The President’s Corner

The President’s Corner

Debra JohnsonThe President’s Corner

By Debra Johnson, President
Orlando Central Florida STC Chapter


Reprint of my the 2014 May Intercom Article…
“HI, I’M DEBRA JOHNSON, I am the technical communication lead….
What is technical communication, you ask?  I’d be happy to tell you.…”

It’s often not easy to establish relationships with executives in a company, so I am always quick to chat with coworkers during our elevator ride at work. You never know when you’re going to meet someone pivotal to your future, and I believe it’s important to have your elevator speech rehearsed and ready.

What Is an Elevator Pitch?

Even in the best of times it can be hard to get resources for your team—after all, there are only so many financial resources to go around. But the quest for funds can be difficult, if not impossible, when decision makers don’t know what we do or how we add value.  We want them to take notice, especially when trying to establish our worth within a company. When you have the opportunity to speak to a decision maker, even if it’s for just a minute or two, you want to maximize that time. You need to have an “elevator speech” ready for that moment when you have their undivided attention.

According to Wikipedia, an elevator pitch or speech is “a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization, or event and its value proposition.” The name elevator pitch reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver a summary in the time span of an elevator ride, approximately thirty seconds to two minutes. The term itself comes from a scenario of an accidental meeting with someone important in the elevator. If the conversation inside the elevator in those few seconds is interesting, the conversation would continue after the elevator ride, and end in an exchange of business cards, a scheduled meeting, etc.

These mini mission statements can happen in an elevator, a meeting room, in the cafeteria, or at a team-building event—just about anywhere you find yourself explaining what you do. But what is most important, along with your pitch, is to have an example that drives your message home—the numbers, the meat and potatoes. After 20 years in this profession, I have my pitch pretty well mastered; it can adapt to the moment or audience and it usually ties into a frustrating workplace situation, such as information stored on multiple “collaborative document storage sites” with no search capabilities, or deciphering what engineers have written, or information silos.

Those who ask…“What is technical communication?” often attempt to answer the question without waiting for a response. “Is that the same as technical writing?” For me, I simply say, “Well, yes, we do technical writing, but we also do content analysis and design, determine content delivery strategies, perform usability testing, use project management skills, and also counsel others on correct authoring techniques.”

Add an Example

Part of my message usually describes how we have modernized the content creation, delivery, and storage processes, so everyone knows where to go to get the information they need (especially about technology). That message takes two to three minutes to convey. Then, if you have time, add an example that includes numbers. I usually pull from a countless number of examples. However, the one that has proven to be the most effective and easiest to comprehend quickly could apply to any company.

My example comes from past employment, in the form of a company-wide email that was distributed with an attached instruction document. This email announced the company was implementing a new security process and the date it would occur (two weeks in the future). The email had a document attached that an engineer had written instructing how to implement this new process. Two weeks later came the second email giving us the go-ahead to implement. This email referred to the instructions emailed two weeks prior.

Being in IT for most of my career, I was somewhat familiar with this new security process the company was about to implement, so I thought this would be a piece of cake. After finally locating the first email, I tried to follow the instructions the engineer had created. It didn’t work. The instructions (written by an engineer) were missing two steps, the steps that were listed were out of order, and the required prerequisites were missing.

I finally gave up and called the help desk. Within 10 minutes I was up and running, but it was the help desk that had to implement the new process. I still didn’t have the missing or correct information. As you read the rest of this example, keep in mind that each time someone engages the help desk there is a cost to handle that call.

Over the next couple of weeks, the help desk supervisor sent a daily email to IT itemizing all the help desk calls received related to this implementation. In the email, he described how many calls they received each day, how long each one took to resolve, and at level of support.

So far, I have collected these points from which I created my example:

  1. Instructions were written by a non-technical communicator.
  2. The second email distributed to begin implementation did not include the instructions.
  3. Instructions written were incorrect and not tested.
  4. Incomplete or incorrect information resulted in help desk calls.
  5. During a one-week period, the help desk calculated close to 1,000 calls. Based on statistics sent by the help desk supervisor, of these calls 82% were resolved within seven minutes by first-level support.
  6. Based on experience, the average cost for engaging the help desk is $20 per call—more expensive if the call is more complex and has to be routed to the next level support person.
  7. $20 per call multiplied by 820 is $16,400. The incomplete instruction document sent out was a six-page Word document with screen captures. The average time for a technical communicator to review/revise is about two hours per page, so this document would have taken 12 hours to complete and test. Using an average loaded rate of $66/hour, the cost for a technical communicator to review, revise, and test the procedure: $792. The cost comparison? $16,400 (no technical communicator) vs. $800 (with technical communicator)…and that’s the impact of just one document. Imagine the cost savings multiplied by the number of incomplete or inaccurate documents distributed without the benefit of our professional technical communication services. The resulting cost saving is huge.

My Elevator Speech

“Technical communication adds value by providing correct and accurate content that is easy to consume, discoverable, reusable, coordinated with other company content, delivered dynamically, tested for accuracy, and saves the company money.

For example, instructions for a new security process implementation were written by an engineer and distributed company-wide. According to the help desk manager, they received 1,000 help desk calls in five days, with 82% of the calls resolved by level-one support in seven minutes.

These calls could have been deflected if the document had been routed through a technical communicator, corrected, and tested before distribution. So 820 calls times $20 equals $16,400 versus having a technical communicator review, revise, and test in 12 hours at $66 per hour for a total of $792. And that’s just one document.”

Then, I just stand back and watch the light bulb go on.   What’s your elevator speech?

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