A Review of the MadWorld Conference -- guest post by Jayna Locke
The technical writing profession tends to be an overall solitary one, and it can be a vacuum. I’m a believer that everyone should attend a conference from time to time. If your company doesn’t have a budget, try to find a way. As writers, we especially need community and the magical mental unblocking that can happen when we get away from our desks.
When I started out as a technical writer, we were a bit of a rare breed and no one talked about conferences. Today we have an embarrassment of riches, with opportunities to talk with other professional communicators about everything from information design to user experience to tools, methodologies, content strategies, content architecture and schemas… the list goes on. (In a nutshell, everything Tom talks about on his blog.) So, why MadWorld?
First, I don’t work for MadCap Software, and I’m not putting in a plug. I’m just going to tell you why I attend.
What brought me to my first MadWorld
It all started four years ago, in the spring of 2014, when my team was immersed in a search for a single sourcing tool that would allow us to gain control over our large and cumbersome content inventory. My company had grown by acquisition. And along the way, almost every time a new document needed to be created, the writer duplicated an existing document and made the relevant changes in the copy.
This had happened hundreds of times. Ow. Not only did we have severe quality and consistency issues, but we couldn’t go to any one source location to fix an issue that appeared in multiple documents. We had to fix the issue individually in each and every instance.
As a result of our content duplication problems, we had settled on the DITA architecture as our solution of choice, and were just about to sign on the dotted line to purchase a fancy CCMS (component content management system) and pay big bucks for a developer to write scripts and transforms so we could begin converting our content to DITA components and publish them as documents. But we were shaking in our boots at the prospect of all that work and all that expense.
That spring I attended two conferences, a week apart. I attended a DITA conference in Chicago and the MadWorld conference in San Diego. Truthfully, I felt a little bad about using company funds to go to MadWorld when we had decided on DITA.
But MadWorld changed everything. I spent quite a bit of time talking to people who understood the capabilities of both DITA and MadCap Flare. I also hung out in the Hospitality Lounge, where attendees can get one-on-one technical support from staff members, chatting with the MadCap propeller heads.
And that was when the lightbulb went on. I realized we could do almost everything we could do in DITA, but faster and cheaper and with fewer headaches. I called company headquarters from San Diego and told them to halt the purchase of the DITA CCMS. The moment I returned, we launched into the project to convert our content to Flare. We now have all of our content single sourced, which saves the company bundles of money when it comes to creating new documentation and fixing and updating existing documentation.
Why I go to MadWorld each year
MadWorld is an opportunity to continue learning best practices, hear about other people’s experience with MadCap tools, and learn about new features. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with interesting people from all over the world, and it’s just plain fun. The conference this June will be my fourth conference, and my second time speaking. Every year I have a blast.
So let me break those statements down a bit and provide some more detail.
Here’s where people who use trite phrases like “I can’t stress this enough” use that phrase. The opportunity to attend conference sessions and chat with other people who have figured out really cool tips and tricks is astounding. Each year one of my biggest challenges is choosing which track to attend in any given time slot because there’s so much great stuff.
Fortunately, after the first year I wised up and brought others from my team along with me so we could cover the bases. But if you don’t have that option, you still get all the slides and the audio recordings later.
What will you learn? Here are a few examples:
- I’ve already mentioned single sourcing. While MadCap Flare makes single sourcing easy, there are some important considerations. You may want to create a global project to contain shared content or graphics, for example. It makes sense to put some items in snippets, but you don’t want to go overboard. Also, some single sourcing needs should be addressed with variables, and some with conditions.
- Translation can throw a monkey wrench in the works if you don’t follow best practices, and the result can be extremely expensive. MadCap single sourcing practices can make an enormous difference in translation costs, and using MadCap Lingo can improve the workflow, reduce errors and also save costs.
- Managing your CSS, particularly in a team environment can be tricky. For example, how do you make updates that affect the work of multiple writers? How do you ensure that not just anyone can make changes to your CSS, and that team members don’t over-format their content and over-ride the CSS?
Even if you haven’t decided on MadCap Flare or the other tools in the suite, you will still benefit from learning about best practices in the sessions.
Connecting with other content professionals
Every year it blows me away how I make instant friends at MadWorld. Have you ever gone to a party and realized you have something in common with everyone there, which instantly puts everyone at ease? No? You’d be right that such a party would be a rare find. Well, that has been my experience at MadWorld. Every time I sit down at a table, I’m able to strike up a conversation and find common ground right away.
These are people who are passionate about content. So right there, you’ve got things to talk about. But they are also passionate about letting the tools take on some of the burden of producing content that is well-architected and organized, easy to navigate and searchable. How they do that, based on their team size, content types, company requirements and use of the tools, is not only a ripe topic for discussion, but it’s also a learning opportunity.
It is not uncommon to join a group of people talking passionately about topics like content audits or HTML5 output, with seasoned users freely sharing their knowledge.
Last but not least: the fun
Let me first say that MadCap Software knows the importance of a well-fueled brain. From the opening reception to the closing party, you never need to worry where your meals, snacks and caffeinated beverages are coming from. All meals are supplied, via enormous buffets. There’s also typically an evening event at a local establishment, and the last night ends with a great party and games.
There’s also a MadWorld app where you can share great moments and fun pictures, or even ask if anyone wants to share a Lyft ride to Coronado or the airport.
A few recommendations
If you go, here are some things I do each year that I recommend.
- Arrive early. The conference starts on Sunday. I recommend arriving Friday, or at the very latest Saturday. There’s a ton to do in San Diego, from renting bikes and riding along the boardwalk, to hanging out on the beach, to heading to Sea World.
- Schedule time in the Hospitality Lounge. This is your opportunity to pick the brains of the MadCap knowledge experts. Bring a laptop and checklist of questions to ask so you can optimize your time. Even if you don’t have any specific issues to solve, you can sit down and describe your project setup and ask for advice on what you can do more efficiently.
- Bring business cards. There will be people you want to connect with after the event. For example, my team has scheduled lunch and learns with people we met at the conference, to ask questions about their project setup.
- Stay for the Advanced Workshop. There are two good reasons to do this. One is that you get more in-depth knowledge on advanced topics. The other is that if you have been building your MadCap Flare knowledge, you can take this opportunity to get MadCap Flare Certified. This certification is a nice feather in your cap. It can support your career growth if you’re employed, or impress your clients if you’re a consultant.
Thanks for reading. See you at MadWorld!
Learn more about the upcoming MadWorld 2018 conference, taking place on June 3-6 at the Hotel del Coronado.
About Jayna Locke, Content Strategist, Digi International
Jayna Locke is a content strategist with a background in technical communications and digital marketing. Her experience includes content strategy, copy writing, technical writing, and technical publications team management. Her team began dabbling in MadCap Flare in 2013, and moved to full adoption in 2015.
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About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical communication — Swagger, agile, trends, learning, plain language, quick reference guides, tech comm careers, academics, and more. I'm interested in simplifying complexity, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture and findability, and more. If you're a technical writer of any kind (progressional, transitioning, student), be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here. You can also contact me with questions.