tekom11 & tcworld11: Two worlds under one roof

My first visit to tekom/tcworld, the world’s largest tech comm conference in Wiesbaden near Frankfurt, left me inspired and overwhelmed.

Two floors of tekom, photo by @donormal, used with permission

Impressive numbers

I’ve been attending the trade fair part of tekom for several years, but this was my first time attending the conference. 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the conference with impressive numbers:

  • 200 presentations, workshops and tutorials (78 in English)
  • 15 topical streams, ranging from content strategy and mobile documentation to localization, open standards and technical authoring
  • 2,500 expected delegates at the conference plus another 1,000 at the trade fair
  • 200 product vendors, service providers and associations exhibiting at the fair

Two worlds

The crowds mixed well, and I saw many Germans in English sessions (including my own). I talked to several people, and we all noticed that English and German sessions “felt” different, illustrating cultural habits I often find in documentation as well:

  • Corporate visions and innovations often drive English-speaking sessions which often seek to engage delegates with easy to digest images and charts. Some German-speaking attendees are skeptical of such entertaining fluff.
  • Methodology and processes often inform German-speaking sessions that seek to inform delegates of the right – or at least the best – way of doing things. Some English-speaking attendees find this staid or academic.

Axel Regnet also has a good analysis of this cultural rift in his German blog post.

My personal highlights

Understanding the Help 2.0 Revolution

Scott Abel’s keynote opened the first day. He presented a case study of ifixit, the socially-enabled “free repair manual that you can edit”. Their crowd-sourced documentation rewards authors with reputation, attention and a feeling of generosity. It drives sales of hardware parts and even allows to calculate ROI by product, manual, and author! There’s also a standard initiative of omanual.org, backed by guys behind ifixit.com and O’Reilly.

Scott Abel's keynote at tekom, photo by @donormal, used with permission

After some smaller or more theoretical examples of user-generated contents, it impressed me to see a working example on this scale. But then again, it’s like the cry from that vanguard to my own industry just got a little farther. More applicable to my own situation were a few insights from the next panel:

Have a question about TC? Ask the experts

Nicky Bleiel organized a panel discussion with Mark Clifford, Sarah O’Keefe and Scott Prentice. I had submitted a question that echoed Roger Hart‘s rant at TCUK:

Will technical communicators own content strategy or will they be overtaken by content strategists, information architects, UX designers who simply market themselves better? In other words, will influence (and jobs) follow skills or clout?

Some answers (to this and other related questions) were fairly obvious but, of course, valid:

  • Tech writers need to continue to hone their skills and to widen their turf lest they be pushed aside.
  • Tech writers must understand and argue their tasks and expertise in terms of the business.

Some arguments offered me a new perspective:

  • Follow the content: Technical communication, content strategy, information architecture, knowledge management all offer different paths and different approaches to ultimately overlapping or identical content. And we tech writers need to contribute to that content in a productive way.
  • Follow the role: Regardless of what the actual function is called in an organisation, we tech writers need to make sure we contribute to the efforts of the Chief Information Officer – or whatever that role is called.
  • The competition is fierce: Many tech writers are essentially up against everybody else, and their contents need to beat Google’s results.
  • The big disconnect is closing, as the distinction between retail and corporate information and user experiences disappears.

Content strategy day

Scott Abel brought eight content strategy experts to tekom for a full day of presentations and discussions, see the separate review.

Auditing your documentation

Kit Brown-Hoekstra presented a dense 2-hour workshop on the why and how to audit your documentation and processes, see another separate review.

Your turn

Whether you’ve attended tekom/tcworld or not: Feel free to leave a comment if you see things differently or to ask if you’re curious about a detail.

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5 Responses

  1. Hallo Kai

    Thanks for a great post! I so wanted to attend the tcworld conference, so it’s nice to be able to read such an in-depth and well crafted report.

    The difference between the German and English presentations is interesting. I’m wondering if it’s a curiosity of Tekom in particular, though. I’ve attended quite a few other tech comms conferences, all given in English, and in general the presentations are of the more practical nature. On the other hand, although the presenters were English speaking, they came from all over the world. Primarily the US and Australia, depending on the conference.

    I’m looking forward to your next post. 🙂

    Cheers. Sarah

    • You’re welcome, Sarah! I agree, it’s difficult to attend all the great tech comm conferences, if only for logistical reasons.

      Regarding the differences in presentation cultures, I think it comes actually with the language: Even Germans presenting in English (myself included) are often more in tune with the practical approach.

      On the other hand, I think that presentations in German even when they present best practices often forego direct appeals to the audience in passive or the all-too-common pseudo-passive of “man muss” (i.e., “one must”). So it seems to be a cultural habit rooted in the language…

  2. […] “tekom11 & tcworld11: Two worlds under one roof” von Kai Weber […]

  3. […] tekom11 & tcworld11: Two worlds under one roof by Kai Weber. […]

  4. […] Kai Weber has pointed out in his overview of Tekom, it really is two parallel events: one in English, one in German. I have the impression (not […]

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