Technical Writers @ Lisbon (June-2013)

We had 31 registrations, including 21 professionals, 7 teachers, 7 researchers, 3 students, and 1 journalist. We had 26 persons attend the meeting.

We started at 9h15 with brief welcome speeches by Carlos Costa (on behalf of ISCTE and EuroSIGDOC) and Ana Rita Remígio (on behalf of APCOMTEC). Some of the participants were not aware of the existence of APCOMTEC.

Then Joaquim Baptista introduced the four parts of the program for the day: the presentations, the coffee break, the interactive part, and the final report, which includes whatever notes the participants deliver in their "public notes" pages. At the end of the day, we had 19 pages of public notes. Everyone in the room was a Portuguese speaker, so the presentations proceeded in Portuguese.

The presentations started at 9h25. We had planned for presentations of 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of questions, but we exceeded the planned time by almost an hour. We were surprised by the quantity and quality of the questions, and the answers added insight and detail to each presentation.

The coffee break started almost at noon, and we were fortunate enough to have a room right next to a cafeteria. There was lively discussion as people gathered around stand-up tables to talk over coffee, cookies, and sandwiches.

Not surprisingly, a few people called it a day at the break, so we resumed at 12h30 with 18 people. Participants were asked to enter a game: write down three facts about yourself (two true facts, one false fact), then ask others to vote on the false one.

The participants embraced the game and spontaneously organized into three tables of six. One of the tables talked in English since we had a non-Portuguese speaker join the meeting just before the coffee break. Although we expected the game to take half an hour, the game proceeded for a full hour. Later we found out that at least one of the tables was actually playing a harder variation of the game. Lesson learned: next time, we will have to write more clear instructions, and perhaps actually try the game beforehand…

However, the game truly succeeded in engaging the participants, prompting them to reveal little details about themselves that led to interesting follow-up conversations. I truly enjoyed the interaction at my own table, even at the cost of missing what happened in the other tables.

At 13h30 we interrupted the game (by subtly asking "have you looked at your watch lately?") and we moved to the last activity of the day. Joaquim Baptista wrote down the words "meaningful" and "pleasant" in the white board, then asked how we might "make it so" on future events. During 15 minutes of brainstorm, the participants suggested diverse activities such as outdoor activities, getting help on specific issues, stage short debates on controversial issues, and having online activities.

We closed the event by 13h45, then proceeded to rearrange the tables and chairs back into the standard classroom format: three rows of tables facing the whiteboard.

How to have meaningful and pleasant events?

How to make future events meaningful?

  • Present business cases.
  • Show and even demonstrate the tools used by writers.
  • Present a high-level view of the field.
  • Present practical stuff, things that writers could take back to their daily jobs.
  • Present "a day in the life" of a technical writer.
  • Ask for advice on specific difficulties or issues, whether big or small. Perhaps use a discussion group or a poll to identify suitable issues.
  • Cover information architecture, namely how to organize and manage large volumes of information.
  • Cover new trends, new technology, new approaches.
  • Work through a fictitious example as a group, discussing how to address specific issues. Perhaps work through pro-bono work?
  • Complement the events with online discussions. Ana Remígio suggested that we might just use the APCOMTEC group.

How to make future events pleasant?

  • Start events with ice-breakers to warm-up the participants and start conversations sooner.
  • Schedule lunch or dinner.
  • Have the event outdoors.
  • Have 5–7 minute debates about controversial issues. The debates would have to be carefully prepared.

With 17 people in the room, a short poll showed that 14 people used LinkedIn, 12 used Facebook, and 8 used Twitter. We decided to discuss the public report on LinkedIn.

What do the public notes say?

The participants mostly liked the people (6/18), the variety of approaches presented (5/18), and knowing what other professionals are doing (5/18).

The participants made suggestions for improving the content or the format of future events (7/18), followed by mentions of food (4/18) and better control of time (4/18).

What next?

Technical Writers @ Lisbon: The 1st report The first challenge was to create the report, to serve as a reference for future events, to draw other participants, and as a minor compensation for those that could not attend.

The mind-map and the public notes already have useful ideas for future events, which can be further discussed and refined online. The report will be discussed on LinkedIn within the APCOMTEC group, as decided during the event.

At the very least, we already have two potential presenters for future meetings...

Many thanks

I have a personal belief that in Portugal there are many persons doing "technical writing" work, even if they are not aware of the fact themselves, spread through a new class of companies that are far away from what Portugal was in 1950, competing side-by-side with the best companies in the World.

Over a long lunch on May 11th, Carlos and I decided to create in Lisbon a place and time where those people could meet, exchange ideas, learn from each other, and develop a sense of community. ISCTE would provide a neutral ground for the event.

As I reached to friends and professional contacts, the idea received enthusiastic support. We were ready to announce the event within a month, even though a forced change of dates threw off two speakers.

I would like to thank everyone that helped to make this event a reality, whether or not they could attend on June 22nd:

  • Carlos Costa, for providing the material conditions for the event through ISCTE, and an umbrella cover through EuroSIGDOC. His successful series of academic events (OSDOC, ISDOC, and random MOSS talks) are a continuous source of inspiration.
  • Ana Remígio, for instantly supporting the effort, and for taking the official photos. APCOMTEC events convinced me that we have hidden gems in Portuguese corporations that deserve to be brought forward.
  • Jaime Vasconcelos, for getting on board quickly, and then helping to set the course of the event.
  • Aldina Rodrigues, for believing in technical writing and quickly agreeing to fill the last slot.
  • Rosário Durão, for turning my pathetical poster into a most professional one, for being an overall good friend, and for showing how New Mexico Tech is just an email away from Lisbon. She just launched Connexions, an international professional communication journal.
  • Frances Gordon, for the absolutely final demonstration that technical writing in Portugal is not just for the Portuguese. She got betrayed by the change of schedule.
  • Rui Diogo Serra, for being the first believer, unfortunately betrayed by the change of schedule as well.
  • Nuno Pires, for steering me back to APCOMTEC. Having multiple ongoing projects prevented him from joining us as a speaker.

I heard a lot of praise for facilitating the event but, drawing from a chemical analogy, I felt like the catalyst for a latent reaction. The idea had instant support from potential speakers, and the invitation rallied people that were already there. We just had to design a setting to promote their interaction, which they did in the most open and friendly way.

But the open conversations among all won the day. Therefore, my most special thanks goes to all the enthusiastic participants.

As a past member of STC (Society for Technical Communication) for fifteen years, I know that many STC members loved their local chapters for the frequent networking. And I am extremely satisfied with the event, as it already exhibits the kind of quality interactions that will keep me coming back for more.

Institutional support

Technical Writers @ Lisbon has the support of:


Technical Writers @ Lisbon: The 1st report
Report of the meetup. Includes the presentation slides, and more detailed information. 26 pages.
The Call for Participation poster, crafted together with Rosário Durão, which just happens to be working in Socorro, New Mexico (USA). 1 page.