The Value of STC

The many rewards of membership cause me to renew every year—for myself and my clients

Think of your life-changing moments. Rewarding, aren’t they? I had one in the spring of 1995 when two local technical writers asked me to join them and others to start the Vermont chapter of the Society for Technical Communication—STC. Sounds worthwhile. Sure, I’ll join.

the-rough-draftsAnd with that simple decision, I embarked on an incredible journey that has enhanced both my personal and professional life far beyond any heights that I could have imagined. To that, I am indebted to STC and its members.

Renewing my membership. I gain so much as an STC member, learning and applying an abundance of skills over these past fifteen years. My career has been enhanced, and my clients have benefited. Membership has opened new venues for me, some that I couldn’t possibly have envisioned. I simply cannot imagine being a professional technical communicator and not belonging to the one organization that supports and promotes that profession—STC.

This is a simple decision for me. I simply rejoin.

The cost of membership. There has been much debate about the dues for membership including belonging to a chapter and a special interest group (SIG). Is STC really worth the price of admission?

I look at this issue two ways. STC dues are about $5.00 a week, the same as a venti espresso drink. Isn’t membership in your chosen professional organization worth that? Not being a member also has its costs: lost benefits, lost access, lost opportunities, lost revenue. And those losses represent a far greater cost than dues.

Giving and receiving. I have given a lot to STC, volunteering for one position or another for every year I’ve been a member. While that might seem a lot, I have received in return far more. Let me enumerate.

Members. STC members are nothing if not passionate. This tells me a lot about the people who join, get involved, practice their profession, and commiserate with other members. STC members are the real deal. They—we—know our profession benefits others. There isn’t puffery or pounding chests. Just pure competence, integrity, genuineness. Case in point: my three newest clients were all garnered through my association with STC and its members. Billings this year alone will exceed many tens of thousands of dollars, with more next year.

My continued membership keeps me in touch with other members, many of whom are my friends. I continually meet other members. I almost always come away from encounters with members with a profound appreciation for that person.

My local chapter. Don’t ever let it be said that a few dozen people cannot impact the world. They can, and we did. At our meetings, we learn from each other. Our local chapter raised the bar for our profession. Employers and prospects look for and prefer STC credentials. Over the years, my company has received a number of contracts because of our STC membership, totalling well over one million dollars ($1,000,000+) in billable services.

Special Interest Groups (SIGs). Early on, I joined the Consultants and Independent Contractors (CIC) SIG. Later, I also joined the Marketing and Instructional Design SIGs. All three are ready platforms for ideas, assistance, perspective, and simple camaraderie. Through the listservs sustained by STC, I have met and discussed much with members from all over the world. Always a helping hand, from people I respect and trust.

Intercom and Technical Communication. Recently, I was instructing a client on how to create meaningful slides (incorporating graphics and text) for their presentations. They balked. “What’s wrong with bullet lists?” They wanted to know. I pointed to six articles from Technical Communication to support my position with valid research, as well as a number of articles from Intercom. That is the value of STC’s publications.

Friends. “So, why aren’t you playing music anymore?” This question, from a close STC friend, spurred another one of those life-changing moments. I didn’t have a good answer. So I bought a new drum kit and began playing again. That led to the genesis of The Open Jam, which led to the formation of The Rough Drafts (see photo), and a number of gigs at STC annual conferences. This is just one anecdote in a procession of joyous encounters with my many STC friends.

Annual conferences. For a professional technical communicator, there is no other venue for collaboration, commiseration, education, repartee, consideration, reflection, growth, interaction, wonderment, and just plain excitement than STC’s annual conferences.

Professionalism. In 2008, I became an STC Fellow. I had been striving for that goal since first becoming a member.

While I am quite proud of my accomplishment, it’s more than just an award. What is most important is the professional that I have become because of that quest, how I am able to apply my expertise, how I have been remunerated, and the contacts I have made along the way.

Over the years, STC has provided the framework for my professional growth. My current level of expertise and professionalism is due in large part to the value of being an STC member.

–Rich Maggiani

24 Comments, RSS

  1. John Hawkins 8 December 2009 @ 1:10 pm

    Terrific, Rich. I’ll be renewing soon. May have to think about the CIC SIG; I was planning on Single Sourcing and Content Strategy but perhaps adding another is worthwhile.

