STC Elections This Week! Vote By 21 March 2014!

March 11, 2014

Day 11 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is currently holding its annual election for the Board of Directors and Nominating Committee. You can read about the election and candidates at

We have a great slate of candidates this year! Please take the time to review their qualifications and to vote.

These positions are key to helping the Executive Director and the staff meet STC’s strategic goals and fulfill its mission statement. Yet, less than 16% of the membership typically votes. Let’s change that this year and increase participation and engagement.

The new Board and Nominating Committee will be sworn in at the annual meeting on 19 May 2014. I will be Society president in 2014-15.

Note: You must be a member in good standing as of 31 January 2014 in order to vote in the Society level elections. If you meet the criteria and did not get an email with voting instructions, please contact the STC office.

global communication, language, localization

Meeting People Where They Are: Speaking Their Language

March 10, 2014

Day 10 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

(This post originally appeared as a comment on Val Swisher’s blog, Content Rules, on Feb 11, 2012. The post was called. “Everyone Speaks English, Right?”)

One poster on Val’s blog commented that, if you want to truly connect with people, you have to meet them where they are, and do it in their language. I’m a firm believer that many (if not most) of the problems we have on this planet are a direct result of poor communication and lack of cultural understanding.

Language by the Numbers

To put some numbers around this, as of 2012, approximately 1.9 BILLION people spoke Chinese as their native language, compared to 406 Million who spoke Spanish natively or 335 Million who spoke English natively ( Millions more people speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language, but at what level of fluency?

Speaking of fluency, here are some numbers that provide context:

  • Basic Oral: 2,000 words; this is the level of a 1.5-2 yr old and, while you can get your needs met, it’s difficult to have a real conversation.
  • Basic Written: 3,000 words. You can read street signs and maybe a simple children’s book. You can probably understand basic oral directions.
  • Technical: 4-5,000 words. You can understand technical terms in your specialty, most safety and warning information, and simple instructions. You would struggle to understand most user’s documentation. You can have simple conversations
  • University texts: 10,000 words. You could follow most discussions and understand the textbooks (with lots of help from a dictionary).
  • Fluent: 20,000 words. You can have conversations on a variety of topics, read literature and articles in the language and communicate effectively with native speakers. You probably still struggle with idioms and some cultural nuances, however.
  • Native Speaker(adult): 30-40,000 words. This is an average. Translators, people in Tech Com and others who work with words regularly often have a higher vocabulary. (

BTW, Google estimates that there are over 1 million words in English as of 2011. (

There are also different kinds of fluency: comprehension (listening), speaking, reading, writing. People tend to progress in one area faster than others, depending on their learning style and on what they are exposed to most…

The Bilingual Brain

Then, there are the studies that have come out recently that indicate that learning multiple languages helps your brain be more flexible and has a protective component against dementia (see Science News, search “bilingual” or “language acquisition”

Even if you aren’t fluent, it’s just more polite to at least attempt to interact in the local language. You will get better service, maybe make a new friend, and have a lot of fun (especially if you can laugh at yourself). In addition, knowing even the basics of another language and culture can help you create better content.


consulting, working virtually

Working Virtually: The Extravert’s Dilemma

March 9, 2014

Day 9 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

I am an extravert living the life of an introvert; I work from a home office, often with only my dogs to talk to. On those days, I sometimes pounce on my poor introverted husband the second he walks in the door because I need to see live humans and talk to them. He, on the other hand, has spent the day talking and interacting and would just like to shut down for a few minutes. When my husband goes out of town for several weeks (like he is now), it’s even more challenging.

Don’t get me wrong; I actually love working from home, and like being alone—just not constantly. I need to see people; that’s where I get my energy—from the interactions I have with live humans.

“Help I’m Talking and Can’t Shut Up” Syndrome

The problem is, and I think this is true for a lot of extraverts, if I don’t get enough live human time, I come down with “help I’m talking and can’t shut up” syndrome. It isn’t pretty…Symptoms include a buzzy feeling, a mouth that goes at the speed of sound, brain going at warp speed, talking without stopping for breath, dominating the conversation, bouncing from topic to topic, interrupting someone else’s cool story to add your own anectdote, etc. Behind the symptoms is often a fear of being invisible (yes, introverts, extraverts have social fears, too.)

And, when the syndrome happens, it has the opposite effect of what I want, which is to learn about the other person, exchange ideas, and get to know them better, as well as to be seen and acknowledged. Instead, I overwhelm them with my enthusiasm, ideas, and need to talk, which then causes them to back away slowly as they search for escape.


