Out of Africa
Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services
I was recently fortunate enough to spend a few days on safari in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, an area of preserved savannah wilderness in southwestern Kenya, along the Tanzanian border. There was no shortage of wildlife sightings, but I discovered that the primary goal of a safari driver is to find the big cats – lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Along the way, you will see all manner of other remarkable creatures, but no safari is complete without daily sightings of the often elusive felines.
We could, and did, spend hours observing elephants, giraffes, zebras, and all sorts of antelope and birds. It took such little effort to find them, however, that our guide seemed almost surprised by our desire to stop and take it in. To be honest, I sort of understand his position. We didn’t need his expertise to find the animals that roamed in large herds or that we could see in the distance against the horizon.
It’s not hard to find animals that stand tall against the horizon or stay together in large herds.
I could have saved myself some money and driven myself through the reserve if all I wanted to see was the obvious. However, left to my own devices, I would have driven by many of the highlights of my tour, including not only the big cats, but the newly born Thompson’s gazelle that awkwardly took its first leaps and bounds right in front of us, the lion cubs playing in the short grass where they blended in, and the hyenas casually resting under a bush by the side of the road. I frequently wondered why we came to a sudden stop on our tour, only to have my sharp-eyed driver point out a wonder of nature hidden right in front of me.
Much harder to find the ones tucked away in the high grass or bushes.
Our driver estimated this baby to be less than 30 minutes old.
The overall success of our safari relied on a network of safari drivers communicating with each other about what animals were where and our driver’s specific navigational and driving expertise to get us within just a few feet of these spectacular predators.
While we were carrying a telephoto lens, all of these cats were within 8 feet of us.
It also helped that our drivers listened not only to anything we said to them directly, but the chatter amongst ourselves in the Land Rover. Our drivers observed our delight at the baby animals, and instantaneously everything they found us had a young one with them.
It ultimately occurred to me that our goal as technical communicators is to be the safari driver for our users:
- Understand what are the big ticket and hard-to-find items and help users navigate to them.
Users don’t need us for things that are easily discovered on their own.
- Listen to what users are asking for.
Tap into what they are saying to each other in user forums.
I casually mentioned to our companions that I wanted to see a secretary bird up close.
Next thing I knew…
- Be observant.
Provide the details that your users might otherwise miss.
- Give users the information they need, no matter how ugly it might be
Further, while establishing our position in the wilds of our organization, we would do well to take a few pointers from the animals themselves:
- A lion does not flinch at the laughter coming from a hyena.
- A leopard is not intimidated by animals that outweigh him.
- A cheetah does not race other animals to prove its speed.
I encourage you all to be like the giraffe. Stand tall, aim high, and be spotted!
Hope to see you at ConVEx in Baltimore, April 17-19!
About the Author: Dawn Stevens is CIDM’s Director and President of Comtech Services. She has over 30 years of practical experience in virtually every role within a documentation and training department including project management, instructional design, writing, editing, and multimedia programming.