  2. Rebecca 8 December 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    Well, I’m in partial agreement. I was an STC member for nearly twenty years. I was out for a couple of years and then joined again this year.

    In the past, I’ve found STC to be valuable, just as you did. But now, not so much. My local chapter covers too wide an area, and almost all of the meetings are out of reach for me. Also, over the years, I’ve found that the presentations and articles at meetings and in publications are just too elementary. If I know anything at all about a topic, I generally already know everything that’s covered in them. And if they aren’t elementary, they are far too academic to be useful in what I do.

    I joined again this year in the hopes of finding freelance work, but I have turned up nothing. So I can’t justify the cost of the membership again.

    I’m sorry to say that I won’t be renewing my membership.

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  5. Pilar Wyman 8 December 2009 @ 4:52 pm

    Thanks, Rich.
    –I especially love the Rough Drafts pic!

    Nothing beats networking with other professionals.

    Best wishes,

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  7. Rich Maggiani 8 December 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    That’s my favorite photo of us. We were between sets in Minneapolis, a nice area with a sky light and lots of big windows. Beautiful setting and a great place to play music. And lots of party-goers having a blast!

  8. Rich Maggiani 8 December 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    Rebecca, I’m sorry to hear you say that. I’ve always found that volunteering in my local chapter gave me the opportunity for many referrals.

  9. Irish McKilligan 8 December 2009 @ 7:26 pm

    Wonderful article, I never knew of the organization and am wondering if there is a Chapter in the Dallas Metro area.

  10. Winston Thriller 9 December 2009 @ 10:42 am

    I was a member since 1985 and didn’t renew a few years ago. I get more out of PMI and ASTD memberships than STC. There’s a real disconnect between the folks out in the trenches and the leadership in the DC area. The increase in dues and a diminishing value of membership just don’t make it worthwhile.

    I’d rather see the local technical communicators in Vermont form a SIG in the VTSDA. Lots of opportunity for networking and learning.

  11. Mikey 9 December 2009 @ 11:56 am

    What Rebecca said. The last time I looked at Intercomm, or whatever their periodical is called, it was completely useless–academic and out of touch. I think there’s some value in the STC for newbies and it does provide some networking opportunities, but it’s far too focused on traditional technical writing and the past–not the future. I call it the “Society for Terminal Complainers” as there’s a strong “woe is me, take pity on the poor tech writer” attitude.

  12. Ann Grove 10 December 2009 @ 10:51 am

    Honestly, in the past, I’ve considered not renewing, but like Rich I have come to realize how much I value my STC community. Really, I just can’t imagine not renewing, though I have compassion on those who face that reality. Other organizations such as ASTD are fabulous, but I enjoy the breadth of pursuits that STC encompasses. We still have much to learn from each other.

    Mikey, there are two STC publications and it sounds like you were looking at Technical Communication, which is oriented toward researchers and academicians. Intercom is focused more on practitioners. In the past, I have criticized TechComm as being somewhat dusty and irrelevant, but, on the contrary, my peers within academia see it as a forum in which to break new ground and have convinced me that it lends credibility to our profession.

    I too vaguely wish Intercom would tackle more challenging topics, though I can’t come up with one specific article idea to say “I wish we had an article on such and such.” Truly, I think we will see some significant changes in both magazines in the next couple of years, as we are seeing seismic changes throughout the organization.

  13. Laya Bajpai 11 December 2009 @ 2:30 am

    Hi Rich,
    I live in India so what seems to be a few dollars for you adds up to a lot of Rupees for an Indian. I was interested in venturing into the field of freelance technical writing but haven’t yet found any inroads and one of my connections in Linked in had recommended STC but I couldn’t afford the membership fee.

  14. Rich Maggiani 11 December 2009 @ 9:27 am

    Hi Laya,
    I understand your position, as do we on the Board of Directors. STC does reduce the annual dues from $215 to $160 for members in India. We did this awhile ago since we were aware of the monetary disparity. If you are already a member, you can also get assistance from the recovery package (

  15. Rich Maggiani 14 December 2009 @ 12:52 pm

    To Irish McKilligan and any other interested person: Yes, there is a Dallas chapter. Go here for more information:

  16. P.D. Asilomar 15 December 2009 @ 6:23 pm

    Unfortunately, dues have always been too high; and in this economy, spending hundreds of dollars to join is just not on the radar when most IT professionals out of work are worrying about healthcare premiums, rent, food, mortgages, etc. Is the leadership of the STC getting a bit out of touch with what’s happening in the trenches?

