Technical communicators face many of the same challenges that confront information professionals when it comes to staying Future Ready in a profession that changes constantly. We reached out to a group of prominent movers and shakers in the profession and asked how they manage their careers, and these are their stories.
Copyright © 2001 by John V. Hedtke
One of the great advantages of the STC—indeed, of any professional organization—is that you can network with other people. Fame—being well-known and nothing more—can make networking easier and extend your own networking reach. Fortunately, it’s not hard to become famous and it’s a lot of fun. Here’s how:
1. Go to things!
Don’t sit home alone watching TV. Go to conferences. Go to meetings. Go to lunches and picnics. Participate in group activities. You don’t need to volunteer for hard jobs—indeed, that’s the harder way to be famous; besides, you’ll be asked plenty about volunteering as time goes by and your fame increases—but do pitch in for things.
2. Meet people.
Fame is largely a function of who knows you. Get out and meet as many people in your profession as you can. As your network grows, you’ll discover that people know you that you don’t know and you don’t even know the people that they say they heard about you from. You don’t need to be the life of the party, but be interesting.
Good listeners are hard to find and will make themselves welcome almost anywhere. Men in particular have a cultural tendency to interrupt. If you make a point of listening to whatever the other person in a conversation is saying until they’re all done and then replying, you will differentiate yourself from 99% of the rest of the world. (Hot tip for men: being a good listener will do you worlds of good in your relationships, too.)
4. Remember peoples’ names.
Everyone likes to think they’re special and they’ve made an impression on someone else. Try to remember as many names as you can. When you do the business card swap with people, be sure to make notes on business cards about who the person is, when you met, or what you talked about as a trigger to memory, too.
5. Speak at events.
Fame is largely a function of who knows you. Being a speaker at events is one excellent way of getting people to know who you are and what you think about things. Don’t forget to answer questions and talk to as many people afterwards as you can.
6. Publish articles.
Articles get your name out to a wider range of people than doing public speaking. It’s also a different audience, too: the folks that hear you speak are the ones who, like you, like going to conferences. The people who read articles are going to be the ones who stay at home (and the ones who go to the conferences and enjoy learning everything they can about the profession).
7. Have some opinions.
Having opinions is part of being human. You don’t have to tailor your opinions to what is popular, but you should be willing to discuss your point of view with other people.
8. Be ready to disagree with people appropriately.
Having opinions is part of what makes other people human, too. Your opinions are guaranteed to brush up against someone else’s opinions. It will broaden your horizons to hear that someone disagrees with you keenly on some fundamental issue (even if you’re sure in your heart that they’re a jerk for doing so <G>). Be professional in your disagreements and try to accept the people that disagree with you. As Hedtke’s Law says, a person who doesn’t offend somebody couldn’t possibly interest anybody.
9. Make connections between people.
One of the values of being known by a number of people is that you can make connections between people and increase the networking. For example, as your own circle grows, people will often ask you questions like “How can I get started in this business?” or “Who do you recommend I talk to for a job?” Knowing a lot of people allows you to introduce people in your network to each other, making them happy and increasing your own prestige in the process.
10. Have fun.
Being famous is really all about extending your reach. It’s great for hearing about that next job or finding someone with hard-to-get technical information. Fame even lets you get a free drink or lunch occasionally, but it’s not a substitute for having a life of your own. Relax and have fun with it.
Fame is not a zero-sum game. Everyone can be well-known if they want to be. Because of this, never make the mistake of assuming that because you’re famous you’re entitled to more than anyone else. And remember that it’s not enough to be famous just for being famous; you need to be famous because you actually have something that you do reasonably well. If you forget to do things for yourself, you will soon discover that you don’t have anything new to offer… and you’ll become a parody of what you once were.
John Hedtke runs JVH Communications (http://hedtke.com), a technical communications and consulting company, and Double Tall Press (http://doubletallpress.com), a nonfiction publishing company. He also runs “Hey, kids! Become an author at home in your spare time and earn big bucks!” (http://tradebookauthor.com), a blog for nonfiction authors. John has written 26 books.