Why the EU is Failing

News flash: The very day of this writing, former president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso announced that he has been hired by the banking firm, Goldman Sachs, in a “non-executive advisory role.” Goldman Sachs was the bank that advised former Greek governments how to paper over their excessive debt, and then speculated on that same debt. José Manuel Barroso was EU commission president at the time. You can understand why the average European citizen doesn’t like the EU when news of this sort comes out just after the Brexit vote.

Oh, yes – Barosso’s main job will be to mitigate the impact of Brexit – hah!

Note: This is not part 2 of Brexit, as I promised – that will come soon. I think this is needed first. Warning: it’s very long, this post is – but read it anyway.

In the flurry of post-Brexit hand wringing, I think there is an important point to be made, and the leaders of Europe aren’t going to make it, so I will (never say I don’t have hubris…).

J’accuse !

Yes, I accuse each and every European government, regardless of its political colour, of deliberately fomenting hate for the European Union among its nationals. Most European newspapers and magazines also bear responsibility for this.

Continue reading “Why the EU is Failing”

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The Morning After: Brexit of Champions

How poor communication and The Big Lie affected the referendum in the UK to leave the European Union

Well, well, here we are, cleaning up the mess after the UK has voted to leave the European Union. It was quite a party, the hooligans were out among the lambs, detritus was thrown and left on the ground, hangovers were rampant, and come the mourning after, everyone had to get a grip on in order to keep down their Weetabix.

Apparently, already four million people (as of this writing) have signed a petition asking if they couldn’t just vote again – pleeeeeze. According to a Washington Post article, Britons spent the next day searching on line to find out what the European Union was. You’d think they’d have wanted to do that before they voted, wouldn’t you?

Lie to me

A good piece of the answer to why they didn’t comes with the now time-worn phrase, “The big lie.”

Continue reading “The Morning After: Brexit of Champions”

A Cognitive Design for User Assistance – Comprehensive Links

Update, 17 September 2015: Adobe has a new platform for its recorded webinars. Links to the recordings are now updated and will work correctly.

It is important to follow the Instructions for viewing them, which is also updated.

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I’ve had a number of emails, tweets, and other requests for information on how to get slides or recordings of the webinar series I just finished for Adobe.

Thanks are in order

First off, I need to thank all of you who attended, asked questions, passed me feedback and food for thought.

Thanks also to Adobe for giving me the space and the freedom to present these ideas, and promote the research we are starting to do in The Transformation Society. I’ll be blogging about that more in the near future.

Some Practical Information

Slides are posted as pdf files to Slideshare. You are welcome to use, but not modify, these slide decks, with attribution.

Recordings of the webinars are on the Adobe site – you need to have an adobe.com account to get to them. This will not hurt, I promise 😉 You can get the account for free, and there’s no obligation attached to it.

 Instructions for viewing webinar recordings 

When you click the links to the webinar recordings, you’ll arrive at the webinar description page. Click the “register” button, then fill out the form. You’ll be sent a link that will activate watching. The user experience is less than stellar, but don’t worry about it – just plod through, you’ll end up at the recording, just as we promised 😉

The Links

Session 1: Users Become Learners

Session 2: Empowering User/Learners Through Cognitive Development

Session 3: Integrated Learning: Building Customer Loyalty

 I’ve tested the links, and as of this writing, they all work as advertised.

Enjoy!

 

TCWorld/Tekom and STC TC Summit: Two Realities

Since attending the TCWorld/Tekom conference for the first time last October, I’ve been thinking about how it both resembles and doesn’t resemble the STC Technical Communications Summit, an event that I have attended several times.

I had heard a lot of different opinions about this, and find that my own perception of this first dive into the Tekom world is a bit different from many of the comments I’ve heard. Here are a few of my observations, in no particular order, comparing the two events.