  17. Rich Maggiani 16 December 2009 @ 9:31 am

    Out of touch? No, definitely not. STC has done its homework. Membership in STC is still a value for what you get when compared to other professional communication organizations. And STC is offering a recovery package for current members to reduce the renewal rate for those who are unemployed or underemployed. We clearly know what is going on in the trenches—we are in the trenches ourselves—and have responded to it.

  18. Cheryl Landes 21 December 2009 @ 8:55 pm

    I’ve been a member of STC since 1991. For the first four years, I was a “lurker,” absorbing information at Puget Sound Chapter meetings but not participating. Then I volunteered to speak at a Region 7 conference in Portland, OR. I could have backed out, because the day before my presentation, I was laid off from my technical writing job in Seattle. And, to top it off, the company broke the news on my birthday! (Some gift, huh?) I gave the presentation anyway and never regretted it.

    Since then, I’ve become very active in STC. I’m a member of two chapters (Boston and Puget Sound) and volunteer in each. I also attend other chapter meetings when I’m traveling in those areas. On the national level, I’ve helped with special SIG projects, which can be done from anywhere. I’ve met a lot of people throughout the U.S., Canada, and a few overseas, and many have become close friends.

    This has been a tough year for me financially as a freelancer, and I can’t afford to renew my STC dues. On the other hand, I can’t afford NOT TO renew. STC is an investment in my career as a technical communicator and in my future.

    Recently I landed a steady contract after a dry spell of eight months. It came through a referral from a fellow colleague and friend, another STC member.

    My grandparents said that “life is what you make of it.” The same holds true with memberships in professional development organizations like STC. We can sit back and be lurkers, hoping something will come our way, or we can become active and make it happen. The rewards don’t always come immediately, but they come. And the wait is worth it.

    Cheryl Landes
    STC Associate Fellow
    Senior Member, Puget Sound and Boston Chapters

  19. Sheryl Sankey 20 January 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    Hi Rich,

    It seems like you are a beautiful and talented soul who indeed has had many wonderful experiences through your technical writing career and you have enjoyed your STC events and connections. I, too, have made many wonderful connections with members of my STC Philadelphia Metro chapter. I will always cherish these connections. I had a dear friend and STC colleague help me to obtain my last-five-week assignment. I am very grateful for her assistance, but this wasn’t a career move. I knew before I signed the contract papers that this was to be a dead-end assignment. And it was in spite of the consulting firm fighting to get an extension for me and for them. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. The client company is in a state of pure chaos and the owner is extremely tight and doesn’t want to invest in infrastructure.

    I know that there are others out there who are struggling as I am and we can’t afford to pay the price increase or we can afford to pay it, but don’t feel that we are able to use the information we gain from the meetings, seminars or connections to progress sufficiently in our careers. I think that the members who have benefited the most from STC membership have been the technical communication graduates (entry level) and the senior technical writing members who have many years experience in the field.
    For those of us who have minimal years experience with limited skill sets and diverse industry experience, it’s a different reality; it’s a different story.

    I have been unemployed for quite awhile now, money is tight, and I’m not feeling very confident in my abilities to get that next truly viable “career” position. I feel that the only jobs I can get right now are these little five-week, two-month jobs that offer no hope of career development along the way. I get it that I need to make an investment on some level in the way of time, education and money, but I have to be certain that I’m making an investment that will truly translate into a viable long-term “career” opportunity. I think I have to join a professional organization or two, but I’m not sure that it will serve my best interests to join one from my own field. I’m seeing evidence of at least two – three of my colleagues who have joined other organizations as a way to network with potential hiring managers. More often than not, the hiring managers are NOT other technical writers or Publications department managers. Most technical writers who are in positions do not have the clout to bring in a colleague for interview consideration. Many typical hiring managers of technical writers are IT Directors, Product Development Managers, Client Services Managers, QA Directors, etc. So for these reasons other reasons sited, I am very much on the fence about joining STC.

