Summit Highlights

Here are a few highlights and observations from this year’s STC Summit 2021, held virtually.

Quick Fixes for Bad Slides

If you do PowerPoint slides, I recommend checking out Mike Parkinson. His presentation was a fast and fun romp through examples of boring slides and how to make them more interesting. He had a lot of good suggestions for improving slides and graphics, even if you have limited funds and graphics talent. For example, one of his suggestions is to put each item in a bulleted list into a bullet. His website, https://www.billiondollargraphics.com/, has graphics resources and examples to help inspire you.

Wiki Wiki What: Create Powerful Technical Documentation in Confluence

This presentation by Matt Reiner really got me thinking about producing documentation directly in Confluence and scrapping the PDFs, particularly for command descriptions. Confluence has a lot of features that fit into the Agile workflow (it is an Atlassian tool, so that’s not surprising). What I didn’t realize is that it has a bunch of apps that can be used to customize your site. I also did not think of it as an authoring tool. There is information on using Confluence as a documentation tool at https://www.k15t.com/rock-the-docs/documentation-guide, which I plan to check out in the coming weeks. It includes reuse, conditional text, versioning, multiple language support, and direct collaboration tools. One of the writers in another session on APIs said he is using Confluence for his API docs and absolutely loves it. An example of a site created with Confluence is https://kb.igel.com/. There are more examples at https://www.atlassian.com/blog/add-ons/5-real-life-examples-beautiful-technical-documentation.

Bridging the Gap with Learning Maps

Learning Maps grabbed me as a possible solution for a product I am documenting that has tons of disparate information – videos, application notes, product documentation, and training slides – that we presently provide as basically a data dump. Learning Maps seem like a pathway into the material.

This was presented by SalesForce technical communicators Tyrin Avery and Erin Wagner Tidwell. They faced a problem similar to what our product faces: A complex product with a ton of documents, videos, and other content with no clear path for users to access them. There was also no clear way to know what to ignore because it does not apply.

They came up with a set of templates for learning maps. Each Learning Map groups information about a particular product or topic within a product. I am currently exploring these ideas for our product. They are looking into making the Learning Maps into open source resources, so I will be following that as well.

Observations about the 2021 Summit

I liked the virtual presentations because it was easy to change from one to the other if the content didn’t quite suit me (no sitting in the back of the room and sneaking out). You could also watch a recording of one later on if there were two sessions of interest in the same session. However, I did miss the personal engagement. There were lots of opportunity to chat with others and the presenters online, but it’s not quite the same.

I haven’t been to an STC conference in a while. I was glad I attended this one.

By Barb Philbrick