Build It, Then Brag It

Mike Maass, Citrix

In Silicon Valley, idea sharing is commonplace. It enables innovation and technological advancement and is the cornerstone of the open-source economy. In our industry of content design and development especially, the sharing of stories and information is not only a way to craft the narrative experiences that comprise the products and services we support; the act of storytelling is how our craft itself evolves over time. In the spirit of storytelling, I’ve spent the past year and a half sharing the experiences I had leading the content strategy for our corporate intranet re-design at Citrix. It was the single largest content strategy project I’ve had the pleasure to work on, and the most challenging. It was also the most rewarding, not only for the satisfaction of a job well done, but for the myriad hurdles and stumbling blocks my team encountered along the way and the lessons we learned as a result. And while there is nothing particularly unique (nor sexy) about re-designing an intranet, sharing the story about how it all happened has somehow forged from the banal a value whose worth compounds with each retelling. My hope here is to share how I’ve told (and retold) this story—through posters, presentations, articles, and awards—and in so doing inspire you to share your stories as well.

Share a poster

I’m a big fan of the poster session. Lots of industry conferences do poster sessions, and they’re all pretty similar in format. For those not familiar, a poster session is basically a science fair, only for grownups. You set up your poster in a big room with other people who also have posters, and then more people walk through and you talk to them. Unlike a traditional speaking engagement (which I’ll get to in a minute), there’s no microphone to worry about, no slides to advance, and no roomful of watchful, scrutinizing eyes focused solely on you. Alone. In front of the room…. Rather, the poster session is a relaxed social event that requires only that you 1) design a compelling poster representing your work, and 2) recite your story to folks as they meander through the session, often with drink in hand. And yes, it is not uncommon for the poster session to overlap the evening’s happy hour events. Poster sessions are also easier to get into than the more scarce and sought-after breakout session speaking engagements, which makes the poster session a great option for newbies looking to cut their teeth on a low-pressure gig. Not to mention getting accepted as a poster presenter sometimes includes free admission to the main conference. Figure 1 shows the poster I presented at Information Architecture Summit 2014 in San Diego (also available online at <http://www.slideshare.net/MikeMaass/poster-47115498>).

Tip: In addition to the poster, consider also providing handouts of the materials you present so folks have something they can take back to their teams and start using right away. Oh, and chocolate. Never underestimate the power of chocolate to draw casual poster session goers to your spiel.

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Figure 1: A typical poster, like the one I presented at Information Architecture Summit 2014, illustrates your project in an interesting and compelling way.

Speak at a conference

Speaking at a conference is another good option, if you can muster the courage. Last year, after presenting my poster at IA Summit in San Diego, I spoke in Portland (view the presentation at <http://www.slideshare.net/MikeMaass/bringing-experience-into-the-enterprise-mike-maass-lavacon2014?related=1>). Ironically, I never actually submitted a speaker proposal to LavaCon. I had missed the submission deadline and casually mentioned to my boss that I regretted not knowing the deadline had passed. Well, my boss decided to submit a proposal anyway, despite the passed deadline, and it was accepted. In the meantime, a group of friends and former colleagues had registered for the conference and were planning to attend the event as a group. So when my boss later learned he was unable to give his presentation due to a scheduling conflict, I jumped at the opportunity to present in his stead. Drawing from the info and experience I gained from the poster session, I tweaked the presentation to make it my own and proudly took the stage to share my team’s great work. In the end, it was a great experience (if not just a little nerve wracking), and I scored a free trip to Portland to boot (#win).

Tip: Even if you don’t know anyone in the room, you definitely know more about your project than anyone in the room. So just get up there and tell your story. People love stories. And laughing. Tell a joke to break the ice, and you’ve got ‘em.

Write an article

Not long after my presentation at LavaCon, I was invited to contribute an article to CIDM (read the full article at < http://www.infomanagementcenter.com/publications/e-newsletter/december-2014/tooling-up-for-an-intranet-rewrite/>). Since I had already drafted both a poster and a presentation, I had my story down. All I had to do was put it in article form, which was just a matter of writing down the various anecdotes and talking points I had shared before. And it was fun, too, because it gave me a chance to do some long-form writing, which I don’t get to do much anymore.

Tip: If your project is more proprietary in nature, consider writing something for internal distribution, such as a team newsletter, companywide email, intranet article, and so on. There are many options—the trick is making time to do it.

Apply for an award

So, you’ve put a lot of work into your project, your boss and coworkers are raving about it, and you’re feeling pretty confident. Why not tap some of that energy and go for gold? Fortunately for content folks like us, there is a veritable gold mine of industry awards out there that run the gamut from Marketing to UX to Content Strategy. If you’re not sure which awards are out there, Google them. That’s what I did and was surprised to find so many third-party services looking to showcase the innovative work being done in the exhilarating field of (!) intranet design. When you find an award or competition that looks interesting, sign up to be notified about their call for submissions. When the time comes, take the lead on drafting the application. If your project was a one-person effort, be creative with your approach and focus on telling your story in a unique and compelling way. If your project was a team effort, like mine was, take a first pass at the copy, and then share it with your team and ask for feedback. This team review ensures everyone has a say in how the project is represented and democratizes the glory when your project wins the prize. At the very least, submitting the application gives you a new experience you might not have otherwise had. And at best, you could win, like we did! (See winning project design description in Figure 2.)

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Figure 2: Our project won the 2014 Design for Experience Award for Best Enterprise Solution.

Tip: Once your application is drafted, share it with your company’s PR or Communications team. Often there are publication standards you need to follow when publishing content about your company.

It’s amazing how one project can evolve into a series of self-directed follow-ups. If you’ve recently completed a project that other folks in our industry could learn from, tell us about it. Whether you’ve invented the next iPhone or simply stumbled across a new way to manage projects, everyone benefits—you, your company, and your audience—when you share your story.

Author Bio

Mike Maass is Managing Editor at Citrix. Mike was the content design lead for the company’s intranet redesign, which recently won the Design for Experience Award for Best Enterprise Solution.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikemaasseditor

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