Basic Statistics


Number of days:

  • TCWorld/Tekom: 3
  • STC Summit: 4

Cost (member std rates):

  • TCWorld/Tekom: 650€
  • STC Summit: $1 025

Social Events included:

  • TCWorld/Tekom: Refreshment breaks, lunch every day
  • STC Summit: Refreshment breaks, 2 receptions, 1 lunch

Number of sessions:

  • TCWorld/Tekom: English – 62 sessions, 24 workshops German- 82 sessions, 25 workshops
  • STC Summit: 80 sessions, workshops extra

Post event access:

  • TCWorld/Tekom: Some presentation slides available for download
  • STC Summit: Summit@aClick access to full recordings of most sessions

Both conferences include trade fairs (Tekom’s is many times bigger than STC’s), and vendor showcases. Tekom also includes technology sessions that don’t seem to have a direct equivalent at the STC Summit, though some of these themes are treated in STC regular sessions.

Tekom offers a discounted rate to members of TC Europe member organisations. STC members do not receive a discount. STC, to my knowledge, has no discount programme for members of sister organisations anywhere.

Tekom’s trade fair does not include the innovation of the consultant’s corner, the space reserved for small consultancies that has been quite successful at recent STC Summits.

Content

As Kai Weber has pointed out in his overview of Tekom, it really is two parallel events: one in English, one in German. I have the impression (not totally backed up by observation) that more of the German sessions were oriented to practitioners, and more of the English sessions were oriented towards managers or consultants.

Like the STC Summit, presentations are organised in parallel tracks, and you can follow a single track or skip from one to another, as your needs and interest direct you.

Sarah O’Keefe, who speaks fluent German, said that she preferred to attend more of the German sessions. Her reasoning is that she already knows most of the English presenters, and the German presentations offer a different perspective on the themes that occupy our attention. My German is very rusty, and what remains in my head is just enough for me to feel frustrated when I try to decipher a spoken presentation. I must refresh my German before attending another Tekom event, because I would have very much liked to experience what Sarah was talking about.

Scott Abel organized a content strategy day at TCWorld that I took part in, that was the highlight of the conference for me. As I understand it, this was a new initiative for Tekom, not unlike the effort at the Dallas STC Summit. I would have liked to see a more dynamic followup at the Sacramento STC summit, as I have indicated elsewhere.

A major component of the TCWorld/Tekom event is localisation, and GALA is a partner in the event. The result is that if localisation is not at the centre of your concerns, it will seem that a huge part of the event does not concern you. A very high percentage of exhibitors at the trade fair were also vendors of localisation services, software, etc.

On the other hand, TCWorld/Tekom features a separate “Associations World,” a sort of trade fair for not for profits, for which STC has no equivalent. Exhibitors this year included other technical communication organisations such as ISTC (UK) and organisations from India, Japan, Poland, etc. It’s interesting to note that Tekom, a for-profit organisation, hosts associations, and STC, a not-for-profit, charitable organisation, doesn’t really have an equivalent.

Bottom Line

Both TCWorld/Tekom and STC Summits are great events. They have different characters, based in part on cultural differences, and also on the different business models and size of the two organisations. I am pleased to have been able to attend, and present at, both.

Oral Tech Comm

This, too, is technical communication, and it enters perfectly into the “humanist nerd” camp. This TED talk has made a few rounds, but is worth viewing, or reviewing.

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher who got an insight into her own field through her own stroke.  While this kind of occurrence is dramatic, it is not in itself that exceptional. Many bright people who are researchers have had insights into their own research through a personal accident – the most well-known probably being Sir Isaac Newton’s famous apple.

What makes this one special is the combination of the following:

  • The clarity of the explanation – the technical content.
  • The personal point of view – she describes each of her senses shutting down, one by one, from a first-person point of view that has rarely been possible.
  • The emotion that suffuses the presentation. She manages to communicate an intense personal experience with all its sensations, and at the same time be clear about the scientific part, and for the most part (perhaps not so much at the very end), she manages to keep both clarity and a certain kind of precision in her content, and to convey the human experience.

I’ve noticed some problems using the embedded player, so in case, here’s the URL: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

Lessons Learned:

We technical communicators have come from what used to be called “technical writing.”  We forget, sometimes, that the written word is just one means of communication. We also communicate orally (presentations, webinars, etc. – see my previous post about my experience delivering a webinar for the first time, for example).

The quality of the technical part of the communication – and its ability to stay in the memory of our audience – can often be a function of the human impact (humanistic impact) that it carries.

