Open Mike

Open Mike: Blogging with Mike Hughes


Today we bring you another edition of the world-renowned Open Mike blog, by STC President Michael Hughes. Open Mike is a monthly blog post where Mike talks about many of the issues facing STC, the Board, and him as President of the Society. It’s a way to further his goal of transparency, with a fun comic in every edition to boot!

evolution of questions

No particular tie-in between this month’s comic and the theme of this month’s blog—I was hungry when I did it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

We had a productive board meeting on 13 July. Steve Jong, the chair of the Certification Committee, presented that committee’s business plan to the board. The board had already accepted and approved the proposal that the task force presented at the April board meeting. This was the more polished version that accommodated input Steve had gotten and taken back to the committee. The more I get involved with certification the more excited I get that it presents many opportunities both to advance the profession and to increase the influence STC can have in defining what it means to be a professional in our field.

The board also discussed the issue that has been on the table since May, namely, whether to change the bylaws to allow student members to vote at the Society level. It was one of the issues that members had raised on the Ning website. We reviewed the results of the knowledge-based governance survey we had sent out. (The results are posted at Of those responding, less than half felt that student members should have the same voting rights as regular members at the Society level. But a majority did favor at least letting them vote in Society-wide elections. There were 264 comments offered and many indicated that members had read the supporting materials—I was very encouraged by the level of engagement and I also noted there were high levels of passion on both sides of the question. In the end, the board decided to keep the bylaws as they are, holding that student membership is a limited membership at the Society level because student members are still transitioning into and learning about the profession. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and opinions with us.

And we are at that time of year when the board’s focus is on budget! We kicked off the process by reviewing a working spreadsheet that let us model different assumptions, such as renewal rates, new member acquisitions, expenses, etc., and then see right away what impact they had on the bottom line. No surprises but it reinforced with me what a HUGE impact the renewal rate can have on being in the red or in the black.

The spirit of change that dominated the Dallas conference is pushing us forward. This is the year we have to transform our society and raise the value proposition. It’s very important that we plan and budget for Regeneration STC.

On a personal note, I also think it is the year we have to change our persona. We have to establish a web presence that not only delivers value, but which carries a wow! factor we just haven’t had. Then we can aggressively market ourselves into new areas and get those membership numbers up to where they can sustain a dynamic, resourceful society.


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  • Mike,
    We’re discussing the value proposition at our local council level to determine how to move the chapter forward this year (as I suspect many if not most of the communities are doing). What value do we bring to our members? To businesses in our community? To prospective new members? (and members who are “lapsed”). How can we be sustainable, especially not knowing what assistance we’ll receive?

    Although we continued our activities as a chapter last year, including our 51st Spectrum regional tech comms conference, in many ways we were in a holding pattern to see if STC would survive.

    Despite the challenges, I’m excited about the opportunities to establish new goals for our chapter.

    One thing that was clear at our council planning meeting was that many longtime chapter members do not have a lot of confidence in the larger Society. Many of them are waiting to see if STC “gets it right” this year. If they don’t see improvement, I’m not sure what kind of retention rates we’ll see next year. Last year was the crisis. This year will determine how we recover.

    Attending Leadership Day in Dallas gave me a sense that we’re (STC) moving in the right direction. Demonstrated consistent progress is critical–and it has to be communicated well to the membership.

    Ben Woelk
    STC Rochester

    • Ben, I think we all agree this is the “must get it right” year. If chapters concentrate on delivering value “on the ground” and we offer a strong web channel of services at the Society level, we’ll nail it down.

      • Mike, I think it’s going to take a lot more than web channels to “nail it down”. There’s a mentality that needs to be overcome and and a few layers of bureaucracy that need to be peeled away before we can nail anything. If you listen to what people are constantly saying at meetings, at the Summit, in blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter, there is a general consensus that STC needs to evolve its practices and focus. Upgraded technology isn’t the solution. STC members have already adopted them outside of STC. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s dire that STC implement tools in order to be a hub for the member community, but that’s catch-up work. The true thing that it seems many of the (at least) vocal members are waiting for with regard to this “must get it right” year speaks to intangible Society environment.

        The student voting decision is just one of many cases where members see lack of progressive thinking or positive change within the overall mentality of STC as a Society. Technology won’t solve that problem.

  • I’m disappointed that after all the discussion and comments on the survey, the Board continues to proliferate the misperception that ‘student members are still transitioning into and learning about the profession.” Many of them are professionals with 10+ years of experience seeking masters degrees. How can you expect to successfully serve your members when you don’t even know who they are?

      • Looking at the survey results, it appears that 63% 0f respondents, even though more than 75% had never been student members, wanted students to have some voting rights while only 28% opposed all student voting. Yet the board voted to not amend the bylaws. What percentage was the board looking for? What was the point of conducting the survey?

