Conference Session Descriptions

Elizabeth Alley, Practical Sketching for Technical Communicators

Practical Sketching, using basic shapes and lines to convey a word or idea, is scientifically proven to help your memory and attention, and it can also help you nurture your creativity and bring fresh ideas to your writing. We’ll explore using this method as part of a process that begins with reading, helps you develop your ideas and think through problems, and ends with a well-thought-out draft.

Bernard Aschwanden, What can you do to automate publishing?

Join Bernard to learn from a case study how you can make use of DITA and automated publishing in your own work.

Gavin Austin, Mistakes to Avoid When You Grow Your Content Team

How do you successfully grow a doc team from 3 to nearly 300+ writers? What skills, tools, and processes are crucial to create a doc team culture with low attrition and high satisfaction? The answer: by learning from mistakes! During the past decade, Salesforce’s Content Experience team underwent incredible growth. We’ve tried every doc paradigm, every trendy process, every hip productivity tool, but the fundamental principle that’s kept us afloat is learning from our mistakes. As the third writer hired at Salesforce, I’ll share with you the mistakes my team has made over the years—and the insights we learned—so that you can avoid similar mistakes as you scale your own doc team. In addition to the points above, I’ll speak towards lessons learned around:

  • Morale
  • Training
  • Management
  • Career paths
  • Internal evangelism
  • Cross-team collaboration

Art Berger, Improving the developer experience (DX) of your content with command line interface (CLI) docs

Developer experience (DX) is a focus on the design and usability for products, including documentation, that are delivered to software development end users. Technical writers who develop content for such an audience learn to write in DX genres. While many training resources focus on application programming interface (API) documentation, there are other tools that software developers use, including the command line interface (CLI). With a CLI, developers can interact with a software product’s API, as well as automate tasks through scripts. As technical writers, you can improve the experience of your product’s CLI by focusing on content areas such as the structure of commands; terminology, flags, and values; help text with model examples; and useful error messages. In this session, you’ll get a brief introduction to what CLI DX considerations you can focus on, and how one docs team approached these challenges to craft useful CLI messages.

Viqui Dill, Show up, speak up, shut up: How to be a good ally

STC is striving to be a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization. But what can members do to be better allies of people in underserved groups? In this presentation you will learn eight ways you can become a better ally: Educate yourself; Share what you know; Amplify diverse voices and perspectives; Support the livelihood of diverse people; Remember that a diverse person is an individual; Support diverse people that you know; Celebrate accomplishments; and Know that allyship is a growing process.


  • Understanding privilege
  • Who can be an ally?
  • What does allyship look like?


  • Models of diversity
  • Understanding privilege
  • Who can be an ally?
  • What does allyship look like?
  • Resources
  • Q&A

Tim Esposito, Moving from Word to DITA using Oxygen

Almost everyone has used MS Word to create some form of content, ranging from college essays to professional publications. While Word is ubiquitous and easy to use, it does not always provide the functionality required for modern documentation needs. DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture), while not new, is a standard for documentation that is all about structure. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet of easily importing content into DITA from Word. However, the process proved to be an excellent exercise in how to review and structure the content. Learn how one team shifted from Word to DITA, via Oxygen, and how it improved the end user experience.

Liz Fraley, Using Warehouse Files to Improve the Overall Findability of Your DITA Content

Can a comprehensive index be created in a modern DITA XML publishing environment made up of hundreds of tiny files? And how can an editor and indexer be incorporated into the DITA environment for better consistency and findability of content? For your content to be found, you need to ensure your content is indexed and consistent across all deliverables and channels. This means taking advantage of structured metadata and keyword research and the application of consistent terms to boost the findability. This presentation will show one company’s use of warehouse files to bring consistency to index terms and their application to a body of content–a series of published reference books. Learn how a good editing/indexing team, who adopts the same strategies and techniques used by authors, working in modern DITA XML dynamic publishing environments, bring new and improved value, consistency, and efficiency to content findability.

