STC Summit 2012: The certification perspective

Ever since last year, when we announced that the STC certification program was “open for business,” I have been thinking of this year’s Summit. My goal was to step up to the podium at the opening general session and announce the first Certified Professional Technical Communicators™. It motivated me through a year of committee meetings, establishing policies and procedures, contract negotiations, beta testing, budgeting, and evaluation.

On Sunday, May 20, the vision came true! But it was only through a year of hard work by everyone working for the Certification Commission (mostly as volunteers), and it only happened at the end of several days of intensive pre-work in Chicago before anyone but the STC staff was even on site.

The certification commissioners actually arrived on Wednesday, and we spent all day Thursday and Friday in working meetings. Kathryn Burton, who’s a certification commissioner in addition to her duties as STC Executive Director, was essentially in two places at once, participating in our meetings and preparing for the STC Board meetings; I don’t know how she did it, but she did. Liz Pohland, by day the editor of Intercom and in her spare time (hah!) our staff liaison, was also present and fully involved. While we were at it, we also evaluated some late entries.

On Saturday, when the STC Board first convened, I presented the Commission’s first-year results and financial statement to them. They asked some pointed questions about costs and projections, which is only appropriate.

On Sunday afternoon I rehearsed my presentation. I had to coordinate with Barbra Sanders and Steve Skojec of the staff to cross-check the up-to-date list of certificants against the list of Summit attendees, and ensure that everyone was working off the latest script. I went over everything: going up on stage, looking out at the audience, speaking clearly, gesturing, posing for the photographer, walking down the stairs without tripping.

Finally the moment arrived: the opening general session! I announced the names of the first CPTC™ recipients:

Speaking at the Opening General Session
For the second year in a row I was privileged to address the opening general session (photo courtesy STC)

Over the past year our volunteers have spent countless hours developing a solid, high-quality credentialing program that benefits you as a practitioner and elevates our profession as a whole. Today is an important day for the profession and for the Society. Today, we introduce the first practitioners who have taken this important step and made a difference in their careers by earning the Certified Professional Technical Communicator™ credential…

Now, let’s take a moment to recognize the first CPTC™ certificants. I’m happy to say that some of our certificants are with us this evening, and I’m delighted to invite them up to receive the first CPTC™ certifications!”

Stephen Daugherty
Stephen Daugherty, CPTC (photo courtesy STC)
Michael Opsteegh
Michael Opsteegh, CPTC (photo courtesy STC)
Cheryl Taylor
Cheryl Taylor, CPTC (photo courtesy STC)

For each of the eight charter recipients we displayed a slide with their name and photo. For the three who were actually in the audience, we put their certificates into plaques for the formal presentation. The first few people I named weren’t at the Summit. But Stephen Daugherty was, and he became the first person to receive a CPTC™ certificate, followed by Michael Opsteegh and Cheryl Taylor. We hadn’t had the chance to rehearse this part, but I think it went well.

(Rookie presenter mistake: I forgot to let Stephen and Cheryl hold their plaques for the photos. Michael, who evidently has a little more experience in these matters, grabbed it.) We also made up a supply of buttons for their conference badges, and I handed one to each of them along with their plaques.

I was deeply gratified by the audience’s warm reaction and support. From the look on their faces, I can tell that Stephen, Michael, and Cheryl felt the same way. Me? I get terribly self-conscious smiling for a photo, so you can’t tell from looking, but I was very happy for them, and very satisfied to know that five years of effort on my part, and literally a generati0n of work by a succession of STC volunteers, had come to fruition.

When I finished my prepared remarks I started to leave the stage. But I noticed the TelePrompTer scroll up “Steve ad lib,” which wasn’t in the rehearsal script… Then STC President Hillary Hart, who had been standing to one side during the presentation, unexpectedly called me back to the podium. When she started to describe the President’s Award, I realized she was talking about me.

President's Award announcement
Surprise! Hillary Hart had something for me as well (photo courtesy STC)

 

(Turns out Steve Skojec had prepared two sets of scripts, and two sets of slides, to keep me in the dark about the award while I was at the rehearsal. Sneaky! The staff went so far as to post a lookout at the door while they rehearsed the actual award presentation. And boy, did he let me know afterwards about the extra work they went through 8^)

Some people have asked me if I knew I was going to get the award in advance. I did not. I’ll tell you, though: while it may have my name on it, without the work of all the volunteers and staff associated with the Commission—some of whom I’ve mentioned here but more of whom I haven’t—my name would never have crossed Hillary’s mind.