        • We look for member input on issues like this fairly often so that we have some fresh input from members to consider as part of what is usually a much larger dataset. We do not look for a “percentage” and if we hit it, we go with it or anything like that. It’s simply a poll and is not binding on the board, and we are very clear about that in each and every survey we do. I want to be sure members understand about this. Your input is very important (or we wouldn’t ask for it), and when mixed with everything else we might look at to reach a decision, we go with what is best for STC overall. Sometimes a decision goes along the lines of survey results and sometimes it does not.

    • Actually, Adrea, the Society bylaws define a student member as someone “preparing for a career in technical communication.” I don’t think we have ever carefully policed that. I’m not saying that means student members shouldn’t vote, but the language in the bylaws certainly implies that student membership was envisioned for someone studying to come into the field and not for a working professional in the field. I’m not arguing what should be, just trying to clarify the language of the bylaws and how the board was influenced by that language.

  • Certification: I’m looking forward to how this will take shape. I think the proposal has merit.

    Student vote: I’m very disappointed to see that we’re still functioning under the idea that students aren’t “real” members. It’s insulting, and the Board should be ashamed of itself for not reconsidering the bylaws in the spirit of change and fairness.

    What is “Regeneration STC”?

  • As one of the students Andrea mentions (earning my master’s degree in tech comm after 10+ years in the field) I’m also disappointed in the Board’s opinion of student members. Two student members are now serving on the Carolina Chapter Admin Council, yet the Society doesn’t seem to want to recognize us as viable contributing members.

    • Honestly, if STC’s position is to not allow students a voice, then drop your Admin Council responsibilities immediately – all students should do this. Apparently you should not be filling those roles in the first place. Let the Board learn through the pain of things grinding to a halt if they can’t learn through the voice of the Membership. They can’t expect you to volunteer your time and energy yet turn around and say you have no voice in the Society.

      • Hey Bill … your comments sound like you think we’ve taken something away from student members here, and that’s not the case. It’s clear that student members do not have a vote, but any student member can join STC as a regular member and have a vote. Also, having a “voice” and having voting rights are two different things … voting is simply one way to have a voice. I know the Communities folks are working now on ensuring that the student membership does have a voice through several mechanisms. We aren’t leaving anyone out and we aren’t leaving anyone behind … stay tuned.

        • No, I fully understand that nothing was taken away. The status quo was maintained, even though 2/3 of the membership responding to the survey disagrees with the status quo.

          We can debate “voice” all we want, but the fact remains that for some unknown reason students are deemed unworthy of a vote. Was a reason for this ever given? Is it only due to the amount they pay?

          Who are the Communities folks?

    • The board completely recognizes student members as viable contributing members, they just don’t have a vote. To have a vote, any student member can join STC as a regular member by paying the associated dues, and then they have a vote. I’m curious why you are a student member given that you have 10+ years in the field? What makes student membership more attractive than regular membership for you right now?

      • Cindy, I think what makes student membership attractive is the $175 savings over what students would otherwise pay. Given the cost of tuition, students can use all the help they can get. I don’t understand why the price of membership should affect a person’s voting rights. Someone with a similar background who pays the full member rate has the right to vote. Why are we discriminating against students? The argument that students are new to the field and therefore unqualified to vote doesn’t hold water. It’s all about money.

        Mike, I’ve always understood the “preparing for a career in technical communication” requirement to refer to the course of study, not career background. In other words, a person seeking an MFA in creative writing wouldn’t qualify for the student rate; a person seeking a master’s in tech comm would, regardless of whether they’ve worked in tech comm before.

      • Most college students don’t eat Ramen and drink Millwaukee’s Best because they taste good. 😉

        Tuition’s not cheap, and the costs are rising every year while salaries and such remain flat. If there’s a cheaper option, most students jump at the opportunity because it means less debt going forward or a slightly eased budget.

        • Exactly, so somewhere along the line, an assumption has been made about what a “student” can afford to pay given tuition fees and all, plus not working at all or working very little. Thus, there is an unstated (but assumed) financial need here … and we don’t address that in our description of student member, but other societies do. I’m not necessarily stating that we should, but we aren’t very restrictive really in terms of who qualifies as a student member …some guidelines, but hardly really difficult for someone legitmately pursuing a degree in TC …

  • Financial need is part of it. But I also view student membership as a teaser rate to convince students to try our product at a time in their lives when STC membership is particularly valuable to them. The point of the teaser rate is to give your customers the full experience and convince them that they can’t live without your product (or at least that it’s worth the full price).

    I think the proposed bylaw amendment is essentially redefining “student member.” Instead of being a separate membership class, it would be a separate rate available to all qualifying students regardless of their financial circumstances.