Teaching & Learning

Calibrate: Interview with Lauren Eissler about Confab

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So, Lauren, you went to a conference a couple months ago. Can you tell me what conference it was and a little bit about it?

I attended Confab, a content strategy conference. This conference is hosted by Brain Traffic, a content strategy consultancy, and it’s really Kristina Halvorson’s brainchild. She co-wrote the book on content strategy, by the way (Content Strategy for the Web). It’s fabulous, and I highly recommend it. But you might be wondering, “What exactly is content strategy” and that’s an excellent question. Content strategy covers a wide variety of roles and tasks including the design, creation, management, and governance of content across any medium a user experiences content. But for a little more about the conference itself, this conference is geared toward anyone who works with content (you don’t have to be a content strategist!), and it helps you sharpen your skills.  

How did you initially find this conference? What drew you toward it?

I’ve known about Kristina Halvorson’s work for years. I was first introduced to it when I took a content strategy course at Cedarville in my undergrad, and we used her book. I pulled my heavily annotated copy out again when I started working on this blog for the CTL, and I discovered the conference in a meeting one day when I was pulling up information on Halvorson’s book to show my coworkers. I looked over the conference later that day and was intrigued by some of the sessions offered and excited about the possibility of attending and getting to network with other content- and usability-minded people. 

When you were looking over the schedule and making your plans, what were you most intrigued by before the conference?

I immediately tagged a couple of the sessions as “must-see” (even though they were mainstage sessions that I was definitely going to be attending anyways). I wanted to partially plan the sessions I wanted to attend before I got to the conference, but I also wanted to make sure my schedule had flexibility to call some audibles and switch it up. Two of the sessions I was most excited about before heading out to Minneapolis were sessions on conversational design and accessibility/usability.

Once you were actually at the conference, what stood out to you or surprised you?

This wasn’t a huge conference (there were maybe 500 people there), so it was easy to chat with a lot of different people, making connections and sharing experiences. I was impressed with how well-communicated everything was, which makes sense for a content-focused conference! Confab created a Slack channel for attendees to join where we could collaboratively take notes, make plans for fun activities outside of conference hours, or organize meet-ups with others in our disciplines. 

Conference content-wise, I was fascinated by the emphasis on storytelling and building a human connection. We also talked a lot about how the small stuff really matters. For example, it may seem easy to choose the couple of words that go on a button, but even a subtle shift from the text saying “next” to “got it!” means the user interacts with the content differently. 

What’s your biggest takeaway from the conference?

This conference was packed with material, so this is a difficult question. I’m going to talk about two things briefly: challenging assumptions (from Erika Hall’s session) and accessibility/usability (from Sarah Richards’ session).

When you work with content, you do have to make assumptions about what you users want. But you shouldn’t stop and completely run with the assumptions. Ask questions. Look at it from a different perspective. Challenge your beliefs about what they need to make sure the product you’re producing is really what is needed for the user at that point. 

Accessibility is often discussed within the context of using headings properly so screen readers can effectively digest your content. But accessibility is more than that. It’s finding the right information at the right time, and it’s tied to the larger idea of usability. Sarah Richards used the example of video to show this – captions should be used for both accessibility and usability. She showed that captions should be used so anyone with a hearing impairment can access the content (accessibility). She also showed that captions should be used so anyone with a temporary hearing impairment (a user not having headphones while riding the bus) can still access the content. 

What was the best conference snack/food there?

Confab was killing it in the food department. All of the hors d’oeuvres at the party hosted downtown one evening were fabulous (Seriously. As soon as you thought you had tried everything, another tray of something delicious appeared). But the Confab tradition of ending the conference with cake was stellar. After the last session, everyone returned to the main room where meals were hosted, grabbed a piece of cake, and sat down in groups to fill out a takeaways sheet and discuss the conference and what we learned. 

Now, for a completely random question: what’s your favorite bridge?

My favorite actual bridge is this small one-lane wooden bridge near where I grew up. This bridge crossed over train tracks, and it was rather bumpy since it was wooden. In true familial creativity, my siblings and I called it “the bumpy bridge,” and my parents would drive out of their way at times just so we could cross it. Unfortunately, the bridge has since closed down, and my siblings and I were all bummed when we discovered that. 

Leave a Reply