John Freiberger, The Show Must Go On: How the Electric Coffeehouse Concert Went Virtual in 2020

This story is about communicating in the “new normal.” It will not focus on Technical Communication as we in the profession know it, but it will focus on the use of technology to communicate musically with others in a safe, socially distant manner during the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We will look at how the global pandemic has impacted the music industry in general, issues that hinder musicians from collaborating and performing online, and some solutions that are currently available. Then we will look at how the music department in the East Rochester school district transitioned its year-end performance, Electric Coffeehouse, from a physical stage to a virtual one, and how they have applied lessons learned from this experience to music performances in the 2020-2021 school year.

Amy Friend, Learning Value Stream – designing solutions that deliver greater value in the modern workplace

I have many years to work before I can retire. To remain relevant requires continuous and humbling change. But unlike in the past, the path forward requires more than learning a new software package or improving upon an existing process until things “go back to normal.” The very core of how we work – process, tools, and mindset, is fundamentally shifting. Typically less than 10% of work time is actually adding value. That means in a typical week, 36+ hours are waste! Things like APPS, agile, and automation are completely revolutionizing what and how work is accomplished. As more leaders recognize this, they will turn to other resources if we aren’t ready to help them. Are you ready to reframe your value proposition? In this session, learn to recognize waste, innovate new approaches, and verbalize new value with stakeholders. Real examples across the learning value stream will be shared.

MK Grueneberg, Move from Problem Solving to Problem Preventing

My career goal used to be able to say “I’m a problem solver”. There’s a lot to be said for being able to say you solve problems. But I realized that, by definition, problem solving is being reactive. If you want to be truly successful as an individual, a team, or as a company, you need to be proactive. You need to stop problems before they even start. In the end, being proactive saves time for everyone. This alone provides ROI. So now I like to say “I’m a problem preventer.” In this presentation, I will show you how you can collaborate with your development team and your support team to create a better customer experience, with higher customer satisfaction. I will show you what you can do to proactively prevent problems before they start. Are you ready to say “I’m a problem preventer”? Then come join my session!

Becky Hall, Designing Decision Trees for User Assistance

Have you ever heard “I couldn’t find what I needed” or “there was too much information”? As technical communicators we often want to provide every answer, regardless of how many users have a specific question or problem. If we give them all the information, surely the users will be successful in using the product and won’t need to call support. So we write, and write, and write. All the information is in there – somewhere. Designing a decision tree lets you quickly deliver the needed information without overwhelming your users. Decision trees start with broad categories and drill down to details. With online content there are multiple ways to reveal content as choices are made. In PDF format links can be used to move people quickly through a document. And if you’re using chatbot technology the decision tree can frame the prompts and responses required for the AI language interpreter.

Mark Kleinsmith and Chad Bevard, Tips for Tackling Your CMS Implementation

In July of 2018, MiTek’s Technical Documentation Team dove headfirst into a Content Management System implementation. We knew what we wanted, we had a plan, and we had a vision. “Version 1” was released on October 4th, 2019! Does it really take 17 months to implement a Content Management System successfully? In a global organization with countless stakeholders and thousands of internal and external customers, the answer is, “Yes!” We completed the project both efficiently and inexpensively, without temporary workers, consultants, or unnecessary implementation fees. Along the way, we also performed a much-needed content audit. So, what makes MiTek’s Technical Documentation Team an expert on this subject? Two CMS implementations in four years. The first lacked leadership and vision, and the second, well, we managed that one!

Lou Prosperi, Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way: Adding Disney Imagineering to Your Technical Communication Toolbox

Since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Disney’s Imagineers have been entertaining audiences of all ages at Disney parks around the world by bringing stories to life through immersive and engaging experiences. From 1955 through today, storytelling has been at the heart of everything the Imagineers do, and the key to the Imagineers’ storytelling is effective communication. What does that have to do with technical communication? More than you might think! This updated presentation explores a number of Imagineering Storytelling tools – practices and principles used by Walt Disney Imagineering in the design and construction of Disney parks and attractions – and how those same tools can be applied to technical communication and information development to help us effectively communicate with our audiences.

