With the 2014 LavaCon Content Strategy and User Experience Conference right around the corner, MindTouch has reached out to Jack Molisani, Executive Director of LavaCon, to get the inside scoop on why #LavaCon will be the must-go-to conference of the year! As long-time participants, we’re honored to have an opportunity to sponsor such an amazing event!
MindTouch: What is LavaCon?
Jack Molisani: LavaCon is a gathering place for content strategists, user experience designers, documentation managers, and other content professionals. It’s a conference taught by industry experts for industry experts.
MindTouch: When/where is the conference? How long has it been around?
Jack Molisani: This is our 12th annual conference. This year’s event is October 12–15, in Portland, Oregon.
MindTouch: Do you have an interesting story behind the founding of LavaCon?
Jack Molisani: In 1998, at the Society for Technical Communication (STC) annual leadership day, someone said, “It’s a shame that people in the Pacific Rim chapters rarely go to their own regional conferences because they’re always held on the mainland.” Someone suggested we have a combined regional 7/8 conference and hold it smack-dab in the middle, in Hawaii. I raised my hand and said, “I’ll run that one!”
Our break-even point was 140 people; 560 showed up. It was an incredible success. Everyone kept saying, “I can’t wait until next year!” But…there was no “next year.” It was a one-time event. I didn’t want to throw away two years of hard earned planning experience, and since I’d observed that there were never enough sessions at the STC conference for senior managers and strategists, I decided to start LavaCon in Hawaii (hence the name LavaCon).
When the economy got rough in 2008, it was hard for people to get approval to go to Hawaii, so I started holding the conference on the mainland (we’re in Portland this year). But I still hold events in Hawaii periodically.
MindTouch: What is content strategy and how does it tie into user experience?
Jack Molisani: I’d like to start with an example. Take a company like Herbalife that has 150 products, each of which need an ingredient list, a sales brochure, a promotional video, and more. Multiply that by the 91 countries where they sell their products (with localized content). It would be absolutely impossible manage all that content in individual files. Someone has to figure out how to take all that content, put it in a database, and publish it when they want it, where they want it, and in the language and format that they want it. The person who does that is a content strategist.
How does content strategy relate to user experience? We’ve finally realized we can’t have the marketing people saying one thing, sales people saying another, technical writers something else, and who knows what the support people are saying as none of these silos are (have been) coordinating and reusing content. We need to have consistent user experience across sales, marketing, purchasing, users, and support. You need a good content strategy to achieve that.
MindTouch: Will Customer Success be covered at LavaCon?
Jack Molisani: Yes. We don’t have a specific track called “customer success,” but Aaron Fulkerson, from MindTouch, is presenting Customer Success: Focusing on Customer Needs Not Topics. All of the case studies in the program highlight how companies took a content challenge and turned it into customer success.
MindTouch: What’s the benefit of going to LavaCon?
Jack Molisani: Our focus this year is on reducing cost and generating revenue through better content strategy. Look at it this way: you will learn so many ways to add to your organization’s bottom line that they will lose money by not sending you!
That said, LavaCon is a gathering place for industry experts. It’s one thing for a consultant to say “you should do this.” It’s quite another to talk with your peers who are actually doing it. LavaCon speakers are active professionals in their fields – industry experts who are willing to share best practices and lessons learned (both what worked, and what didn’t). Since you are networking with people who are currently implementing successful content strategies, you can ask them specific questions. What about this? Have you run into this problem? It’s almost like crowdsourcing your own particular consulting experience by asking speakers and attendees. This is what we’re running into, have you run into this, and how did you handle it? That’s better than just listening to a podcast, for sure!
MindTouch: Tell us about the food. I heard LavaCon is known for it.
Jack Molisani: One of the things that I’ve discovered as an attendee at a conference is that a little attention to detail goes a long way. Because Portland is such an organic / foodie / farm-to-table town, I sat down with the hotel Chef and came up with an amazing menu. Another thing we did that we’re going to do again this year is a “living salad bar” at lunch where the chefs have trays and trays of living organic lettuces. You point to the ones you want and they take shears, cut the lettuces, and hand you your salad. It doesn’t get any more alive and fresh than that!
MindTouch: How are registrations going?
Jack Molisani: Really well! We did highest ever last year and I just ran a report showing registrations are up 80% over where they were this time last year. We may come close to doubling in size this year.
MindTouch: At LavaCon are there any special events that people should look out for?
Jack Molisani: We always start the conference with an optional culinary food tour. WebWorks traditionally sponsors a karaoke night, and we always do a pub crawl TweetUp. You will certainly have plenty of opportunities to network, so don’t forget your business cards!
Early registration for LavaCon ends Sept 12th. Use referral code MINDTOUCH to get a $100 discount off your conference tuition.
See you in Portland!