In April, I was asked to present at Leadership Day at the STC Rochester Spectrum 2016. Every year, the conference chairs choose a theme and ask presenters to speak to the theme. Leadership day is a conference addition that happens the day before the main event. Leadership day presenters are expected to stay within the theme but to focus on an issue of leadership. As a presenter, it’s a fun challenge to think thematically about your expertise and construct a presentation that suits your purposes as a presenter and fulfills the thematic goals of the event while still providing a solid learning opportunity for attendees.
This year, Spectrum chose “Mastering Tech Comm: Harness the Power of Story,” which, for me, is a self-evident proposition. We tell user stories when we plan how we’re going to document a product. We tell stories about ourselves (to others and to ourselves) every day about who we are, where we’re going, and why a customer should choose us over our competitor. Here’s how the conference chairs described the theme for Spectrum 2016:
Told effectively, there is great power in a story that resonates with people and compels them to action. As an experienced technical communicator, you are aware of this power and harness it every day to benefit your customers, employer, and yourself. Spectrum 2016 is a perfect opportunity for you to hone and share your stories.
When it came time to create my presentation for leadership day, I decided I would tell my story. I’ve founded two companies, one for profit, one non-profit. I’m constantly trying out new ideas and I work in a segment of the industry that requires not one but two stories to be convincingly told and accepted: first, that single-sourcing of content and multi-channel publishing is critical to business success; and second, that the product I work with is the right one for the job (if the situation warrants). You can’t have the second conversation first. No one understands the product I work with unless they understand the underlying problems that present it as a potential solution.
Early in my career, it was exceptionally difficult to explain to people what I do. I’ve had to figure out the path for discussion, to figure out how to relate to a potential customer and tell a story that resonates (or discover that there isn’t one). Year after year, I told stories. I collected stories. Success stories. Failures. Long-term customers and new ones. I’ve even got a presentation that was frequently requested in professional circles and at conferences about “Where are they now” where I told stories of customers who were 5, 10, 15, and 20 years into their single-sourcing projects. It helped bridge the gap and explain the circumstances wherein what I do and what my product does applies. After 11 years leading my own company, I’ve gotten good at telling stories. And at Spectrum 2016’s Leadership Day, I told my own:
The Never Ending Interview Story
If you want someone to hire you, you need to be able to tell your story: who you are, what your plan is, and what defines you. There are key points to address at each point in the story you in order to gain customers. Just because you go out on your own, doesn’t mean you’re not constantly interviewing and telling your story. For example, how do you pitch a co-founder? What’s your customer profile? We’ll talk about all this and more.
Whether you’re a CEO or an independent consultant, you’re constantly telling your story. Every day is an interview. Every day you’re proving yourself. Every day, every customer, every prospect, you’re reinforcing the picture you present to the world. Truth be told, I didn’t really expect anything to come out of the presentation. There was no pitch for my services or collateral, no obvious tie to a sales channel for me. It’s always good practice to present and I like to tell stories, so I did.
At the end of the day during the general round-table discussion with all the presenters and all the attendees present, the audience was full of questions for me! What was even more interesting was that they wanted to ask compare and contrast questions with me and another presenter. We fill similar roles but told two very different stories. Our approaches to leadership, corporate organization, employee relations, couldn’t be more different. The audience was extremely interested in how to understand those differences in the context of their own goals, aspirations, and future career paths.
After it was all over, several people approached me to ask if I would sit down with them and answer their questions. They had questions! Now, I’ve always had a good support system. A coach. Good friends. People who will call me on my crap and tell me to straighten up and see reality! After my experience at Spectrum’s Leadership day, I looked back and noticed that over the years a lot of people have asked me to talk things through with them when they’ve been considering rising up the ranks or going out on their own. I’ve had those conversations fairly frequently, when I think about the last 11 years running Single-Sourcing Solutions. And ever since Spectrum, I’ve been getting more and more calls and requests from even more people in the months that have followed. I just hadn’t realized.
Successful people seek out coaches and clubs and teams to join so they can learn new skills. They practice developing those skills in front of the advisors, get feedback, and make corrections. They do this over and over and over again until it becomes second nature. Once they are ready they have gained the confidence they need to safely (and joyfully) move on to the next challenge. They succeed because they've done everything they can: They make a decision to take action, work up a plan, do the research, then find someone or a group that can help guide them.
