LavaCon 2012 has already come and gone, and just like all of the LavaCon conferences before it, this year was fantastic! Hats off to Jack Molisani, who did a wonderful job of organizing this year’s event. It was truly a great success.
This year’s LavaCon ran from Sunday, October 7, through Tuesday, October 9. Though I always attend LavaCon, this year I was going to the conference to serve a dual role. First and foremost, I was there in my usual capacity to represent my company, WebWorks. However, in addition to this role, I was also there as a speaker for one of the LavaCon seminars on how to build profitability into your content workflow. I felt adequately prepared for both of these roles. I have been analyzing strategies and procedures for nearly twenty years now, so talking about how to align them to revenue generation in a TechPub came naturally and was a very exciting opportunity for me. I was looking forward to this conference for a long time, and I would have to say I was very uniquely, totally, absolutely not let down one bit. (Yes, I know that after reading that, you probably have a question mark in your head, but it is a private joke between me and one of my readers—if you check previous comments from past articles, I’ll bet you can figure it out.)
On day one, early Sunday morning, Jack Newman and I headed to the Austin International Airport destined for Portland, Oregon. Now don’t get your Jacks confused; Jack Newman is a WebWorks man who was there to help represent our company, while Jack Molisani is the organizer of the LavaCon event. Both Jacks did an awesome job. Jack Newman and I boarded our plane in Austin and headed west. Going west, we always gain a little time, and with the layover in Salt Lake City, Utah, I felt like I was in a scene from Groundhog Day. It was always nine o’clock in the morning. Eventually, we did manage to arrive in Portland, and what a beautiful city it is. Because of the Portland marathon that same weekend, the city was packed; people were everywhere and involved in some sort of activity. It was an absolutely fantastic way to arrive. To be honest, I was drained from the flight, but seeing so much action really got me charged up, so we set out to set up the booth in the exhibit hall before I took some time to rest and check out the schedule. Jack Molisani always does a good job of bringing topics that are bleeding edge and relevant to his conferences. The five tracks he picked for this year were:
- Project Metrics and Development Team Management
- Content Strategy and Content Management
- Case Studies and Roundtable Discussions
- User Experience and Multichannel Publishing
- eBooks, New Media, and Mobile Devices
Jack also started the conference off this year by presenting “The State of the Industry: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.” I loved it all. I could really see that everyone can sense the changes going on, and they are eager to see those changes. I think this attitude is a shift from previous years, where change has been met with a lot of resistance. One thing that really encouraged me was how many young people I met at the conference. Most of them were college students that were there on their own dime—smart kids that realize in today’s economy, they are looking to vital, growing industries to give them the edge and a better shot at employment upon graduation. I personally believe that technical communication can be that industry; we just need to change our mindset and realign our procedures to get companies to invest in what we do every day.
Day two, Monday, opened up with a keynote panel discussion: “The Content Revolution.” It was a good panel, and I liked most of the questions, but the more presentations I watched, the more I realized that we were still missing one very important topic. This stirred up my excitement level behind my presentation because I felt my presentation covered this very topic. I was scheduled to present at three o’clock that day. It was the first time I would have a co-presenter at a conference of this type. I know strategy and procedures, and I know how to generate revenue from them, but my background is in sales. I really wanted to connect with the audience, and back in June, I had been introduced to Emmelyn Wang. She writes for Dun Bradstreet, and she is also the president of the Austin STC chapter. I felt with her on my team, we would have the expertise and background to really connect with a technical communication audience. Together, we sat down and refined a message to provoke a change in the industry. We went with a different concept than handing out spreadsheets and charts, as we realized that most people in our industry do not have the mindset to talk about revenue. These conversations are had with senior-level management that result in investing dollars. In fact, the conference confirmed this notion in the sense that there were several conversations centered around ROI, and all measures were tied into cost savings. Emmelyn and I understood how critical it was to have a mindset focused on returning revenue instead of cost savings. It is the only way to get growth and an energized new base coming in. Here is an example: When you build a case study that cuts costs, and you implement it, and when you save your boss $20,000 in expenses, you are a rock star. When the next year comes around, your boss looks at you with a smile and says, “If you invest this much money into TechPubs this year, then you will get a 10% revenue increase.” Again, you execute the task, and once again you are a rock star. The following year, your boss comes to you, smiles, and says “How much do you need this year?” That is what a growth cycle feels like, and that is how we build technical communications into the most pivotal department in a company’s success.
Emmelyn knocked it out of the park! I was and am still extremely glad I was given the opportunity to present with her. I cannot wait until we get the opportunity again. I am certain that as long as we keep spreading the word of revenue, as opposed to that of cost, we can promote the changes this industry needs.
I would like to finish this post with a question that someone asked me after our presentation. They were very well aware that I was a vendor exhibiting at LavaCon, and well aware that in my presentation, I spoke more to the mindset of what we need in this industry instead of pitching my product. They wanted to know why I took this route. Here is the reason: I’m a damn good analyst. In fact, I will tell you that I am the best, and I will back it up. What I see when I look at the current state of the industry is one that is dying because it is not used to change. Yes, I understand that content changes all the time, but we get so caught up in the procedure of that changing content that we often lose sight of the other changes around us. Mobile devices will outnumber PCs 5 to 1 by the year 2014 if not sooner. Yet to this day, most people develop their content with a focus around PDF or printed output. Users are evolving beyond that, and this industry has to keep up. If we do it the right way, TechPubs can become the most profitable, most informative, and most pivotal department in a company. When that happens, you will grow, I will grow, and everyone will prosper. I am here to serve, and I am with a company that chooses to serve technical communications, so why in the hell wouldn’t I be doing this?