Enhance Your Document With Rich Media

Shlomo Perets of MicroType, a leading expert on advanced documentation techniques, gave a 90 minute presentation in Yokneam on how we can enhance our online PDF documents using non-text additions. Specific authoring tools were not discussed, as many of the techniques shown were done directly in the PDF document.  It was both eye-opening, as well as practical, to be shown how, often using available resources, we can make our PDF documents so much more effective. Shlomo Peretz; Frank Zabow has a question

Shlomo Perets, of MicroType, gave a presentation on how we can enhance our online PDF documents using non-text additions such as 3D drawings, movies, even quizzes.

Shlomo Perets of MicroType, a leading expert on advanced documentation techniques, gave a 90 minute presentation in Yokneam on how we can enhance our online PDF documents using non-text additions. Specific authoring tools were not discussed, as many of the techniques shown were done directly in the PDF document.  It was both eye-opening, as well as practical, to be shown how, often using available resources, we can make our PDF documents so much more effective.

Starting with an old PDF document, Shlomo showed over 20 of Israel's finest and best known technical and marcom writers from all over northern and central Israel how to add rich media. “Feedback usually is positive when adding rich media,” Shlomo explained, “even to old documents, but often people are conservative in how much they put into their PDFs.”

The first example he showed was the addition of a 3D model to a document.  With respect to Acrobat, there is the option to include 3D interactive items. 3D models of modules, or components, are often prepared as part of manufacturing. Mostly this is done in programs, such as AutoCAD,Solidworks and proENGINEER. If you have a document, and have all the 3D data, it is possible to embed it in the document for end-user to see and interact with it.. One of the problems with CAD-type programs is that they produce large files. Such files can be excessively large. Exporting native CAD files into UD3 can be easily performed using Adobe 3D Toolkit. UD3  are not very heavy files. For example, a 40 megabit CAD file can be 1-2 megabit in U3D. This will add “weight” to the PDF, but significantly less than the original 3D file. U3D can be used in Acrobat Professional 7 and 8; Acrobat 3D can  convert numerous formats into U3D. to Adobe Reader 7 and 8 can be used to display 3D objects that can also be manipulated by the end-user in the PDF.

Many of the participants, including Jonathan Matt from BMC, Amnon Peled of Motorola, and David Levy felt uncomfortable making changes in the PDF and not in the authoring tools. Samir Zahra specifically asked Shlomo about authoring in Word using 3D files. Shlomo answered that it makes sense to put the rich media into the original files, but specific programs are needed, for example, FrameMaker 8 or Microsoft Office applications with the PDFMaker installed by Acrobat 3D. He reminded us that all that is needed for authoring is included in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite, from FM 8 to Captivate 3, to Adobe Acrobat 3D Version 8.

Any tool can be used to make a PDF and then we can to go from there to add the rich media, Shlomo reiterated. Our users don’t care and don’t see how it was done, they just see the end result. Once familiar with process, it can take few minutes to integrate 3D, with more time for special views and buttons.

Shmuel Goldstein from Marvell asked about the tool bar that appears with the 3D figure, if it was always present with a 3D view. Shlomo answered that the tool bar helps the end-user manage views and manipulate parts: do cross sections,  show or hide parts, i.e., take off the front cover of that widget. Shmuel also asked about security settings. It is possible to prevent copying the 3D data, but viewing should be no problem. Depending on permissions assigned, authors can prevent some functions.

Another way to look at the 3D image is actually as basic animation. Some CAD tools would generate the animation. By modifying the display to see items with different levels of transparency or highlighting, for instance, the animation can be varied in different documents. Shlomo suggested we check out Acrobatusers.com as well as www.microtype.com/showcase/3DAsst.html to see some examples.

“What is the logic doing it in the PDF?” many of the listeners asked. The end-user really doesn’t care how it was made. “If you can do it with the authoring tools, or with add-ons, by all means do it,” Shlomo said. But sometimes acrobat gives more options for rich media additions.

Movies can be created using Camtasia, Captivate, or other tools, which record any activity on screen and turn it into a movie.  Captivate can export to Flash; what you choose depends on what you want. Camtasia  records, frame by frame, and you may have to edit out parts such as mouse movement. Captivate records only the active parts of your screen, avoiding some of this editing. Movies of this sort are saved as swf files.

Once the movie/animation is complete it can even have voice-overs. The movie is placed in the PDF just as you would any image: create the link you need or the area to embed the movie. Shlomo prefers using a link where the movie will open as a separate window. By placing the movie into a specific area in the document, as you would with any image, it may be distorted - either too big or too small. A floating window, linked to an icon such as a movie camera, will help prevent this distortion. You can specify size of the window to get the movie in proper dimensions. It is even possible to have it linked to a bookmark in the PDF. Add the movie once and can be hidden on the page and the title can be hidden as well. With a floating window, only the bookmark will start the movie. With FrameMaker-to-Acrobat TimeSavers you can add the movie and then distill to create a PDF that automatically includes the movie. When using Word documents, movies need to be added to the PDF.

