Event review: Communication Convergence

by Amy Haagsma

Review of Communication Convergence (co-organized by EAC-BC; held on October 5, 2014)

“Communication convergence: The tendency for different communication fields over time to apply a common range of methods.” – Dr. Neil James

On October 5, EAC-BC participated in a new event, Communication Convergence, focused on clear communication and the importance of using plain language. It was held in conjunction with and in celebration of International Plain Language Day, which is recognized annually on October 13. This year’s theme was “Working Together to Promote Clear Communication.” With this in mind, Communication Convergence aimed to bring together different organizations with a focus on communication.

Cheryl Stephens and Katherine McManus were the primary organizers, with support from Amy Haagsma and Autumn Jonssen, representing EAC-BC and the Society for Technical Communication (STC), Canada West Coast chapter, respectively. Cheryl and Katherine both have extensive backgrounds in clear communication and plain language: Cheryl is a plain language advocate, consultant, speaker, and trainer, and a co-founder of what is now Plain Language Association International (PLAIN). Katherine has recently retired as the director of SFU’s Writing and Communications program and now works as an educational design consultant. She’s also a partner in IC Clear, an international consortium promoting clear communication.

Several EAC members participated in the event, including Frances Peck, Joe Goodwill, Iva Cheung, Elizabeth Rains, and Maureen Nicholson. Frances Peck moderated the first of two panel discussions, featuring members of various professional associations, including EAC, STC, the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), and PLAIN. Joe Goodwill (EAC) compared the role of an editor to that of a bridge: to connect an author, who is trying to convey a message, with an audience, who is trying to understand the message. Heidi Turner, regional director for PWAC, described how her clients are often under the impression that using jargon and big words is expected in their industry and makes them sound smart. Pam Drucker (STC) brought a unique perspective from the software industry: While many communicators are somewhat removed from their end users, user acceptance testing is a huge part of the process for Pam, who thinks of bug reports and error messages as the voice of the customer coming through to her. Iva Cheung (EAC and PLAIN) reminded us that plain language is a right, and while there is still a lot more work to be done in its advocacy, we really have come a long way.

The second panel discussion, moderated by Katherine McManus, explored the real-world demand on communicators in a variety of roles. Elizabeth Rains presented the perspective of a managing editor, and told a story about working on a medical text for which she needed to determine a precise description for a human liver. She realized that the description she came up with, which included a comparison to a jellyfish, worked equally well for an audience of school children. Her takeaway was that, with clear communication, we can break down barriers and differences between our audiences. Maureen Nicholson, head of Douglas College’s Professional Communication program, gave a thought-provoking talk, reminding us that some groups and individuals actually benefit from preventing others from understanding their message. We also heard from Christabelle Kux-Kardos, whose role is to help people find, understand, and act on information in and about their community; Eric Jandciu, on clear communication in science and developing a communication program for UBC science students; and Eva Hompoth, an image and social media consultant. The program wrapped up with a closing discussion led by Cheryl Stephens, Lisa Mighton, and Paula LaBrie.

Overall, Communication Convergence was a fantastic event. We heard from many fascinating speakers and opened up a dialogue between different groups of communicators. Next year’s event is planned for October 18, so mark your calendars!

For additional perspectives on and information about Communication Convergence, see the summaries written by Iva Cheung, Frances Peck, and Roma Ilnyckyj.

Amy Haagsma is a marketing communications professional and a student in SFU’s Editing Certificate program.

Image by Cheryl Stephens

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