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Q&A with a SIG Leader
2006, Q1 (February 19, 2007)
By Meredith Blackwelder, Carolina Chapter Past President

I often wondered what it takes to run a local SIG (Special Interest Group), so last month I decided to ask the NC-FUN? (North Carolina FrameMaker User’s Group) SIG leader and Carolina chapter volunteer of the quarter, Pam Harris, a few questions about her involvement and what it takes to run the SIG.

Meredith: How did you get started in STC?
Pam: My 15 years of paralegal experience led me to my first technical writing job a number of years ago I kept hearing about this group of technical communicators called the STC, joined in May of 1999 and have been a member since then.

Meredith: Can you describe the purpose of the NC FUN SIG? Who is it for?
Pam: North Carolina FrameMaker Users Network (NCFUN) was started with a small group of FrameMaker users interested in sharing real work experiences and tips they had discovered when using FrameMaker. We have grown to over 45 on our listserv.

We meet every other month on the 4th Tuesday of the month to discuss all types of issues; from problems encountered when using Frame, to tools and tips which make our lives easier. We usually have refreshments and always have a lot of fun. The meetings are very informal and we come away learning something—no matter how trivial it seems, it might be just that little step that saves you a lot of time during your work day.

We have presentations for beginners, intermediate and advanced users. You don’t have to be a FrameMaker “expert” to come to the meetings and if you have discovered something you want to share with the group, you don’t have to be a seasoned speaker to present. The discussions always lead to more questions. The opportunity to network with other Frame users is invaluable.

Meredith: How did you get involved in the NC FUN SIG?
Pam: I read about the various SIGs offered through our local Carolina chapter and started attending some of the meetings. I found the NCFUN meetings to be quite valuable in time saving tricks of the trade and immensely enjoyed the networking and getting to know other Frame users. At first I thought maybe problems I was having with Frame issues were “user error” and it was reassuring to hear that other Frame users had some of the same problems. Hearing about how they worked around them, various plug-ins and helpful hints people have discovered has been so beneficial in my work here at Hill-Rom. I was then asked to host some of the meetings at my office and was elected president of the NCFUN SIG in late 2004. I currently hold that role as well as continuing to host the bi-monthly meetings at Hill-Rom in Cary.

Meredith: In what other STC activities are you involved / do you participate?
Pam: I have attended many other local chapter meetings and belong to some of the listservs. I attend membership meetings when I can, have been a competition judge and participated in about every local conference our chapter has held. The Tri-Doc conference in April 2005 held in Raleigh was one of the best local conferences I have ever attended. I was at the annual conference in Chicago in 2001 and last year’s conference in Seattle. I am planning on attending the 2006 conference in Las Vegas this May. Our technical publications group at Hill-Rom in Cary frequently participates in the STC telephone seminars.

Meredith: As a local SIG leader, what are your roles and responsibilities?
Pam: As a local SIG leader, I schedule presenters for the meetings, send out meeting notices and order refreshments for the meetings. So far, getting speakers has not been that difficult as there are several members who are always willing to help. By attending other conferences and events, I have been able to line up several speakers for our meetings. I also provide the information regarding upcoming meetings to our webmaster to post on the Carolina chapter website.

Meredith: About how much time per week or per month does it take to be the SIG leader? Do you have any helpers or do you do it all yourself?
Pam: Surprisingly, it doesn’t take as much time as you might think. E-mailing or calling potential presenters and getting the information about their topic takes no more than a couple of hours. A listserv is set up and it only takes a few minutes to send out the meeting announcements to our SIG members. Basically, the helpers are the other SIG members/meeting attendees and the webmaster.

Meredith: What have you gotten out of being a leader?
Pam: I have gained invaluable knowledge helping me advance my career as a technical writer. I always hesitated about volunteering for a position of this sort because I thought it would take an inordinate amount of time both on and off the job. I am so glad that I took this opportunity to be a SIG leader. It has connected me with so many people and helped me polish my FrameMaker skills as well as communication skills. I would like to thank my employer, Hill-Rom, for allowing me to participate in all the conferences and seminars that are a wealth of knowledge and continue to open my eyes to the new technologies we are all experiencing in our industry. Hill-Rom, as a leader in the health care industry, recognizes the need for keeping abreast of the ever changing technological world we encounter as technical communicators. All in all, I would recommend getting involved with local SIGs that interest you. It has proven invaluable to me!

Maybe your article would inspire others to volunteer. Or, they would at least see “why in the world anyone would want to be a local SIG leader!”

Meredith can be reached at Meredith.Blackwelder@sas.com. End of article.

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