Confab: The Power of Community


Note: This post isn’t like my other posts about content strategy. It focuses a lot on me. Yup, that’s a little uncomfortable (for me) and might be a tad boring for you (and this might be a good time to skip this post.) But I bet it will be useful to folks who can identify with me. Still here? Okay then.

Earlier this year, I had the incredible honour of receiving the Confab Diversity Scholarship to attend Confab 2019 - the annual content strategy conference hosted by Brain Traffic, at Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Aside: For those who are new to content strategy, Brain Traffic is a leading content strategy firm founded by none other than Kristina Halvorson, widely regarded as a 'guru' of content strategy and the author of 'Content Strategy for the Web'. This book, I believe, has successfully transformed scores of self-doubting-content-people (including me) into Content Strategists.

Why it matters

Being a Content Strategist is tough. We all are called upon to solve problems (explicitly or implicitly) that don’t exactly fall under the purview of our designations/titles. Yeah? We don’t just put tick marks against our deliverables; we get the job done. Whether we are extroverts or introverts, we are galvanised to sharpen our soft-skills because only we know that they are, in fact, hard-skills.

We learn, innovate, and iterate on the fly. We are hustlers, bringing the ship together, with the bulk of our work sometimes (or often) unseen by the powers that be.

It ain’t easy. I admit that I’ve capitulated to criticism to the extent of doubting my own sense of reason. Held back from expressing my findings because I lacked the strength to take on heated debates. Compromised on the end result because I failed to get the requisite buy-in from the management. Struggled with the Imposter Syndrome endlessly.

And then Confab happened.

Like the swish of a magic wand, the email from Tenessa Gemelke (One of the kindest and most patient souls I’ve ever known) transformed my world. Moreover, my proposal for the Lightening Talk (A five-minute talk on a Content Strategy challenge that you are passionate about) also made the cut! I’m sorry but I can’t help it- THIS WAS BIG!

My fairytale: Up on the Confab stage!

My fairytale: Up on the Confab stage!

What I learnt

I learnt so much in those four days. But more than anything else, I learnt to trust my instincts.

  • Sarah Richards validated my feeling about accessibility and usability being interlinked. And, for the record, I just love her for continually batting for the so-called ‘edge cases’ that nobody else seems to care about.

  • Andy Healy validated my approach towards my work by stating, “It is okay to trust your gut in your content strategy, as long as you take the time to check your assumptions, and to make them safe and inclusive using all the tools and resources at your disposal.”

  • I love Erika Hall for openly stating, “We know that we want to make systems that are intuitive, but we’re sort of tricking ourselves to say, ‘Oh, they still need to learn how to use it, because it’s cool and they should learn.’” Statements such as these help me build my arsenal for meetings with Product and Business Leaders.

  • David Dylan Thomas validated my belief that Content Strategy covers a lot more than strategy for content. It can be used to fight bias!

  • Dan Brown, by being awesome at the conference and by admitting that he is an introvert, gave me the strength to believe that maybe, some day, even I can be as cool as a cat on stage! His talk on IA Lenses (A wonderful tool that he has created. Go check it out.) validated my belief that how we organise information is integral to Content Strategy.

  • Margo Stern, thank you for stating, “It’s no wonder that our industries and our cross-functional partners are still a little bit confused about how we show up and who we are when we’re in the room, but I think it’s that difference that makes us stronger, that keeps us connected to one another.” Yes! A hundred times yes! Her phenomenal talk is what every Content Strategist, who is confused about the way forward, needs to hear.

  • All the speakers, each and everyone generous with sharing their knowledge, tools, and hacks, nourished the self-doubting content professional in me. In simple words, the conference was therapy. Content Therapy.

“I am ok. I can do this.”

That’s what I felt when Beth Dunn (the Beth Dunn of Hubspot fame!) told me she loved my talk.

This was insane. Only, it wasn’t.

Until a few weeks earlier I was questioning my career path, my choices, even my sanity.

But that day, 24th of April, 2019, the cosmos told me that I am ok.

And that’s not all.

For the first time in years, I felt at home.

I didn’t need to explain myself to anybody.

All around, people were discussing the same challenges that I’ve been encountering.

It was deeply comforting to realise that I am not alone in my journey.

And that I can reach out to this ‘family’ whenever I need strength.

My strength, my Tribe

I’m aware that this post is a lot about me. (Just this once!)

But I think it is important to share my story, because I can’t be that unique.

For anybody out there, who dared to choose reason over convention, I know how tough it is.

Persist. Look at your drawbacks in the face. Never forget your strengths. Keep learning.

And one day, when you find your tribe, you will be home.

Thank you, confabbers!

Our choices define us.

Brain Traffic, by reaching out across the globe and including my voice in the conference, has made yet another case for prioritising diversity and inclusion.

Thank you, @halvorson, for the opportunity.

And thank you, fellow Confabbers, for sharing your knowledge, insights, challenges, and hacks. You all are simply amazing!

Confab 2020: Are you up for it?

The call for speakers is open! There isn’t a better way to grow - professionally as well as emotionally - than to engage with your community. Share your experiences and learn from theirs. Remember to pitch your talk by September 6, 2019. Check out the Confab website and the Confab Twitter feed for updates.

All the best!

PS: Here’s my talk on ‘Content Strategy for an illiterate and non-English speaking audience’, beginning at 33:45 minutes. Drop a note if you find it interesting! Though I highly recommend watching all the Lightening Talks. They were all fabulous!

Hosted by Malaika Carpenter, these seven brave speakers present in the “Ignite-style”: 5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide—and the slides change automatically. Jeff Eaton: 5:34 Liz McDermott: 11:06 Chelsea Larsson: 16:48 Kelley Graham: 22:12 Laura Robertson: 27:35 Anusha Jha Rohom: 33:47 Anita Cheng: 39:23