In the Spotlight: Lori Meyer

Be inspired and mesmerized as you read Lori’s answers to the questions asked.  She is current president of the most impressive Rochester Chapter.

What is your current and past involvement with STC?

I’ve been a member of STC for most of my technical communication career. I joined STC when I was living in Rochester, NY, and first became involved with the chapter when I co-presented at the Spectrum conference. I then served in a new leadership role as communications chair, and created the chapter’s first web site — one of only a handful of STC chapters that had a web presence at the time. Getting our site online was a terrific experience — the whole council supported the project, I had lots of fun, and I gained a great new skill set. After I moved to California, I became involved in the East Bay chapter, serving as program manager, secretary, and president.

I’m still involved with the Rochester Chapter, even though I’ve been living in northern California for many years. I’ve also been involved in other STC communities, including Carolina and San Diego. Today, I’m president of the Rochester Chapter, secretary of the Florida Chapter, and a director-at-large for the Washington DC-Baltimore and Philadelphia Metro Chapters. I’m also membership manager of the Instructional Design & Learning SIG Community of Practice, and I’m serving as an ad-hoc member of the STC Community Affairs Committee.

In 2015, I was selected as an STC Fellow, an honor I treasure.

When did you first join STC and how has STC changed since you became a member?

I joined STC in the mid-1980s when I lived in upstate New York. STC has gone through many changes since then as companies experienced workforce reductions, globalization, and flatter, more fluid organizational structures. Although STC is a smaller organization today than it was 30 years ago, and the Internet has opened up many additional information and educational resources for technical communicators, it has never wavered in its commitment to be the world’s principal association dedicated to the advancement of the field of technical communication. No matter what my career fortunes, I’ve found STC to be a consistent and supportive presence over the years. And even though I have paid for my own membership throughout my history with STC, I consider it a worthwhile investment. That’s how I recommend that every member sees STC: As an important investment.

When did you first enter the field of technical communication and how has the field changed since you entered the field?

I entered technical communication in the mid-1980s as a contract technical editor. I had worked as a writer in a public relations agency before that, and was not sure if technical communication was the right field for me. As it turned out, techcomm was a perfect fit. I enjoyed the challenges of writing clear and concise content that would help users succeed in their jobs — and I still do.

Through my years as a technical communicator, our profession has gone through many changes and evolutions. I started my first job before the PC, the Mac, or the Internet existed. Most writers worked in industry, medicine, transportation or government, producing printed documents including operational and reference manuals. Software documentation did not have the dominant presence it has today. Most documentation produced in the United States was released only in English; today, documents are distributed in multiple languages. Accessibility guidelines were largely unknown, and Section 508 did not exist. Writers often prepared their content on typewriters (or sometimes yellow legal pads!) and submitted them to a word processing group to prepare the published manual. We were just starting to hear about a whole new type of computer that a young company called Apple was developing. That computer, the Macintosh, opened up an entire new onscreen visual experience and became the ancestor of many of the devices we use to produce documentation today. Along with the Mac came the IBM PC and Windows, then the laptop, then the tablet and smartphone. And today we deliver documentation on all of these devices.

Once computers expanded from a giant room in a data center to our desktops (and eventually our pockets and purses), we began to see a range of tools and document design options that could never have been imagined when I took my first techcomm job.

Overall, the profession has a much wider scope than it did when I started. That scope is reflected in a whole new vocabulary that didn’t exist when I started out: Online help. Localization. Content strategy. Usability. User experience. User assistance. Information architecture. Accessibility. Design thinking. Single sourcing. Documents on demand. Podcasts. Webinars. Social media. eLearning. Distance learning. Mobile learning. All of these concepts have brought many new and exciting opportunities for us to visualize and deliver content, and strengthen our value.

But amid these incredible technological advances, our most important mandate hasn’t changed: To understand what our customers need to perform their work successfully, and to design and develop clear, concise, and focused communication that makes them successful users.

What can you tell us about your involvement with the conferences provided by the Rochester chapter of STC?

Spectrum, STC Rochester’s popular annual conference, is the longest-running chapter-run STC conference in STC, being held every year without fail since 1958. After I co-presented at one of the conferences, I became involved as a volunteer, helping committees as needed, preparing the conference proceedings, promoting the conference, managing programs, and (in 2012) serving as a long-distance conference co-manager from California. Although Spectrum still has a strong local focus and continues to be STC Rochester’s premier educational event, it has attracted attendees from all over the U.S. and Canada. It is a true STC community success story. 

By Lori Meyer and Jeanette Evans