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Review of the 52nd Annual STC Conference
2005, Q2 (July 05, 2007)
By E-Ching Lee, President of the STC NCSU Chapter

Editor’s note: STC Carolina provided E-Ching with scholarship money to attend the STC Annual Conference in Seattle on May 8-11, 2005. She has written this article as both a thank you to the chapter and as a report on what she took away from the conference.

STC 52nd Conference Logo
Seattle in May is much like Seattle any other time of the year, only with a temperature difference. The city is cloaked in gray clouds and covered in a fine mist of rain that settles on hair, clothes, and eyeglasses. Attendees at the 52nd Annual STC Conference, “Experiencing Technical Communication,” had plenty of opportunity to also experience the foggy side of the Emerald City.

Fortunately, the STC local planning committee, familiar with the city’s volatile weather mood swings, was forwardlooking enough to include dark blue STC umbrellas in the conference attendees’ black and gray welcome bags. Thanks to generous help from STC Carolina, I was able to attend the STC Conference and Leadership Day in Seattle and join the ranks of the lucky umbrella recipients.

This was my second time in Seattle and my first at the STC Conference. I knew where to go for lunch (Pike Place Market) but not which sessions to attend. There were so many choices that I was constantly changing my mind about which one to select. The little timetable book that was included in my welcome packet quickly became a well-marked and dog-eared companion.

Attending the STC’s 52nd Annual Conference in Seattle was a great opportunity that allowed me to truly experience technical communication. The conference’s theme was also an apt description of what I went through. It was great to be able to listen to a variety of educational and entertaining talks on subjects that were pertinent to different aspects of my professional and academic life.

During the course of my four days at the conference, I learned two important things: how to window-shop sessions and discovered The Crumpet Shop at the Market. For the former, I recommend going to the session room early to and ask for a look at the session handouts (if any) to get an idea of the material that might be presented. Also, take a quick look at the presenter’s affiliation (typically a good indicator of what information to expect), and lose your fear of walking out of one session and into another 30 minutes late.

For the latter (and possibly the more important lesson), I highly recommend breakfast from the Crumpet Shop. Get a Nutella-slathered crumpet and a large discounted latté during Latté Happy Hour between 7:00 and 8:30 in the morning. Ask for (free) shots of flavoring with your coffee.

I attended the 2005 Honorary Fellow Felice Frankel’s talk on her work as a the cover of the March 2005 issue of Intercom, this former architectural photographer (with a background in biology) uses images and color to demonstrate scientific principles both simple and complex. She communicates science through her mind-bending images. Attending Frankel’s session was an excellent way to learn how my combined interests in science and amateur photography would fit into the world of technical communication.

Her talk included slides of her images. Frankel showed a yellow, orange, green, and dark blue image of what looked like a brightly colored flower. That vivid, kaleidoscope-like image actually illustrated magnetism: using a magnet to manipulate magnetic shavings in a drop of oil. Another picture, a simple grid of brilliant blue and neon green squares, carefully staying within distinct lines, visually demonstrated the hydrophobic properties of certain materials. To create that picture, Frankel placed drops of colored water on a grid marked out with a hydrophobic material.

Frankel uses her work to help the public “see” science. Although Frankel is a photographer, she stressed that her work is about communication and science, “not about pretty pictures.” Her photographs are visual re-presentations that aim to clarify the science behind the scenes. They are her way of communicating knowledge — both the scientific discovery from the researchers and her personal education while working with the researchers — —with the public.

Frankel pointed out that, like technical writers, her goal is to make her images accurate and unambiguous. Just like writing, taking science photographs demands that Frankel understands what she is trying to capture with her lens, and clarifies the message she wants to send. Frankel does not photograph what she does not understand; she has the scientists explain their work before taking any pictures. When framing her shots, Frankel tries to include context and scale so that her audience can understand the context of her message. Although photographs and writing represent two different “vocabularies in communication,” Frankel pointed out that the techniques, considerations, and end results are similar.

Frankel’s was just the beginning of three days of discovery. Based on recommendations from colleagues, I attended Leah Guren’s “The Golden Rules of Technical Communication,” and Jean-luc Doumont’s “Understanding Visual Communication.” For a Disney twist on résumés, cover letters, and the interview, I attended a presentation on entitled “Why I Didn’t Hire You,” where the audience was entertained with funny (sometimes painfully so) examples of candidates a hiring manager at Walt Disney World had encountered.

There was a little bit for everyone, from the people who were just getting started in technical communication (like me) to the experienced practitioners who had been in the field for a significant amount of time.

I look forward to sharing what I learned with the STC chapter at NC State University (NCSU), as well as using my new knowledge to help me progress as a technical communicator. This experience would certainly not have happened without the support of STC Carolina. End of article.

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