WritersUA Conference 2008: Wednesday 19 March

March 19, 2008

It was a rushed morning for me. I didn’t sleep well (I never do prior to doing a conference presentation, and Char, my roommate for the past week, had to be up at 5:00am to be out of the hotel by 6:00am to catch an early morning flight home). By the time I left the room it was 8:00am and I thought I might have time to grab something light for breakfast (breakfast on the last day is always short and continental), even though I knew I wouldn’t get to eat it until after I’d done my session. No luck. The elevators were at their very best and took a good 5 minutes to arrive; some people on the lower floors forced their way in to our packed elevator as they said they’d been waiting more than 10 mins… NOT acceptable for a hotel of this calibre. Then it stopped at EVERY floor on the way down.

Anyhow, I didn’t get to ‘Grand Ballroom I’ until nearly 8:15. That meant a short time to set up the computer, get wired for the remote microphone, set up my digital voice recorder, and start handing out Caramello Koalas! Closer to the start time I got Sue to be my ‘booth babe’ and hand them out for me – thanks Sue! All 96 went in very quick time, and there were quite a few people who didn’t get any. Without counting, I think there were between 100 and 120 at my session.

My presentation went off without a hitch, but it’s up to others to say how good or bad it was compared to the other presentations, and in and of itself. Put it this way, I lost about 5 people during the session (people leaving is normal) and gained about 20-30, none of whom left.

After it was all over I could relax a bit, and enjoy the remaining sessions on this last day of the conference. I grabbed an early lunch at Oliver’s with Dana – I had a delicious ‘Stuffed Steak Burger’, which was ground steak stuffed with gorgonzola. Yummo. Dave joined us and he saw mine and had to have the same.

These are the sessions I attended today and my comments for each:

  • Case Studies: Theme: “Audience Analysis” (Jill Kerr and Leah Camp): Jill spoke on use cases and how the technical writer should be involved with them from the beginning, working closely with the business and process analysts and the development team. She had some good practical tips and checklists. Leah discussed a medical software redesign project where the users were the drivers for the changes. Both were interesting, though Leah’s was the one most like a ‘case study’. I’m not really sure how Jill’s could be classed as being on the theme of ‘Audience Analysis’, but it was interesting.
  • Peer Showcase: This open time frame allowed individuals to ‘show and tell’ about their projects and ways they’d overcome problems. I spent most time with Sue Heim (Author-it project), Frank Palinkas (JavaScript, CSS), and Jennifer Smith (Author-it Word outputs).
  • Rapid Prototyping Techniques for Developing User Assistance (Alan Houser): This session was not for me and I should have left. It was focused on DITA and a free IBM task modelling tool. While the tool was interesting, it required a heap of other software to be downloaded and installed to make it run (Eclipse, open source DITA stuff, etc. etc.). And I didn’t see how this tool would help anyone not involved in DITA outputs. To be honest, for the stuff I do I could create the same sort of shell documentation using Word’s outline functions, Mind Manager’s MindMaps, or just creating a TOC shell using Author-it. And I wouldn’t have to download and install anything extra on my system. Admittedly, I was very tired by the time this session rolled around so that may have coloured my perspective. However, I think it was just the wrong session for me and I chose badly.
  • User Assistance Trends Panel: Key Future Directions (Joe Welinske – Chair, Alan Houser, Scott De Loach, Kevin Siegel, Bogo Vatovec): This year Joe tried something different – he put this session at the end of the conference instead of at the beginning, and I think it worked well in that position on the schedule. Some of the comments and predictions were a little ‘out there’, while others were more of the same as far as what is happening with device convergence and miniaturisation. Many people had already left, so it was a fairly light-hearted and fun session. A perfect to end the conference.

Goodbyes were said to those who were leaving for the airport, and a few of us who were left had a drink in the hotel bar. Frank and Jo and I went over to Porto Terra for another delicious meal. I had the wild salmon again (done slightly differently this time), and a superb roasted banana and cinnamon gelato. Frank flies back to South Africa via Atlanta at some ungodly hour tomorrow morning, and Jo heads back to Texas. I’ll hit the road sometime tomorrow morning after I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

Conferences like this are really taxing, in many different ways. There’s the catching up with old friends and colleagues, the establishment of new relationships, the learning, the sitting, the overeating, and just the sheer camaraderie and joy of ‘swimming with one’s own kind’. Oh, and did I mention the talking? I haven’t talked so much in months!!

Thanks again, Joe, for a well-organised and intellectually stimulating conference. I hope to be back next year.


  1. […] I showed this little trick to some people while I was at the Peer Showcase session at the WritersUA Conference, I was surprised that none of them knew you could do this and they were all impressed that you can. […]

  2. […] and tested it by recording small snippets. My goal was to record my conference presentation at the WritersUA Conference in March, convert it to MP3, and make it available as a download from my […]

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