Another option is quizzes. The quiz can be given by a person as a series of photos made into a movie, or just as a form of animation. Captivate has a number of options for types of quizzes. The questions can even be in random order in the quiz: each time the end-users take the quiz, the order and the variety of the questions can be different.

The use of movies, however they are generated, can add extra depth  to your PDF. An example might even be a flow chart that with a simpler interface can be animated.

Rich media can only enhance our online PDFs. No matter what the text, integration of 3D models, animation, movies, or even quizzes, can only add to the document. And, a number of these options can be added to a single document. The bottom line is to remember that people would much rather watch than read.

Networking during the break;  Amnon Peled has a last minute question; David Schor and Shmuel Goldstein at discussion.

Marketing Complex Innovation - Summary

On December 4th Stephen Schuster, the CEO of Rainier Communications (http://www.rainierco.com/) spoke about "Marketing Complex Innovation" at City Hall in Yokneam.

Mr. Schuster gave a comprehensive talk which covered the history of PR, how to develop a marketing statement which not only satisfies the technical people but also can be understood by the potential customers. He gave specific examples of cases where products which seemed difficult to market because of their complexity or because they just weren't very different from the competition's product were successfully marketed.

Discussion continued among the participants during the breaks as people with different experience, such as marcom specialists and Marketing VPs, shared their experiences.

I want to thank Tzvi for organizing another great event.

Do All Marketing Writers Lie?

This provocative title indeed generated a lively discussion at the last meeting of the Yokneam Forum of Technical Writers.  The meeting, held on November 14th, hosted Udi Efrat, the Corporate Marketing and Marcom manager at Camtek Ltd.  Although the majority of participants were technical writers, the marcom writers certainly made their presence felt and everyone contributed to an enjoyable and worthwhile evening.

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Community Building

Community Building

Sarah Shadmi from Oranim College spoke about the changes in modern society that have created a need for "Community Building" and how "Social Capital" affects a community's ability to function during difficult periods. During her lecture, Sarah explained how social capital and a "community" provide can assist us with seemingly unrelated problems. After the lecture, she responded to questions relating to nongeographic communities, such as "professional communities" and "social capital" in the work environment. The discussion was both interesting and provided a framework for analyzing the dynamics of how we as technical writers get the information and assistance we need, when we need it.

The meeting included a good mix of experienced and fairly new TWs, as well as a graphic artist. There was also an interesting mix of freelancers, in house writers, TW companies, and documentation managers.


VBA and Word Macros

VBA and Word Macros

The meeting was held at Osem. Moshe Chertoff, who managed the meeting, quickly turned the chair over to Srul Alexander, who gave a very informative presentation on macros and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). Srul opened with a real life scenario, a document with hundreds of tables that need to be reformatted. He described how a macro that finds all the tables and reformats solved this problem quickly and consistently. The presentation included details on how to create macros in VBA, the programming language used in Microsoft Office applications. The presentation included explanations on some of the basics of programming.

About the Speaker

Srul is a former programmer and systems developer. Four years ago Srul made a career change to technical writing and has been working for Dr. Text ever since.


Working for the US Market

Prepared by Jonathan Matt and Barbara Claman

Following introductions and a show of a few new faces, Svi quickly turned over the floor to Nira Barak, who presented a brief overview of Synel Industries.

Henry Morgenstern - The evening continued with Henry Morgenstern of "In Other Words" relating his impressions of the US Market for Technical Writing - telling us things we didn't expect to hear. Henry drew quite a crowd, with over 20 of Israel's most experienced Technical Writers and Translators present.

For the past year, Henry has been living in Tampa, Florida, considered the sixth largest hi-tech center in the US - with its large data processing industry, aerospace, and large IT depts., plus Disney, and a wide variety of small Internet companies.

Henry's comparisons between technical communication in Israel and in the US were fascinating. He observes a deep contrast between the technical writing scene in the US and Israel, the most obvious being the fact that the vast majority of Americans are native English speakers.

Throughout his lecture, Henry emphasized that the US technical writing market differs tremendously from place to place. Even within the state of Florida there are great differences. Henry concentrated on describing the South Florida market and comparing it with the Israeli market.

Henry feels that Israel offers a relative advantage for TWs, as a hi-tech country where English is not the native language. In general, Israeli TWs use more advanced authoring tools and techniques than those he found in Florida. However, he pointed out that this is not necessarily true of other US markets, such as the Silicon Valley, Boston, or Houston.

In his opinion, the work standards of Florida writers are seemingly less professional than those in Israel, with a lower demand for tools, and a
higher use of temp agencies. Henry was especially surprised to find that Word is still the most frequently used tool in Florida. In many circles,
single-sourcing and Framemaker are just now becoming hot-topics.

Henry also found it strange that while there are US universities where one can study Technical Writing up to the PhD level, the average US TW does not see technical communication as a high status profession.

Henry discussed the current state of off-shore documentation going on in the US. He said that it has been increasing and has become a very sensitive issue. Outsourcing to India, where writers demand a mere $3 to $5 per hour has become quite common for companies with huge amounts of documentation because the apparent savings are tremendous. On the other hand, he found that many smaller companies and those where documentation was needed by their customers are determined to keep the work in house because of the importance they place on the quality and accuracy of their documentation. These companies have little interest in outsourcing, and even less interest in offshore outsourcing.

