Why TCUK is such a cool conference

Technical Communication UK (TCUK) has established itself as a leading tech comm conference in Europe, because it combines expected features with more quirky, informal elements of “unconferences”.

Pivotal programming

Part of the success comes thanks to a well-balanced mix of sessions. This is the “meat and potatoes” that covers the usual suspects of methods, tools, and technologies. It also excels by reaching out into neighboring disciplines. This year a whole stream of sessions was dedicated to “anything but text”. These presentations (and a couple of keynotes) went all visual and covered icon design at Google Maps, IKEA’s textless communication, technical illustrations, colour usage, video in user assistance, and more.

TCUK audience, photo by @FireheadLtd, used with permission

Fascinating fringe

Unconference features, such as lightning talks, a rants session, and a fringe program, make up the rich dessert buffet. They inspire and foster an accessible sense of community among delegates who want to carry ideas and conversations into less formal contexts. Fringe events ranged from meetups of user groups or regional ISTC groups to a film screening, from informal social get togethers to the latest instalment of the legendary annual salsa class.

Committed community

That sense of community is what makes TCUK unique to me: Beyond getting the logistics right of putting on a conference, these worthy folks hit the sweet spot by establishing a framework within which stuff can happen. The amiable atmosphere draws delegates together, whether they’re there as repeat speakers or just for one day. I’ve met someone determined to make the most of his one day, and he was hooking up with people left and right everytime I saw him between sessions.

Three-and-a-half takeways

What did I take away from TCUK 11?

  • A feel for where the tech comm industry is at. Technical communication is as dynamic a field as ever and there’s no better place to take a temperature than conferences such as TCUK.
  • Learn to think and act outside the box. Thanks to the good programming, I got a lot of insights and inspiration. This goes for tech comm topics, such as personas and minimalism. And it extends into other applicable areas, such as being a riveting speaker and interpreting and visualising statistical data.
  • A long-term perspective. Perennially repeated discussions are such as “What do we call ourselves and why?” are legitimate and important. But we also need to think in terms of progress, how we tech comm’ers want to the industry develop and in which direction(s). Fittingly, the final sessions did a good job whether it was Ellis Pratt’s closing keynote or Roger Hart’s compact 3 minute rant that content strategists have little on us, but still might do us in.
  • Tech writers will be tech writers. You can’t stop a bunch of tech writers from editing a dinner menu. You just can’t…

Your turn

If you’ve attended TCUK 11, what were your impressions? You probably took something else away… Feel free to leave a comment!

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2 Responses

  1. TCUK 11 was my first TCUK conference. In fact, it was only my second ever conference, so I still consider myself a bit of a newbie in these things, despite having been in the profession for 20 years. But I took away so many things from TCUK 11, both big and small.

    I took away some really specific ideas for things I can start implementing in my day to day work life. Some small, some large. Some which will just make my life a bit easier, others, that, potentially, might fundamentally change the ways I do things. It’s now my intention to make enough of a success of those things that I can persuade my employers to send me to next year’s conference as well!

    I took away the experience of meeting some _really_ great people. It’s not often I get the chance to meet like minded people, and quite apart from being able to talk to technical writers about the sort of things technical writers like to talk about, I was struck by what a nice bunch of people were gathered together.

    But what was the biggest thing I took away? I think it was a rekindling of enthusiasm for my profession. Being given the desire to look past the minutiae of my day to day work to see the bigger picture. The best comparison I can make is that it was a bit like the sense of new beginnings you get at the end of a holiday. You return from a holiday feeling refreshed, determined to do things to the best of your ability, to be positive about everything. Very often, within a couple of days, that feeling has been pared away. But not this time. Two weeks after TCUK 11, my enthusiasm and optimism is still going strong!

    • Thanks, ndench, for your enthusiastic comment. It echoes my sentiments very well. In my book, it’s the great bunch of people and the enthusiasm for the tech comm profession that make TCUK stand out above other conferences. Thanks for putting it so eloquently!

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