    But I sincerely wish you the best of luck in all that you do. I love the music band idea. Love it truly. Take care.

    Sheryl Sankey
    Prior STC member – Philadelphia Metro Chapter

  20. Marcia Johnston 7 May 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    Hi, Rich. Enjoyed this entry.

    You say, “‘What’s wrong with bullet lists?’ They wanted to know. I pointed to six articles from Technical Communication to support my position with valid research, as well as a number of articles from Intercom.” Citations, please! I’d like to be able to point to these articles myself. (I’d guess right on one of them for sure, but I don’t know about the others.)

    P.S. I’m in the middle of your May 2010 video interview with Tom Johnson from the STC conference in Dallas. Super way to keep people engaged.

    Marcia Johnston

  21. Marcia Johnston 7 May 2010 @ 2:32 pm

    Brought me a smile to see some familiar faces in the Rough Drafts photo. I work with John McGloon and Ken Reid, and I’ve crossed paths with Tommy at past conferences. You guys all rock. Your music and convivial spirits have added a lot to those experiences.

  22. Rich Maggiani 7 May 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    Wow! That interview was just posted this morning. Wonderful that you are reading it. And thanks to Tom for selecting me for an interview.

    The citations you seek, in no particular order, all from STC’s publication, Technical Communication:

    1. The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Slides Are Not All Evil, by Jean-luc Dumont; Volume 52, Number 1, February 2005, page 64.

    2. Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: A Case for Sentence Headlines and Visual Evidence, by Michael Alley and Kathryn A Neeley; Volume 52, Number 4, November 2005, page 417.

    3. Creating Marketing Slides for Engineering Presentations, by Ann Jennings; Volume 56, Number 1, February 2009, page 14.

    4. Perceptions of Clarity and Attractiveness in PowerPoint Graph Slides, Jo Mackeiwicz; Volume 54, Number 2, May 2007, page 145.

    5. Managing Three Mediation Effects that Influence PowerPoint Deck Authoring, by David K Farkas; Volume 56, Number 1, February 2009, page 28.

    6. How the Design of Headlines in Presentation Slides Affects Audience Retention, by Michael Alley, Madeline Schreiber, Katrina Ramsdell, and John Muffo; Volume 53, Number 2, May 2006, page 225.

    Enjoy them!

  23. Rich Maggiani 7 May 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    Thanks! It’s even on my Fellow plaque, that I “rock”. It’s humbling actually. I just do what I love, and playing the drums is one of those things.

    I’ll pass along your kind words to John, Ken, and Tommy. Let’s hope we can play once again at next year’s conference in Sacramento.

  24. Lori Meyer 26 December 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    Thank you for this great post, Rich. Even though it’s now more than two years old, its message is as relevant as ever. Like many active members, I began my membership in the Rochester chapter as a “backgrounder” whose participation was limited to attending a meeting here and there and reading Society publications when they arrived in my mailbox. What a difference twenty-eight years makes! Today, I am a member of 16 communities, a volunteer in four of them, and a participant in two Society-level initiatives.

    My true appreciation for STC began during a casual conversation with a friend many years ago, after which we agreed that our discussion would make a great topic for our chapter conference, Spectrum. The experience of being a presenter helped me to get to know what a talented, energetic, and friendly community our chapter was. I accepted a volunteer role on our chapter council shortly afterwards, and have never looked back!

    When I lost my job, I was once again reminded of the blessing of a strong and supportive professional community — a community that never failed to let me know that even though I was unemployed, I was no less a professional than I was when I still had a job. The opportunity to volunteer enabled me to continue feeling connected to the profession, build leadership skills, and form lasting friendships.

    Today, I live 3,000 miles away from Rochester, but I’m still with them as a virtual volunteer — and still treasuring all of the benefits of being part of a professional community that believes in the value of our work and appreciates the contributions of its members. And I’ve been fortunate to enjoy those same benefits in several other communities in the U.S. and Canada.

    Like so many members, I have been challenged by the ravages of the economic downturn over the years — and I can truly appreciate the increasing difficulty of justifying the cost of membership dues. I believe, though, that the expense is a worthwhile investment several times over. No matter what my career fortunes, my STC membership reminds me that I am a valuable part of a profession in which we can be proud. It is in that spirit that I will be saying “Yes” to my membership for the twenty-ninth year.

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