Henry also made comparisons between Ireland's growth as a hi-tech powerhouse and Israel's relatively modest growth during the same period. According to Henry, there is some outsourcing of documentation to Ireland despite the fact that their rates are as high or higher than American rates. Henry attributed Ireland's success to their willingness to learn, as opposed to an attitude that has been typical of many Israeli companies that we know best.

Regarding salaries, Henry stated that in-house writers in Florida earn between 40-50K, but without all the benefits that Israeli in-house writers
have come to expect. Henry found that rates for freelance writers in the US generally ranged between $20 and $45/hour. He also found that there was a
successful high-end market for TWs and TW companies who offer value added services, such as Version Management. When asked why Words has not tried to introduce that into the Israeli market, both he and others in the audience didn't feel that Israeli companies are willing to pay for this kind of service.

As far as lifestyle is concerned, Henry noted far greater mobility amongst US writers, with their willingness to move from state to state to pursue even a 10-month writing position. Henry also mentioned witnessing an extensive use of networking. Henry ended the talk by observing an overall higher status, professionalism and conditions amongst writers in Israel than in the US.

About the Host:

Synel is a market leader in the field of data collection equipment, with full service solutions for Time & Attendance and Access Control. Synel is publicly traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, with over 20,000 installations and over 120,000 terminals installed worldwide.

Effective Presentation Skills

Prepared by Avner Greenberg and Carolyn Tal

Last evening at the meeting of the Yokneam Forum of Technical Writers, Barry Katz, who passionately believes that improved communication has the power to better our lives, mesmerized the packed audience of Technical Writers at Yokneam’s City Hall with his lecture on Effective Presentation Skills. The writers came with high expectations and were not disappointed.

According to Barry, a presentation should never merely be an exercise in transferring information; the effective communicator must define what he wants the audience to do, think and feel. "Thinking is not enough because feelings last longer than facts”. Barry ably demonstrated the principles of effective presentation in his talk, capturing the audience’s attention from the outset and maintaining a high level of interest throughout the evening.  No ‘Power Pointless’ tedium here; the audience was totally involved, not only through the content of the message but also through non-verbal means like making eye contact with each person, addressing them by name, and through the liberal use of humor and personal anecdotes.

Barry recommends that we pay attention to what the audience is paying attention to. He says that there is no right and wrong way to present. What is important is whether it is appropriate to your audience, location and time. Barry emphasized that presenting is always a sales event, where we want to take the opportunity to sell ourselves and have people buy our message. His approach is that "It's all about people." and that you "cannot not communicate". In order to succeed, all presentations need some type of interaction.

There are 5 parts to every successful presentation:

1. Planning and Preparation

2. Timing and Structure

3. Personal Delivery Style

4. Visual Aids

5. Question and Answers.

Of the 5, the most important part is Planning and Preparation. Always begin with your objectives, stated and hidden. If you don't know whyu, you can't figure out how to present. What do you want your audience to do, think, and feel as a result of the presentation? Who are you talking to? Focus on the WII.FM that your audience wants to hear (WII.FM = What's In It For Me?). Barry strongly recommends that we always have a "Plan B", that we prepare for different eventualities, and that we rehearse before any presentation.

Regarding Timing and Structure, Barry adds two parts (Entrance and Exit) to the tradional three part model of an Opening, a Body and a Closing).

Studies conducted on retention show that audiences only retain 5-10% of the content after 48 hours, so you need to choose the message that you want the audience to retain and hammer it in throughout all parts of the presentation. People's attention fades in and out throughout the presentation, but there are two points when you can expect to have the full attention of the entire audience, at the start and end. Therefore, as you approach the end of your allotted time, skip to the Closing even if you haven't covered everything in the Body.

Personal Delivery Style is just that, personal. You have to feel comfortable so be yourself and don't copy someone else's style because it doesn't work. However, there are techniques that you can use, such as recording participants' names during introductions so we can relate to audience members by name during the presentation. He emphasized that having at least some eye contact with everyone in the room is a way of acknowledging participants. Pay attention to what you wear, how you stand, and especially what you do with your hands - always keep them visible because it enspires trust.

Visual Aids should aid the presentation. They should follow the KISS guideline - Keep It Short and Simple. 6 lines to a slide and 6 words to line is a good rule of thumb. Other tips include adding the date of the presentation to the first slide to make it appear up-to-date, have the agenda on the second slide, show less than you present, make sure you know what all of the acronyms mean, and give contact information at the end to make the audience feel that you are approachable (few actually contact you so there is a large gain for a small investment).

Questions and Answers are the most difficult part of any presentation, because you can't control the questions. However, they are important to the success of your presentation. You can use both words and body language to invite questions, for example, raising your hand when you ask for questions invites questions (Monkey See, Monkey Do), while preparing to leave discourages them.

While talking about specific presentation skills, Barry made sure to include the heart of presenting as well. He peppered his presentation with sayings from his grandmother, such as "Attitude, not Aptitude, determines your Altitude" to impress upon us the importance of overcoming our fear.