Presentations & Sherri Hall's class

Subject: Presentations & Sherri Hall's class
From: Jane S Torpie <handson!boston -dot- handson -dot- com!janet -at- UUNET -dot- UU -dot- NET>
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 1994 11:59:00 PST

Please allow me to share my anecdote of in-class writing criticism and

In my senior year in high school ('80-'81), my AP English teacher had us
reading books (such as Jane Austen's _Emma_) and writing papers about them.
We could choose to answer one of about five essay questions, or we could
suggest another topic and get it approved. This part of the assignment was
a great exercise in setting the scope of the work.

Then each us sat on her chair at her lectern and read our own papers to our
classmates while they took notes on form and content. The author/reader
called on his or her peers. Those who made comments were expected to make a
compliment followed by a suggestion for improvement and to quote specific
sentences for both. Over the course of reading 25 or 30 papers, each person
in the class was expected to contribute to the conversations.

As you can see by my memories of events that took place 13 years ago, this
was quite a formative experience. More than writing, I learned how to speak
in front of my peers, facilitate a dicussion, and expect, give and receive

During my career, I've seen these skills lacking in the documentation
community and have had fewer opportunities or role models than I would have
liked so I could develop my skills. Unfortunately, many people seem to
think that technical commuicators should be seen and not heard, at best.
(Yes, most of us can probably cite instances in which our co-workers would
prefer that we not be seen, or even exist.) To my mind, learning to speak up
(literally!) is essential to having a "voice" in our daily work and in our

When I wanted to attend a user conference, someone in my company told me
that I would have to make a presentation to attend, and intimated that I had
nothing to say. (I did have a topic.) He was astonished when I said that
while my title was "technical writer," my role was "technical communicator,"
and the whole point of the conference was to communicate technical
information to customers. I'll never forget the look on his face! This
person wasn't my manager and didn't really know what I did for the company.
He seemed totally unaware that I could add value to the conference or that
I would even be capable of or interested in addressing customers. If I
hadn't spoken up, he probably never would have thought differently. And if
I hadn't followed through by speaking at the conference (even though it was
a small presentation), he'd never have had reason to believe me.

Creating and making a presentation is difficult, nervous-making work,
especially for the inexperienced. But knowing how to present one's ideas in
person is just as important as knowing how to present them in writing.
Learning these is equally rewarding!

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