While this example is probably at the extremes of such a communication, and while some might even criticize the excess of emotion and loss of objectivity, particularly near the end of the talk, it remains a vivid illustration of just how powerful a technical communication can be.

Reflections on Giving a Webinar

Last week, I presented my first webinar, and I think I may have taken away more from the experience than the paying participants!

It should be obvious that a webinar is not the same as a live presentation, but in this experience, I really learned just how different it can be. This webinar, a case study, started as a presentation proposal that got converted into the online format, and I should have modified it much more for the webinar.

It’s about audience expectations. When someone pays $79 or more for a webinar, they have the right to expect they will come out of it with new knowledge, or new resources that will help them learn more.  A case study might provide those things, but it doesn’t do so directly.

Also, when I present at conferences, I’m used to interacting, to getting clues from the faces of my audience. I love the exchange with them. Like a theatre actor playing a first role in the cinema, I found the silence of muted audio was even more challenging than giving a standup lecture course to a crowded amphitheatre of bored students.

In this age of virtual networks and telepresence, we all need to develop our skills in this domain. It will be increasingly important over the next years to know how to present to what might be a vast audience that is, though silent, very actively listening.

Lessons learned: 

  • It’s important to have a web presentation technique, and it needs to be very different from live presentation style.
  • Networking interactively (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) is relatively easy, even if sometimes chaotic. Networking with a vast muted (and invisible) audience requires more preparation and honed skills.
  • Even as a case study, the presentation needed more instructional design with more “how to” content.

For those who attended, and whose expectations might not have been met, my apologies. Next time I do a webinar, I’ll be very conscious of what I’ve learned this time around. We have the right to expect the best of ourselves and of each other, and the experience of mutual learning is a gift.

A Rant About Communication Style

OK, in theory, I should not be writing politics here, this blog is about technical communication.

BUT………………

Recent events in the U.S. bring up a question that is related to communication, albeit not technical.

The recent (yesterday) shooting in Arizona, it seems to me, is a logical conclusion of the hate mongering that began back in the 90’s in U.S. political rhetoric.  While it is not exclusively the domain of the Republican party, it seems to predominate on that side of the political fence.

It started with the hate campaigns launched against then President Clinton.  It started with pure lies (yes, I KNOW they were lies) told by a senior senator and former presidential candidate regarding the Canadian health care system when Hilary Clinton was attempting to cobble together some sort of universal health care plan for the U.S.

I know they were lies because I am a citizen of several countries, including Canada, and have lived under the Canadian health care system – something the U.S. senators have not.

Since that time, the entire tone of political rhetoric has hardened, and become still more aggressive and violent. This includes radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, who function by innuendo and suggestion, without backing up their assertions with facts (who needs them?).

I would remind everyone, that this tactic, known as “The Big Lie,” was admirably practiced by one Joseph Goebbels during a small military skirmish known as the Second World War.

The Reagan and Baby Bush administrations (essentially the same folks) honed these techniques to perfection – see George Lakoff’s admirable analysis, Whose Freedom? for details.

The now notorious cross-hair post on Sarah Palin’s web site that included Gabrielle Giffords as a “target” is a perfect example of the kind of hard rhetoric I’m talking about.

Let’s be clear here – I am not taking a stand for or against any political position in this blog, it’s not the place to do it.  I am making a very loud, protesting cry against the tone and style of political communication in this day and age.

Ms. Palin is entitled to her opinions about universal health care, but she is not entitled to publish inflammatory texts that suggest attacking (however metaphorically) other human beings. When she tweets out “don’t retweet, reload” to the world, this is, in my view, the kind of limitation to free speech that justice Frankfurter referred to when he said the first amendment does not include the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.

I hope Ms. Palin will think twice, three times, and more, before publishing or spouting more “shoot from the hip” aggressive attacks. She should be ashamed.  I fear she won’t be, and that, also, is alarming.

To the Palins, Limbaughs, Becks, Bachmans and other demagogues of media or politics, I say with fervor and sincerity, the fact that someone disagrees with your political position does not render them  a traitor to their country or a bad person.  The fact that you paint them as such, does render you one.

There – I’ve started slipping down the same slope.  Let’s not go there.