In the TPC Affinity Groups, we know that we are stronger together than we are alone. We know that each of us has things to learn and things to teach. The Affinity Groups are that safe space for professionals work together to solve problems. Its members leverage the expertise of the group, the expertise that lies beyond their own, individual experience. The Affinity Group is made up of a diverse team of experts wanting to share and learn from each other. Members are the leaders in our profession, always looking to expand their experience and their expertise to be better for themselves and their customers.
And it's been a ton of fun to be a part of, too.
Supporting the Affinity Groups is just another part of who we are
Our approach comes from our passion for understanding who you are and what your needs are. We work with your team and, while we may work within a framework, we're flexible and dynamic. We know not everyone is the same. Our approach is geared toward people who have a sense of ownership - own it know it and control it. And who want to grow their own expertise so they're not overly dependent on outside experts.
It's why we foster strong community relationships and improving the lives of everyone in them differentiates us from our competitors. We are unmatched at creating new ways for technical communicators to grow their knowledge, skills, and confidence. With us, you can learn and grow the skills, techniques, strategies, you need to climb the ladder or go out on your own. Leverage the experience of other professionals who are on your side and in your corner.
We have a proven track record of creating unique community service projects like these:
- TPC Affinity Groups – unique learning opportunities focused where members work to solve technical problems together
- Arbortext Monster Garage – book and webinar series that features community experts
- Public Training Calendar - live, instructor-led, public training course schedule
- TC Dojo – a user-directed webinar series
- Hundreds of presentations and publications
- Logistics and support Arbortext user groups
- TC Camp – the first unconference and free day of learning for technical communicators and Room 42 Podcast
What The TPC Affinity Groups Provide
- Virtual meetings
- Deep conversations that separate the true professionals from the novices
- Learning opportunities
- We never stop learning and if you are like us, you like to tap into training whenever you can.
- Discussion forums
- Exclusive forums where members connect with each other in between times
Groups like these have been around for centuries:
Participants challenge each other to set powerful goals, and more importantly, to accomplish them. The group requires commitment, confidentiality, willingness to both give and receive advice and ideas, and support each other with total honesty, respect and compassion…You’ll gain tremendous insights which improve your business and personal life. Your mastermind group is like having a objective board of directors, a success team, and a peer advisory group, all rolled into one.
Successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Harvey Firestone, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, know the power of many minds working together. C.S. Lewis, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie all used them as well:
Well, if you want to know how I got my money… We have here in this business a master mind. It is not my mind, and it is not the mind of any other man on my staff, but the sum total of all these minds that I have gathered around me that constitute a master mind in the steel business… I need these men and they know that they need me in the maintenance of this master mind that is necessary in carrying on.
~ Andrew Carnegie
You don’t have to take our word for it.
Hear from some of the people our team has helped over the years:
Since meeting Liz, I’ve been grateful to have her as a mentor and friend. She has been a valuable resource for me as an independent consultant and conference manager. Liz listens carefully, provides relevant insight to the situation at hand, and focuses on positive conversations and outcomes. I appreciate her unwavering commitment to helping others in the technical communication profession, whether she’s seeking ways to help individuals or organizing learning opportunities such as TC Camp.
Liz Fraley is an accomplished entrepreneur who willingly shares her professional expertise and knowledge with the professional community. While Liz is widely (and quite justifiably) recognized for her expertise in XML, taxonomies, single-sourcing, and building content publishing ecosystems, she also shines as a coach and a consulting partner who helps her clients to manage successfully through such changes–whether negotiating career transitions between content positions and technologies, large-scale content infrastructure programs, or driving the organizational and cultural changes required to implement and adopt new content standards and processes. Liz brings her coaching skills to bear in a compassionate consulting ethos that focuses on understanding her client’s needs first, then providing the right guidance at the right time to drive positive change that sticks. You’re always in good hands when you work with Liz Fraley
Liz was awesome! She solidified my suspicions on where the market is headed for Technical Communications and provided professional insight that will help me chart a course of action. Thanks Liz!
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Join the TPC Affinity Groups
How much time, effort and money is it costing you to keep struggling to learn how to implement, architect, and transform your content and your team by yourself? In the TPC Affinity Groups, you gain an advisory board of your peers that will help you solve problems quickly and efficiently.