By Natalie Ward | STC Member
As someone who attended STC's Technical Communication Summit & Expo twice before, I had an idea of what to expect when I registered for this year's Summit. I knew I would meet great people, learn from leaders in the industry, and have a lot of fun along the way. What I didn't know was that the 2018 Summit would be the most relevant conference for me—personally and professionally—that I have ever attended.
My Summit experience consisted of a series of smaller surprises as well, the first of which occurred upon my arrival. When my taxi from the airport pulled in front of the Hyatt Regency Orlando, where the Summit was being held, I didn't think that the hotel took up the entire space of the massive building (or buildings?) in front of me. After checking in, however, I was handed a map of the Hyatt that proved me wrong. As I made my way to the Registration area the following morning, I was walking so far that I thought I might have gotten lost in the sprawling lower level of the hotel, but I forged ahead. I was relieved to see signs for the STC Summit as I got closer to Registration. I made a mental note to budget more time for the trek between my room and our group of conference rooms, and I wondered if this year's Summit would have the same kind of personable, close-knit feel that other Summits had.
My worries were put to rest almost immediately with my first pre-conference workshop, “Your Future in Management.” Before the presentation started, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. I realized I was among others in my field who were trying to build the same skills, and everyone was candid about the concerns they were hoping to address by attending the workshop. I knew then that this year's Summit would allow me to form connections just as easily as I had in previous years.
After getting insight and reassurance from the workshop—and after giving walking directions to other bewildered attendees during the midday break—I attended my second pre-conference workshop of the day, “Temperament-based Strategies for Excelling in the Workplace.” I was familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and believed in its potential applications in the workplace and outside of it, but the research presented during the workshop made me realize just how specific and impactful those applications could be. While learning about the strengths, stressors, and stress-relief methods of each personality type, we also got some insight into our own personality types and the types of others in the room—lots of them started with “I,” meaning “Introverted.” As a life-long introvert, I felt comforted to be around so many others who could relate to being in the minority among their more extroverted colleagues and the American population in general. It didn’t hurt that we had some fun activities that showed how people’s problem-solving approaches could be predicted from their personality types. I don’t want to give away too much, but one of them involved M&Ms, which was unexpected and provided a nice energy boost.
The pre-conference workshops set the tone for the rest of my Summit experience. One of the great aspects of the Summit lies in its flexibility—each year, it offers many different sessions and activities to choose from over the course of two and half days, which lets you customize your schedule to meet your needs. For me, two dominant themes emerged this year: introversion and leadership. My Monday morning session, “The Introvert in the Workplace: Becoming an Influencer and Leader,” combined those two themes. We learned how the stereotypical Western idea of a “leader,” which centers around an extroverted, often larger-than-life personality, overlooks the benefit of more considered, reflective approaches. To be truly effective, leaders need to listen with the intent of understanding what’s being said rather than determining the “right” thing to say next. Listening for the sake of listening, which is characteristic of introverts, helps leaders to find connections—both between concepts and among people—that enable teams to achieve their goals. Because of their focus on their team members, introverted leaders can find ways to foster a shared vision and create a “safe space” where people feel encouraged and empowered to stretch beyond their comfort zones. These ideas and others were expanded upon in other sessions, including “Leading Your Team: A Survival Horror Guide,” a panel discussion on management and project management, and “Moving Content Through the Workflow: Frustrations and Fixes.”
For me, the environment created by the STC and the attendees at the Summit served as a “safe space” in and of itself. So much so, in fact, that I tried improv for the first time during a session called “Yes, And…: Improv’ing your Corporate Communication Skills.” While I doubt that I have a future in improv, I’m glad I gave it a try, especially since I hadn’t planned on doing so when forming my schedule for the Summit. I was also pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to talk to other (mostly introverted) attendees during various dinner gatherings, both the ones that occurred spontaneously and Tuesday’s Diner Meetup (organized by STC’s Florida Chapter). I left the conference with genuine connections with people across the country that I plan on maintaining outside the Summit. I’ve already been in touch with several attendees via LinkedIn and Slack, which has helped to maintain the sense of inclusion that was central to my conference experience.
In short, the 2018 STC Summit gave me the perspective and energy I needed to maximize the opportunities available to me at my workplace. I can say that I came pretty far during the conference—in addition to walking over 13 miles to and from sessions and dinners, I learned how to turn what seemed to be personal limitations into tools. Most of all, I experienced firsthand the importance of being open to new people and experience. They can surprise you and give you the confidence you need to surprise yourself.
* LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/natward/
Natalie Ward has Bachelor's degrees in English and Computer Science from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master's Degree in Professional and Technical Communication from NJIT. She has been working as a technical writer and communicator for over 7 years. During that time, she has gained experience in the areas of translation, localization, and content management, among others. Natalie divides her time between New York and New Jersey, and she enjoys staying active, writing, crafting, and learning new languages.