After the conference, what sticks in the memory? PLAIN 2013

Dr Marcia Riley and Rachel McAlpine at PLAIN 2013PLAIN 2013, an international gathering of plain language practitioners. What stays in my mind, 10 days later? 

Vancouver, where Kiwis feel at home — sunshine, sparkling waters, mountains, autumn colours. I met other kindred spirits and enjoyed their company. Walks in Stanley Park and along the beach. Favourite cafe/bar: Espana. 

Highlight: meeting one of my long-time heroes, Ginny Redish. Her session with Neil James on mobile content was packed to the gills, with good reason.

Over cocktails, the unforgettable Prof. Joe Kimble romped through a 10-year project: redrafting U.S. federal court rules. Wild and crazy tales indeed. 

Five speeches hit the spot for me:

  • Mark Hochauer showed us why plain language is not necessarily sufficient for perfect clarity: human beings do not make decisions on logic alone.
  • Karen Shriver presented the next instalment of her research findings: which plain language guidelines are actually supported by evidence?
  • Josiah Fisk laid bare the meta-message of the Marlboro Man ads, so much more powerful than mere words.
  • Russell Willerton spoke about plain language and ethics, starting with a swift overview of various ethical systems: fascinating. 
  • Martijn Jacobs showed us how he transforms the writing of whacking big corporations with pragmatism and strategy, and stays happy.

Sarah Leavitt, David Wong and Penny Goldsmith showed how graphic stories increase the reader's engagement — the metamessage rules. I won't forget the sight of a huge room crammed with 200 people totally involved in their Round Robin small group sessions. My own presentation on how I've juggled writing books with a day-job for many decades was slightly off the wall and over the wall, but well received. (Audience: thank you, and good luck with your own joy-writing!)

The final dinner honoured Martin Cutts, long-time campaigner for plain English in the UK. Then we danced off our conference torpor to the music of Julie and Rush Clement. Because at any conference there's a lot of sitting, eating, and sitting and eating, sometimes simultaneously.

Warm thanks to Cheryl Stephens and her brilliant team. I had a great time and learned a good deal. What more could you ask? 

Photo: a spirited discussion with Dr. Marcia Riley — such moments don't fade.

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