Top 4 reasons that make MadWorld 2014 unique

Four unique reasons make MadWorld 2014 possibly the best tech comm conference you can attend this year. (Disclosure: I’m a happy MadCap Flare user and will speak at MadWorld 2014.)

MadWorld 14 conference banner

MadCap’s second annual user conference takes place in the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, CA, on 13-15 April. It’s featuring not just MadCap’s technical authoring products, but tool-agnostic sessions on DITA, content strategy, professional development, and more. But I think you’ll get the most out of it if you are already using MadCap products or at least very close to doing so. If you are, here are my top 4 reasons that will make MadWorld uniquely useful.

1. Immediately applicable insights

Whether you are relatively new to MadCap or a veteran user, you can pick up helpful tips and relevant advice in sessions “Yeah, Flare Can Do That” and “Ride the Lightning (Talk)”. If you’re stumped for tactical or strategic decisions, you’ll find answers in “Going Solo: Best Practices for the Solo (Flare) Artist” and “We Built This City: Building a Scalable Architecture for a Flare Project”.

Because you know the tools and MadCap knows our tasks, MadWorld eliminates one of the most common complaints of professional conferences: Not quite relevant content. Instead, you can probably find an insight to apply back home in every session. No more “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”! Plus, it’s San Diego.

2. Community networking and support

At MadWorld, you can plug in directly to MadCap’s dedicated and supportive community of users. Many of us folks who help each other on MadCap’s user forum or on LinkedIn will be there. Recently, regional user groups have sprung up in North America and even Europe as MadCap users realise the benefit of a more personal network.

You can hook up with other users to discover what they do with Flare and what ways they’ve found to tweak Flare. That includes the speakers who are regular users, too. Meet them over at MadCap’s blog where they share their expectations and their favorite three songs. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and to share my experiences – and favorite songs!

3. Prime support included

MadWorld offers personal support from all the guys and gals we might otherwise just know from support emails. I’ve met MadCap staff at other conferences and found them incredibly helpful. They answered any question I threw at them. It felt like free, unlimited access to the proverbial soda fountain. MadWorld’s Hospitality Lounge by comparison is like an open door to the soda factory. I for one plan to bring a couple of crazy projects and indulge… 🙂

4. San Diego in the springtime

Yes, it’s been snowing and raining a lot and in unexpected places, too. But not in San Diego. Not for a looong time, as Jennifer from MadCap reminds us:

So I expect spring to be in full swing by the time we get there. Add to that the Hard Rock Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter, the world-famous zoo and the beaches, and I start to sound like a tourist ad.

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To sum up, I look forward to MadWorld, a conference with boot camp intensity and summer camp fun!

P.S. I will speak in the tool-agnostic track on cognitive foundations of tech comm:

  • You’d Better Recognize! Pattern Recognition For Technical Communicators, on Mon, 14 April, 11:05 am
  • Addicted to Meaning: Mental Models for Technical Communicators, on Tue, 15 April, 1:30 pm

And I’ll be on board for the round of lightning talks on Tuesday at 10:55.

Update, 10 March: techwhirl lists 5 Reasons to Attend MadWorld 2014, citing a total of 61 pieces of evidence!

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Running lightning talks or Pecha Kucha

Lightning talks (or their siblings Pecha Kucha and Ignite talks) can be great fun. They’re basically presentation karaoke: You avoid death by PowerPoint – instead you get the occasional train wreck when the slides get away from the presenter. But usually, the giddiness of information overload in 5 to 7 minutes is very stimulating!

It just takes a little planning to make sure there’s room for the spontaneous energy to emerge. Here’s what makes lightning talks succeed, in my experience:

  • Stick to the timeframe. For example, every speaker gets exactly 5 minutes to show exactly 20 slides where each slide is automated and timed for exactly 15 seconds. (Pecha Kucha uses 20 seconds each.) Now, this sounds a bit counter-intuitive to squeeze hi-energy lightning talkers into a tight format, but scrupulously sticking to it is essential to keep up the energy for the audience. Speakers don’t get to control the slides – which is the imminent danger and spice of every lightning talk! 🙂
  • Figure in a bit of overhead time to explain the concept to the audience and to move from one speaker to the next. So for a 45-minute session, plan 6 talks or 7 at most.
  • Have an MC facilitate the session. He or she explains the format, hands over between speakers and leads the crowd in applause, cheering, jeering, whatever seems appropriate.
  • Curate the content, if necessary. Not every topic lends itself well to the restrictions of a lightning talk. Case studies and project stories of limited complexity usually work very well, as do Top 20 lists.
  • Go for lightning flashes of insight, not totall recall. In my experience, the audience can expect to remember 2 or 3 talks of 7 – and maybe 4 or 5 points that really struck them.
  • Lean on presenters. The one danger of a lightning talk buzzkill is speakers playing it too safe. Their slides look fine, but they only prepare one or two sentences per slide. They manage to deliver that sentence – and then wait 12 seconds for the slide to change. Sitting through that is quite lame for the last 15 slides… It’s difficult to avoid, but it’s more fun for everybody if speakers come with a tightly packed presentation – even if they stumble and then play catch up with the timer… Maybe encourage speakers to max out their topic and wring every last second from it, as if it was the last 5 minutes they ever had to share their enthusiasm.
  • Select a good sequence of talks. This is also a bit difficult to plan, but in general it works best to have speakers with less energy and slides with less “wow” go first and then work up to higher levels of energy and “wow”.
  • Demand the presos before hand. You need them to figure out the sequence and put them all on the same machine, so you can minimise the time between speakers. Some events publish the sequence before hand, others just announce it at the beginning of the session.
  • It’s not a contest. At least I don’t recall any lightning talk round scoring or voting for a winner. Instead, the Olympic sprit rules: “The important thing is not to win, but to take part”. They are more like a show-and-tell in school or like a sing-song round in a bar: Many people take turns, but everybody who contributes is cheered on, if only for valiant efforts.