lone Writers’ progression, during the conference’s final session slot. This is the real culmination of The Summit for me. This is the reason I have come on this quest—to impart whatever wisdom I believe I possess about a tiny idea, which spawned a plausible discussion topic that I dare to toss out there to colleagues unknown.

To successfully impart that idea is all I ask of this mountain-top experience. To witness a spark of resonance in one or two participants would send me over the top! And make it all worth it.

In the two progression rounds I was able to complete, feedback from eye contact and body language indicated that I might just have attained my goal, before making an early exit to catch the airport shuttle. Whew! I made it through my first experience as a conference presenter.

But there was that one person. The one in the first round, who skewered me with her eyes the whole time, but otherwise remained silent. As of this writing, I’m still waiting for participant feedback from the session evaluations. I do hope that this unhappy person took the time to voice her discontent. Somehow though, I suspect it had nothing to do with me, my topic, or my presentation of it.

As far as I’m concerned, I reached The Summit—a personal and professional milestone—and I descended from the pinnacle, all the better for it. My only regret is that I didn’t manage to sink into the delicious depths of that double-wide Jacuzzi.

(But then, there’s the rest of the story…  The unexpected challenges I met on the down side of my Summit Sojourn were another adventure altogether…)

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