Vinish Garg on Storytelling, Startups, and Technical Communication

[Intro Music]

[Ryan Weber] Welcome to 10-Minute Tech Comm, this is Ryan Weber at the Universiry of Alabama in Huntsville. Today I’m pleased to welcome Vinish Garg. Vinish is a technical communicator, an information architect, and a storyteller from Chandigarh, India. He also is a partner at a digital agency White. He is the cofounder of the site @con tenthug, which is a daily curated site of content related articles. He also tweets @vingar, v-i-n-g-a-r. Let’s go ahead and welcome him to the show.

[Begin Interview]

[Weber] Welcome to the podcast Vinish. I really appreciate you talking with us today. So, you mentioned a lot in your writing the importance of stories for technical communicators, that’s one of the things you emphasized. How do stories and technical communication relate? How should technical communicators incorporate stories into what they write?

[Vinish Garg] Well we do not see stories as part of technical documents, because primarily technical communication is about processing instructions or how to.

[Weber] Right.

[Garg] Whether it’s videos or online or PDF or whatever deliverables. Now oflate we have seen technical communication evolving, such as with community content. If we see Skype’s support center, let’s say, it is doing great primarily because the community content where users can post questions and answers, it’s doing very well. And then the brands have realized the other channels for providing support. Let’s say Twitter or basecamp are too good, I would say, I have experienced them, that whenever we have a question for the support system, we see a tweet in on minute, so the primary objective of technical communication documents were to provide support. So, the media is evolving. Now as Neville has often said the technical communication content is all about marketing and marketing is about storytelling. We often hear that storytelling is the flavor so whatever the business is planning, irrespective of its size or scale or location or audience, stories are the means to communicate. So, I would say that technical communication should evolve to incorporate stories where personas are setting up the context to help users go through a procedure, helping them use a product, guiding them through next steps or critical sites while using a product. I can see the challenges too, I mean there are challenges from the organizations, particularly in health care, let’s say, where they have regulatory compliance concerns. So, it’s not an easy shift for any organization irrespective of its size, or scale, or industry but I can see that storytelling tool have been evolving, they’re getting more affordable. And they are more flexible to incorporate, let’s say work through user videos, that we see as part of user onboarding for startups. So I see some integration of how technical communicators are more ready to try their hands at storytelling and invite them in their documents.

[Weber] So, you see the stories as sort of the user’s stories. Is that right? That’s part of the story that gets incorporated into technical communication and the stories kind of give the documentation a bit more context. Is that what you’re talking about here?

[Garg] Yes, see the objective of documents is to address a user’s concern, right? So, a story can certainly help that better where there’s a walk-through or maybe a quick video, then there’s a context and we always talk about using the right context in a procedure. Helping a user address his or her concern on the same page, right? It’s about the user experience of the documentation. When we talk about how POCs have evolved, how finding availability is addressed in documentation. I think storytelling has its place to address these concerns. To make the technical documents more relevant and more accurate for the users.

[Weber] Yeah, that’s really interesting and you know I think it would create probably more desirable and engaging content as well for the user. You know people love narratives are attracted to narratives.

[Garg] Yes.

[Weber] So I can see it being something that appeals more readily to the user. You mentioned something else that you’re interested in a moment ago, which is startup, and you know you write as well about startups in technical communication and I get the impression that you have been involved din some startups and write a lot about them. What is the connection between startups and technical communication in your mind?

[Garg] Well, when I started my own digital agency work a few years back, some of my early customers were startups, so when I would plan our documentation for startups, I was beginning to understand their culture, which is very different from established business, right? Startups have their constraints for budget and they have different priorities because they are more flexible, right? Because they are just starting. Over a period of time when I got involved in an early stage of documentation for a startup, I was beginning to understand the thought process of how startups are actually thinking about products and how they tend to flt content into the product lifecycle, whether it’s at information architecture stage, right? Whether it’s for marketing, whether it’s for help documentation, so that’s how I got interested into startups. They really started to exciting me. I had better feel of how technical communication can really plan for startups. It has to be feasible, it’s really rarely talked about too because startups are generally not concerned with any document tools. They just need their deliverable, right? So, that’s how content happened.

[Weber] Okay.

[Garg] Because I could see some pain points of our community, the tech comm or content community, and sense I had some feel of how startups really plan and regulate their idea, I thought of having a goal and content was there. As I worked a post on Tom Johnson’s blog, a really detailed post on how authoring tools are important for startups. So that pretty much sums up my understanding of how startups plan their documentation.

[Weber] Okay. Okay interesting, and you know I like your point that startups do have different needs and different flexibility. You know if you work at Microsoft, you know you’re not going to change the documentation in any way but if you’re a startup you know you can make a lot of decisions that have broad impact.

[Garg] Yes, that’s right and startups, because they are just starting, right? So they have the scope of experimenting.

[Weber] Right.

[Garg] Into what works better. So, a pilot for a couple of weeks can help them understand what works and what may not, so that’s the flexibility we have.

[Weber] Yeah and you’re right about sort of the need for you know deliverables over perhaps implementing sophisticated authoring tools, and especially with that experimentation you may not want to get locked into something right away until you really know what you want to do and what works.

[Garg] Exactly.

[Weber] Well that’s interesting. I actually do a little research in entrepreneurial writing myself but I think it’s really overlooked in the field and I think that we often forget that this particular group has different needs than everyone else does. I’m glad you’re addressing it, that’s interesting stuff. Alright, well thank you very much for talking with us today about some of the things you’re working on. Where can people find out more about you?

[Garg] Well, I’m reasonably active on Linkedin and Twitter. These days I’m busy promoting Content Hug. I find it very interesting because I get to see fresh new content updates from the community daily. It’s the content created from over 200 sources, which includes personal blogs or established organizations, such as Content Marketing institute, right? Even organizers, the universities, let’s say blogs, Guardian, so all the media houses we are trying to cover and publish relevant contents from these.

[Weber] Have you noticed any-any trends or anything putting that together? You have a great view of the world of content. What kinds of trends have you noticed curating Content Hug?

[Garg] There are two areas that really stand out, which are generally talked about in the community about content structure. How content is being planned at the architecture level to make sure that it’s available across devices, across geographies, in different languages. The community is really about meta data, taxonomy and the right kind of architecture to make it show that it’s accessible and available across devices, irrespective of anything you can see. It’s intelligent content model, which is future proof, we can see, for devices.

[Weber] Right.

[Garg] And for any other parameter. And the next thing is people are talking about making content audience specific.

[Weber] Okay.

[Garg] There’s a lot of research that goes behind to understand the audience, their behavior, their bind behavior, their interaction behavior with the channel or with the web app or with the product. So, these are two things that community is talking about a lot.

[Weber] Interesting, well I definitely encourage listeners to check it out and see what you’ve gathered there for us. Again, thank you so much for appearing on the podcast today. Have a great day and I’m excited to see what you continue to work on.

[Garg] Thanks. It was an honor to be here. Thanks a lot.

[Weber] Thank you.

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Episode 12