Recap of Bernard Aschwanden’s Technical Communication 2020 Presentation

Hello NEO STC members! I’m a working technical writer in Cincinnati who was graciously invited to attend the Technical Communication 2020 event presented by Bernard Aschwanden.  I am considering membership, and I appreciate the opportunity to experience the benefits of the organization, courtesy of Sara Buchanan’s encouragement and Adobe’s generosity.

Aschwanden presented a wealth of material, and I found many methods in his approach innovative, such as a QR code in the corner of a slide where further information is stored.  I also appreciated his listing of source material for further learning.

The session that was the most relevant to me individually was about project management.  Since I had previously owned a creative LLC, I was familiar with the decisions involved in starting a business. But I aim to take on more responsibilities in my career, and project management was a great introduction to the philosophy and scope of what ownership of a project entails. The breakdown into ten areas made the concept much less intimidating.

“The rate of change will exceed the rate of progress” is a sobering  – but true – assessment of the pitfalls of letting a project bounce from priority to priority.  Technical communicators have a tendency to want to explain everything thoroughly and in totality, which is admirable but can easily lead down a hundred rabbit holes in pursuit of perfection. I believe the approach of not allowing additional work to be tacked on, but instead requiring that new tasks replace established ones is a great tool for helping people outside of the project understand the limitations of your resources.

Aschwanden shared the story of a pharmaceutical company’s drug submission process that was very secretive and competitive with billions of dollars on the line; it was a fascinating look at the lengths a company will go to manage risk. Who knew technical writers engage in the cloak-and-dagger world of tinfoil-covered windows and hidden vehicles? In the end, the company’s attempts to manage risk by ensuring that their employees were able to stay close to the workplace to meet a deadline as well as shield their activity level from a competitor, resulted in a big payoff as the company filed their submission before the competitor, by a matter of days. While most risk management activities aren’t going to involve billions of dollars and 24-hour days, the notion that people are a manageable risk – as opposed to just an uncontrollable, havoc-wreaking factor – is an empowering way to view your project.

I was glad to hear that stakeholder management is a legitimately recognized area of project management.  Communication and the task of merely keeping people up-to-date can often be viewed as an administrative duty, instead of an opportunity to present yourself and your talents to the audience who will have a significant impact on your future professional endeavors.

Project management certification wasn’t something I was aware of, and I left the session interested in pursuing those credentials, and looking into that certification is one of the next steps I plan on taking to further my career.

Thank you for the opportunity to experience an NEO STC event!

Sarah Stoecklin
Technical Writer, London Computer Systems
Cincinnati, Ohio