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Why You Should Join a Committee

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/07/why-you-should-join-a-committee/

Being on a committee can sound intimidating or like it will involve a lot of boring meetings, but it is really beneficial to your career and actually fun if you make it. Take advantage if someone invites you to join one!

I am on two committees: the JOA Charitable Giving Committee at work and the Society for Technical Communication Scholarship Committee. I joined both of these committees this year. These are the awesome benefits I’ve found:

Develop new relationships

We know that 80% of getting jobs is networking, and developing new, quality relationships in the work world is always good, so why not develop some new relationships on a committee?¬†Usually, you will meet new coworkers or friends or work with people that you wouldn’t otherwise work with. Working together toward a common goal always makes you feel more connected and provides bonding experiences.

Expand your skills

Really engaging in the meetings and thinking of new or better ways to drive the goals of the committee forward will definitely expand your collaboration, communication, analyzation, and problem-solving skills. For example, recently one of the committees I am on was struggling to handle all the requests pouring in for us to look at, so I suggested we develop a rubric of criteria that would allow us to evaluate each request in an efficient manner to save time at meetings and take the pressure off the committee chair. We brainstormed the criteria together, and I developed the rubric document. The next meeting went much more smoothly as we were able to start getting requests off the table. It made me feel great that I could use my technical writer mind in a room full of my coworkers to bring a solution to the table that they probably wouldn’t have thought of.

Feel more connected to the life of the organization or community

The goals of many committees are to impact other people directly in some way, and that’s an awesome feeling. Committees have a great way of making you feel as though you are impacting the company or organization you work for or the greater community in some capacity which builds a great sense of purpose and belonging. You also end up feeling much more invested in the health and goals of your organization or community and you’ll want to see it continue to improve.

Society for Technical Communication Summit 2018 Experience

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/06/society-for-technical-communication-summit-2018-experience/

As I walked through the sparkling, modern Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, huge hallways and ballrooms opened up before me with towering windows revealing palm trees outside. Just as I felt simultaneously small and refreshed by the wide open spaces in this new environment, I felt my perspective on the technical communication industry widening even as I keenly felt my small presence within it. Six years working full time as a technical writer at a small engineering company in Sheboygan Falls, WI hadn’t exposed me to a whole lot of other people working in my field. I knew attending this conference would help open my eyes; it did deliver on that expectation. Through the education sessions and my interactions with fellow writers, I began to understand where my company and way of doing my job fit into the industry as a whole. I learned how the type of company I work for, the software we use, our workflows, and how our challenges were the same or different from others’ challenges.

I loved the immediate comradery and constant connection with other conference attendees throughout the day as we ate, drank, and navigated the resort together. I used every opportunity, even waiting in line, to meet new people and ask questions. I met with representatives from vendors and consultants who really knew their stuff and could help my company, which felt empowering. Issues I’d been having for years suddenly looked like they could be solved with the snappy-looking software packages presented by smiling faces who understood my pain.

All of the education sessions I chose to attend were interesting, but here are some of my favorites:

Add UX Methodologies to your Portfolio

It was the first day of the conference for me, and I was eager to make new connections, so I arrived at this 8-hour session early and sat in the front. This worked out well for me as I was picked to be part of the usability test simulation and got a free book to boot. I was instructed to come up to the front and sit down in front of a computer with a poorly designed expense report software. The instructor gave me a list of instructions on what tasks to perform on the software as the rest of the class observed and took notes. The instructor stayed calm even in the midst of technical difficulties and asked me a bunch of open-ended questions to find out what I was experiencing while trying to complete the tasks. Through this process, I realized how nuanced usability is and how our user experience creates a negative or positive feeling toward having to complete work with that software in the future. Making products fun and easy to use is crucial to whether or not users will be excited to come back to using them. I became inspired to work on making our customer documentation more appealing and easy to use.

Tech Writing Meets Translation: Tips and Tricks

This might have been my favorite class, especially because my company is trying to cut down on translation costs. Filled with practical insights, this class gave some great tips I felt like I could start using as soon as I got back to work. Sometimes what you learn as a technical writing student is actually not best practice for translation. For example, I learned to only spell out what acronyms mean the first time the acronym is used in a document, assuming that from then on readers will understand it. However, we have to think about how users actually use our content. They search for what they need and only read that section as opposed to reading the whole chapter or document in a sitting, so we need to explain relevant acronyms in every major section they are used. The session was filled with other such useful tidbits that never would have occurred to me.

Future of Technical Communication: Findings from Adobe Tech Comm Survey 2018 Adobe

I remembered getting the Adobe Tech Comm Survey to my inbox at work, so I was excited when I realized that an expert from Adobe would be at the conference to present the results. This session helped me understand both where my skills and the work processes in my company sit within the industry and also where the industry is going in terms of publishing outputs and responding to technological developments such as artificial intelligence. I found out that the way I do things at work is very common in the industry, but that we could be more on the cutting edge than we are now.

After a relaxing week and a half exploring Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Key West on vacation, I got back to work and started reviewing my notes and forming a plan for how to present my learnings to the rest of my team. I knew some ideas were bigger than others and would require more time and money investment. I also knew that there might be resistance to some ideas simply because of how big of a change they would mean for our work processes, but I also felt inspired to present my ideas well to give them the best chance of taking root. Gaining the perspective, tools, and inspiration to make waves at work was definitely the greatest benefit of attending the STC Summit 2018.

Getting Curious about Complaints: Interdepartmental Communication to Solve Problems

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/01/proin-in-venenatis-eros/

Complaining at work is usually a negative and potentially annoying way to communicate with coworkers. We usually do it because we need to create a catharsis by blowing off steam or we want to bond with a coworker over our difficulties. However, if examined correctly, complaints can reveal opportunities for improvement that we may not have recognized before. We also may not realize that the coworker we are talking to could actually help effect the solution. This is why interdepartmental communication is so essential.

How do we examine complaints correctly? I found myself in this situation recently. A coworker and friend from a different department came to me complaining. Normally I just nod, listen, and provide verbal affirmation of how terrible it is, but this time I realized that I could potentially help. Without telling her what I was doing, I began to ask her open-ended questions to drill down to the root of the problem. I wanted to help her see how she could take action to change the issue and how I could help. By the end of the conversation, we had determined that the problem could be solved with improved documentation and training and also by further building customers’ overall trust in our expertise as a company. The second solution would need to be addressed by multiple departments and would take time. The first solution was one I could act on immediately since I am on the technical documentation and training team. I offered to add a statement to the appropriate documentation and ask our training coordinator to address the issue with future customers and train them on how to solve it. We left the conversation with next steps for her to get more specific information for me to add to the documentation.

I could tell she was encouraged that we had left the conversation with steps forward to a solution rather than just a bonding experience. None of this would have happened if I had not begun to actively listen for the opportunity for improvement and began to steer the conversation in the direction of identifying the real problem and ways to solve it. I was curious, so I used the effective model of asking “Why?” until the real problem was uncovered. Getting curious about complaints can lead to more effective interdepartmental communication and problem solving.