Anchoring strengths to improve services: July’s freelance update

On the heels of last month’s post where I talked about some of my other interests besides digital forensics and cyber incident response, I was beyond excited to receive a contract for a new article I’d pitched about how I use technology to accommodate my own ADHD.

This mattered on a few different levels:

  • Using my experience to help other people is a bulwark against the isolation fellow neurodivergents can feel from not fitting in.
  • It’s another step towards expanding my range outside of where I got my start.
  • It’s pure validation: someone else agrees that the stories I want to tell have value.

That’s everything, because until recently, I struggled with calling myself a journalist.

After all, went my reasoning 15 years ago, I wasn’t some intrepid reporter covering international trouble spots or even local city council meetings. I was a stay-at-home mom with a baby, working basically just part-time. My articles were what a “real” journalist on a listserv called “PR fluff” for niche trade magazines. I’d never gone to J-school and besides, so much of what I wrote was based on material provided by corporate PR and marketing departments. He had a point, right?

Later in my career, I would hedge and call myself a “trade journalist,” but deep down I didn’t feel I could own the phrase. I believed I didn’t have the chops to pitch big magazines. It was a big part of why I chose full-time employment in 2012 — ironically, to become something more akin to a “brand journalist.” I loved the idea of telling cool stories about the way customers use tools to get a job done well, or about the problems and solutions engineers encounter on their way to a finished product.

This turned out to be naive. A lot of what software engineers do is proprietary and nondisclosable, and as for customers, many (as I’d found during my freelance years) didn’t want to talk about cases that hadn’t yet made their way to court.

What I ended up doing instead was still pretty cool:

  • I wrote about a wide range of topics from machine learning to US constitutional law to mobile device operating systems. In doing so, I gained a more solid understanding of how technology is advancing.
  • I learned how marketing campaigns are designed and run, and how to integrate public relations and communications.
  • I honed my skills in short-form marketing communications — and learned that my personal sweet spot still lies in long-form storytelling.

Written words’ place in the storytelling repository

While researching how people learn, absorb, process, and retain information, I’ve learned there is still a critical need for long-form content that readers can use not just to learn things, but also to reference when drafting policy and making purchasing recommendations.

That’s what led me to write my first LinkedIn article: “No One Wants to Read Anymore… Or Do They?” In it, I described:

  • Why long-form content remains key to any marketing strategy, including where it fits with visual, auditory, and hands-on content. 
  • How good long-form content supports good business, and long-form content’s marketing benefits. 
  • Some examples of great long-form content I’ve encountered, and the keys to creating content that resonates.

In fact, my research for that article made me look at content in a different way. Long-form is still important to people like me, who learn by reading and process by writing. (After all, websites like Longreads wouldn’t exist if the value weren’t there.)

But my secondary learning form is hands-on (for example, training), and plenty of people prefer visual and auditory content for their own learning. This can be important to neurodiversity accommodations, so that’s driving me to learn how to better balance the four kinds of content.

For example: the podcast

When I started with Forensic Focus, one of the first things I was asked to do was start a new podcast. I, well, balked. I personally don’t listen to podcasts — when your brain doesn’t process audio input as cleanly as written words, why spend the time listening (and potentially having to rewind) when you can read instead? So I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

But Jamie and Scar really wanted to make it happen, and before long, I was able to mentally prepare by focusing on a thing I’ve learned to do well over many years of practice: phone interviews. Where, if I take notes while the other person is talking, I can process information long enough to hold a conversation.

I recorded my first podcast interview with DFIR Training’s Brett Shavers a couple of weeks ago. While the podcast isn’t live yet, you’ll be able to find it at ForensicFocus.com. As first efforts go, it isn’t bad, but it also isn’t my best — nor, however, was my first-ever phone interview. I’m taking the lessons learned just like I did nearly 20 years ago, and I’m looking forward to conducting future interviews!

How the SANS DFIR Summit brought it all together

I spent the last Thursday and Friday this month in Austin, Texas, attending the SANS Institute’s Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Summit. My job: conference coverage. My Techno Security recap was very well received, and I wanted to be able to offer the same level of coverage to this more technical conference. You know, like a journalist. Look for the new recap a little later in August!

One standout part of the DFIR Summit was its engagement of Ashton Rodenhiser, a “graphic recorder” who runs Mind’s Eye Creative. You know those cool videos of a sped-up hand drawing out a big diagram of whatever a speaker is talking about? That’s what Ashton does.

What I loved about this approach is that it dovetails nicely with the multimedia approach I’ve been contemplating. I’ve learned recently that many neurodivergent people are highly visual. The feedback I heard about Ashton’s work was “wow, I get it now” — that it provided a bridge between what people had heard in the lecture and read on the slides. While I and others sat there absorbing the information through notetaking, Ashton was sketching, basically enabling everyone to process the talks at the same level. As conference organizers intended, her work provided a focal point for people to gather and discuss.

Of course, visual and aural output is still challenging for me personally. I often have to be reminded to capture photographs, and listening to a lecture takes just about all the energy I have to focus. But I can respect that other people feel the same way about reading.

If anything, what the summit reminded me of is a lesson I learned a few years ago: the right partnerships between people with different strengths is what’s important. For all the expertise of the other conference attendees, Ashton still contributed something no one else could. With that in mind, in the coming months I’ll be looking to reconnect with graphic designers and others whose visual thinking skills augment the words I come up with.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a story about ADHD and technology to finish and submit, and more stories behind it to pitch. Do you have a story you’d like to work with me to tell, about the cool things you or your company want to share with a broader audience? Give me a shout!

Image by engin akyurt from Pixabay

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