Monday, March 02, 2009

The 2009 Techsoret Technical Writing Conference

Last Thursday I attended the Techshoret conference on Technical Writing in Israel. In addition to the opening and closing remarks, there were four tracks with four lectures in each track. There were a little more than 100 attendees and around 8 exhibitors.

My boss, Miriam Lottner of Tech-Tav, was one of the exhibitors and one of the first speakers in one of the tracks. I figured her lecture would be good and I would be able to hear about it later, so I tried another lecture instead. Whenever I got bored in one track, I skipped over to another. In all, I got the gist of 8 of the lectures.

They were generally poor quality. The topics were somewhat interesting but either the presentations or the presenter were poor. You got the feeling that Techshoret had scrounged for, rather than been glutted with a surplus of, speakers to fill track time.

In one case, the presenter simply read, line by line, the powerpoint presentation. I could read faster than she could speak, and it was physically painful to watch. In another, the presentation was good but at an incredible low level. A quarter of the way through his allotted time, he was still going point by point as to how and why one could use the Internet for marketing. The internet is good for networking and spreading your message, by the way.

In another, the presenter presented a very simplistic idea, and couldn't convey to the audience why he was presenting this nor what the point was, and the presenter couldn't understand why no one understood. Very frustrating. One lecture presented a DITA case study, which wasn't too bad, but much of the time was spent finding the menu items on which to click rather than solidly covering the material. In another otherwise good lecture, the lecturer gave some good analogies, but spent far too long on them before returning to his main topic; at least at the end of it I came away with new and interesting information, the only lecture about which I can say that.

I caught the tail end of Miriam's lecture which was good, as expected. Throughout the day people came to her telling her how good it was. It has since spawned online discussion, a new blog, a new Facebook group, and a new meeting to address her topic. Considering the lectures that I went to instead, I'm very sorry to have missed it. Hopefully I can catch the online version.

Suggestions: Better not to have a conference, or a scaled down one with fewer tracks, than to fill up slots with speakers who can't present. Presenters, please learn how to present. Please pick interesting points, clearly label them as "very basic", "advanced", or "entirely new", and concentrate on those points only. Don't ever put more than 6 words on any power point slide. And don't ever repeat more than one of these words in your presentation.

5 comments:

A Soldier's Mother said...

Hi Yehuda,

Sorry you didn't enjoy the conference. Considering how much time you spent sitting in the hallways, I didn't even realize you were attending ANY sessions, but certainly, as this is your blog, you have the right to comment as you wish. Others who wish to read about the conference are welcome to go to the WritePoint staff blog (www.writepoint.com/blog) where we live-blogged on the day of the conference and will be adding more articles about the conference to the Techshoret website so you can judge for yourselves what happened there.

Just to correct at least one of the mistakes in your post...there were actually well over 100 people at the conference - actually we just topped 150 with a few last minute attendees (I have the names and payments to prove this and the caterer who planned for 150 people and was shocked that he had NOTHING left over can confirm this as well).

We actually had some fantastic speakers and if you'd actually stayed for the entire presentations instead of trying to judge and run...you might have gained valuable knowledge and a better perspective. Certainly, the overall feedback was very positive. We'll be posting some comments on the website - www.techshoret.com shortly.

Finally, the networking opportunities were fantastic, the feedback was excellent and we were thrilled overall with the presentations. I expect you'll always have someone who wants to belittle the work of others - I'm sorry you chose to do that here. One final comment - we had more offers for presentations than we could accomodate, turning down several good topics simply because we had already confirmed the extensive program. Our speakers are among the best known in Israel, on each of their topics and we balanced that with some new people, it is true. As with all conferences, there will be a session here or there that could have been better...but there is no way you couldn't have easily and quickly found a satisfactory session to attend...if your goal was to find the positive and not the negative.

Yehuda said...

ASM: Thanks for the feedback. Everyone is welcome to check out alternative perspectives on the Writepoint site.

I feel that my criticism was fair and accurate regarding the sessions that I attended. Reserved even. I was far less reserved when describing my reactions at the conference itself.

I went to the ISOC conference last week, and the presenters and presentations were mostly excellent. I say that only to support that I don't "want to belittle" the work of others. But I paid money for the conference, as did others, and it's fair to offer constructive criticism and complain about what I saw as poor quality.

I agree with you as to the networking; I enjoyed a discussion over lunch.

A Soldier's Mother said...

No problem. You are welcome to your opinion - I can only go by the 100 or so feedback forms I got, which were generally positive. with the exception of two (out of 16 presentations), scores were rated quite high - with averages in the range of 3.7-4.6 out of 5 for both the presenters and the presentations. While Miriam's presentation did rate highly, it was certainly not the only one that received excellent feedback...and wasn't even the one that received the highest rates. I would say those who properly read the presentation descriptions and choose which to attend according to their levels, had excellent experiences overall. If you went to a basic presentation (and these really were obvious based on the descriptions and didn't need a label saying "basic" or "advanced"), you can't really complain that it was basic. If you went to the second in a series and missed the first one, you can't really complain that you didn't understand the basics.

Finally, if you managed to critique all four sessions during a single track period of 1.25 hours, I would suggest that you probably failed to really attend any of them and that might well have influenced your opinions. Since there were four sessions going on simultaneously for each of the four time slots, there was much to choose from and the overwhelming response to the conference was that it was run professionally and was generally an excellent experience. I think, perhaps, the main difference between your opinions and the bulk was in the attitude and expectations. I kind of have the feeling that you went to look for the bad, rather than hope to enjoy or actually learn something.

Anyway, I just wanted to correct you on the numbers - as the administrator of the conference, all you had to do was ask and I could have told you how many people there were (or, you could have counted the tables at lunch - there were 16 tables with 10 seats at a table - simple enough so your error in the numbers just gives the impression that you were indeed attempting to belittle rather than really "report" about the TCC.

Finally, what you failed to mention, is the unique nature of the conference - its having catered to all technical writers in Israel, the fact that we choose to offer a high level of kashrut so that no one was excluded; that we covered both tools as well as concepts, and that we brought in speakers (who did an amazing job) who are recognized as experts in the industry. Katriel/Alex/Joe - three of the best known names in Israel in the field of DITA/CMS got excellent reviews. Jacob Richman in social media networking has defined Internet business for years in Israel; Shlomo Perets and Acrobat 9. Debi who got rave reviews, etc.

You don't find better in Israel for any of these topics and Techshoret was honored to host them. To anyone reading this blog...I seriously suggest you review comments that will be posted on the Techshoret blog or ask someone who really attended the sessions to get a more balanced review...because, sorry Yehuda, this one just doesn't rate in my book. Yes, I might be a biased source, as coordinator of the conference, but 100 feedback sheets don't lie (or have an agenda other than enjoying a day to network and learn).

HaBayit said...

Paula Stern, aka A Soldier's Mother, needs a better proofreader and personality. Don't take her comments personally; she treats everyone this way!

kellibrown said...

Yehuda,
Thanks for linking to the new blog! Miriam's talk was excellent and I hope we can build on the momentum. Let me know if you would like to contribute to the blog at Innovators Wanted.
Kelli Brown