This post is for all of you extraverts who find yourselves in a similar situation. Here are some strategies for preventing this deadly syndrome:

  1. Schedule face time into your day every day. Whether it’s your a visit with your local barista, lunch with a friend, or meeting a local client, see people every day. Block time out of your schedule if you have to, but make it a priority.
  2. Enlist a buddy to help you. I have a couple of equally extraverted friends that I try to connect with at the beginning of conferences for a gab fest. This helps run the motor down for the other interactions with my more introverted colleagues.
  3. Practice meditation to ground yourself. I know this seems counter-intuitive; after all, meditation is generally a solitary activity. But, before you go out to a meeting or gathering, take 10 minutes to ground yourself and take deep cleansing breaths. Picture how you want the day to go. Find a calm center.
  4. If you catch yourself displaying symptoms, take a deep breath, smile at the other person, and ask them a question. Then, listen without interruption to their response (this can be hard if you are really wound up and excited about the topic). Keep practicing, and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect at it.
  5. Count to 10 before jumping in. Doing so will help you avoid interrupting people and to make sure that they are finished speaking. Especially if you are with an introvert, focus your energy on drawing them out and letting them talk.
  6. Maintain variety in your life. Make sure you are feeding your whole self: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sides. Try to do one small thing a day in each area. When we work virtually, we tend to get stuck in our heads too much. Eventually, this leads to burnout. Having variety also keeps us from feeling isolated.
  7. Smile and be friendly to everyone. Running errands and doing chores can be an opportunity to see people. I chat with the cashier at the grocery store, tell new moms that they have cute babies, wave at the neighbor, and so on. I make sure that people who look lonely or sad know that they are seen and acknowledged. It can’t hurt, and it might make someone feel less isolated. It makes my day when someone smiles at me as I walk by.
  8. Step away from the phone and social media. We have to be connected to that stuff for our profession, but we need to step away once in awhile and really look at our immediate surroundings and the people we are with. Be fully present when people are in your presence.

What do you do to keep yourself sane?

I’ve talked enough. Now, I want to hear from you. What do you do to keep yourself sane? What’s the hardest part for you about working virtually? What’s the best part? What are your experiences?


31-Day Blogging Challenge: Who are the Bloggers?

March 8, 2014

Day 8 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

Today, I finally had time to look at the list of bloggers who joined me on the blogging challenge, which is being led by Lesa Townsend. I actually read at least one post by each blogger.

Most of the participants are women who do some form of life coaching (spiritual, physical, business, dating, etc.). There are also a couple of homeschooling mommy bloggers and fashionistas, plus 2-3 business consultants and 2-3 male bloggers. About half were work-related blogs and half were personal. Brenda Huettner and I are the only Technical Communicators on the list.

What struck me was not the wide difference in politics, approach, focus, or writing skill. But rather, I was struck by the common themes, expressed by almost everyone, either in their posts or in their About pages:

  • Make the world better by your actions and presence.
  • Be conscious in your dealings with others.
  • Be kind.
  • Have a gratitude attitude.
  • Our stories matter and are part of what makes each of us unique.
  • We all want to be heard and understood.
  • Many of us have quirky, interesting hobbies and interests.
  • We all have something to contribute.
consulting, inspiration, mentoring, thought leaders

Mentor Highlight: Pam Slim

March 8, 2014

Day 7 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I do a lot of mentoring in technical communication. Today, I want to give a shout out to Pam Slim, a business coach who has an awesome blog: It’s one of the few blogs that I read religiously.

She recently published her second book, Body of Work, which I contributed to by periodically answering a few questions about my experiences.  Pam and I have never met in person (though I hope to fix that when I’m in Phoenix for the STC Summit in May). And yet, she is one of my mentors.

In her blog, she shares her great advice, connects us to other thought leaders in business, and is unflagging in her support of people wanting to run their own businesses. In addition, she exhibits values that I admire: integrity, inclusivity, generosity of spirit, a genuine desire to make the world better, curiosity, plus she’s funny. I love that she calls her stepparents “bonus parents” and that she calls herself a “bonus kid”. (I hope my bonus kids feel that way about me some day.)

It’s almost like she reads my mind with her posts…I will be worried about something or wondering something, and then her post on that very topic shows up in my in box. It’s like a breath of fresh air and a respite from drinking from the firehose of the interwebs. She makes me think, too.

My copy of Body of Work just arrived; I’m going to go read it now…