Matt Reiner, Bake a Little Documentation Love into Your Product

That little bit of extra love and care is what turns a dessert into a delight. So what about your product? Why not bake some of that sweet, sweet documentation right in? Together, we’ll learn that the perfect blend of product and documentation creates even more value to your users, teammates, and organization by making your content the icing on the cake.

Kerry Roberts and Judy Shenouda, Myths and Truths About Working at Home: A “Baby Boomer” and a “Millennial” Have Figured It Out

Due to recent events, you may have been asked to work from home. But can you really start your workday whenever you choose? Go for a long walk whenever you like? Not if you want to deliver quality work while maintaining a positive work-life balance. Can you maintain a healthy diet when the refrigerator is calling to you all day? Stay fit when you’re seated at a computer hour after hour? Can you really set up shop anywhere in your home from the kitchen to the deck? In this presentation, we will cover the myths of working from home and share the truths of how to get and stay motivated in a home office. A “Baby Boomer” and a “Millennial” will share their tips and tricks for successfully navigating the work-at-home experience and invite participants to share their do’s and don’ts for working and living well while sheltering in place.

Elisabeth Sanders-Park, 6 Powerful Strategies to Teach It Quick and Make It Stick

Great content does not ensure great training. Training is more effective when facilitators bring the content to life using brain-based strategies that capitalize on how the human brain learns and remembers. Here are six simple yet powerful strategies to accelerate and deepen learning and add fun to your trainings. Built on brain science (Bowman, 2010), each can be used in ways big and small, complex and simple throughout any training (and in coaching sessions, meetings and presentations).

Kelly Schrank, Low-Cost and Low-Effort Ways to Create Infographics and Visually Appealing Slides

Many clients and employers are ramping up expectations for slide design and many are requesting infographics. Are you ready to move past words in a Word document to presenting the words in a more visually appealing manner in PowerPoint or PDF? Many people still think you need to be a graphic designer to create infographics or that the best design they can manage is a built-in PowerPoint template or some SmartArt. While you can do some graphic design work in PowerPoint, and you can certainly make SmartArt smarter and more attractive, there are many other applications you can use to create visually appealing materials, such as Canva. While it does help to have or develop your eye for design, just exposing yourself to new ideas and good design can go a long way. Come to this session for resources and ideas for how to get started!

Jarod Sickler, Taxonomies and the Importance of Having a Strategy That Benefits All Stakeholders

There’s some confusion around what a taxonomy is. Some think it’s a definition of terms. It’s not. There’s also some confusion around who is a taxonomy created for. The answer? All stakeholders. Not just your team, not just internal stakeholders. All stakeholders from customer to top management. In this presentation, we’ll dive into taxonomy as a concept – where it came from, why it was so important in the minds of early western philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, and why taxonomies matter in the modern organization. We’ll also dive into what qualities separate a good taxonomy from a poor one and how you can create one from scratch. Finally, we’ll take a look at where to go next. How do you get this skeletal drawing to reshape the way you think about your organization and its product offerings.

David Dylan Thomas, Design for Cognitive Bias: Using Mental Shortcuts for Good Instead of Evil

Users’ minds take shortcuts to get through the day. Usually they’re harmless, even helpful. But what happens when they’re not? In this talk I’ll use real-world examples to identify some particularly harmful biases that frequently lead users to make bad decisions. I’ll then talk about some content strategy and design choices we can use in our apps, designs, and platforms to redirect or eliminate the impact of those biases. Finally, I’ll explore our own biases as designers and some methods to prevent our own blind spots from hurting users.

Angela Trenkle, Scientific Technical Communication: What It’s About and How to Get Started No Matter Where You Are in Life

Scientific technical communication is a growing field in industry today and that growth is rarely linear. Often a winding road leads individuals in this profession to where they are today. Not sure how to get started in scientific technical communication? In this presentation, you will hear about the path that one young professional took, which includes tips and tricks picked up along the way and how skills from various fields can be applicable to the world of scientific technical communication, no matter where in life you are.