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What I've Learned as a Member of the STC
2009, Q1 (April 03, 2009)
By Sheila Loring, Carolina Chapter Senior Member

Sheila Loring's photo
Sheila Loring
Reprinted from the Scriptorium Publishing Services blog Palimpsest.

I've been a member of the STC Carolina chapter for over 10 years. During that time, I've volunteered in several positions and met a lot of people. Many of them also volunteered for the chapter. One problem we had was finding new volunteers. Many non-profits, in fact, face this problem. Organizations come up with ideas for programs or events that benefit members, but without volunteers, those ideas sit on the table.

In a way, I couldn't understand why a technical writer wouldn't want to volunteer to do SOMETHING. I had fun. It's the best way to get to know other chapter members, plus I learned a lot professionally and personally. Here are a few examples of things I've done and what I've gained:

  • FrameMaker SIG manager: Made contacts with FrameMaker users, practiced giving presentations, and picked up lots of tips 'n tricks.
  • Competitions committee: Learned how to improve documentation and also discovered what NOT to do. Gained experience managing projects.
  • Communications manager: Discovered that sending emails to a 300-member chapter exponentially increases your visibility. People really do read their email.
  • Webmaster: Learned how to update web sites in both standard HTML and wiki formats and manage discussion lists. Gained experience juggling tasks, because I was communications manager and webmaster.
  • Newsletter production editor: Currently my creative outlet and opportunity to learn how to write and produce publications via a wiki. I also get to do a little editing.
  • Vice president: Learned how much work is involved in running a chapter!
  • Chapter meeting participant: Learned about all aspects of technical communications — from career development and writing in Simple English to single sourcing and online help development tools. Also learned how to be more outgoing — go up and say "hi" to someone and chat. That was really hard at first but has gotten much easier.

In addition to picking up skills, I met dozens of local technical communicators. These tech writers are not introverted, dull people, contrary to the stereotype. Their hobbies are as diverse as riding motorcycles, whittling wood, and participating in triathlons. Some of us meet every few months at a restaurant or theatre. We call it the STC Ladies Night (but it's not an official chapter activity like special interest groups). BTW, if you're a female Carolina chapter member and want to attend, let's talk.

I can't say that every minute has been completely enjoyable. Sometimes the newsletter deadline coincides with a personal crisis, and the last thing I want to do is hunt down graphics for articles. And you can't do everything! You'll WANT to volunteer to do several small things at once, which then amount to one BIG thing, and then life happens. You have a deadline at work or a family member has surgery. This brings me to the next lesson in volunteering — learning how to say no.

So all in all, my experiences volunteering in the STC Carolina chapter have been very rewarding. I recommend dipping your toes in the water and trying something out. Email or call someone on the administrative council and ask what needs to be done. Start small. You might be surprised at the return on investment.

Sheila Loring can be reached at loring at scriptorium dot com. End of article.

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