 

 

 

 

After the keynote speaker finished the action moved to the welcome reception in the exhibit hall, where the Certification Commission had a booth. That first evening was a happy blur, but over the course of the next two days fellow commissioner Karen Baranich, my friend Taryn Light, I, and others logged quite a few hours at that booth.

Commission booth at the exhibit hall
Commissioner Karen Baranich and I staffing the Commission booth in the exhibit hall (photo courtesy STC)

Throughout the conference I saw people approaching Stephen, Michael, and Cheryl to congratulate them, which made them very happy. Me too!

Michael Opsteegh poses with his plaque
The recipients were delighted to show off their accomplishment at every opportunity during the Summit (photo courtesy STC)
Stuffed bear with "I'm certifiable!" pin
In large and small ways, we generated certification buzz

We were collectively sucessful at generating buzz about certification, in both large and small ways. Believe me, I noticed! Here’s a small example. Meanwhile, Debra Zhang, a Boston University graduate student and energetic marketing intern, was  steadily tweeting about certification-related events. A monitor outside the exhibit hall  ran TweetDeck during the conference, and it seemed that every time I walked by she had just posted something. (Two of her tweets, the ones with the CPTC™ logo,  appear in the upper right of the display below.) Even better, other people were tweeting us up as well.

Certification traffic on TweetDeck
Our crack marketing team kept up a steady flow of tweets

 

Not apropos of certification, but a personal highlight, was participating in the return, after a four-year hiatus, of the Music Jam on Monday night, which gave me another chance to perform with the Rough Drafts (founders Tommy Barker and Rich Maggiani, new member Viqui Dill, and guest Robert Hershenow). How seriously do I take my music? At lunch on Monday I went over the lyrics of “I Saw Her Standing There” to make sure I didn’t forget anything (as if…!). It was the same stage I’d been on, um, the night before, but for me it was just as much fun the second time!

The return of the Open Jam
Singing at the Music Jam with the Rough Drafts (shown: Tommy Barker and Viqui Dill) (photo courtesy STC)

I wasn’t done yet. The Certification Commission had three presentation slots during the conference: a ten-minute mini-session at STC Central in the exhibit hall; my Tuesday presentation (“What is Certification?“); and Vice-Chair Rob Hanna’s thorough presentation (“How Do I Get Certified?“) on Wednesday. We had also prepared a brief video, produced by Jared Rushanan, that condensed my presentation and ran at STC Central during the conference. I thought all our live presentations went very well, and am encouraged that the versions posted to SlideShare.net have since received more than 1,500 views between them!

At the pre-Banquet reception
Nearly off the clock…! With some Boston friends at the reception before the Honors Banquet (L to R): Helen Stavely, Steve, Ellen Lidington, Rick Lippincott (New England Chapter president), and Taryn Light

At the Honors Banquet on Tuesday night, I met Andrew Malcolm, a former STC secretary and past head of the STC Certification Task Force from 1982 to 1986. Andy was one of the many who kept the certification flame alive, and he was gracious in congratulating us on reaching the end of a road that he had moved us so far along.

Andrew Malcolm
Speaking with Andy Malcolm, head of the STC Certification Task Force in the 1980s (photo courtesy STC)

Finally, this is how well things went: during the banquet W. C. Weise introduced me to Judith Hale, president of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). She congratulated us on our certification program, and as we were chatting I remembered where I’d heard her name:

Steve with Judith Hale, ISPI president
Speaking with Judith Hale, president of ISPI (photo courtesy STC)

 

“Didn’t you write a book on certification?” Yes, she said, she had.

“Wasn’t it titled Performance-Based Certification?” Why yes, it was.

“That’s the book we used to plan our certification program!”

I mean, how often do you think to say the exact right thing?

Published by Steven Jong

I am a lifelong technical communicator, a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), a former STC board member, and chair of the first STC Certification Commission. I occasionally blog about these and other topics.

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