Blog

Kelly Schermer

Just because it’s tech talk, doesn’t mean it should be boring. Kelly taps her eclectic background—from biochemistry to children’s books—to infuse the unexpected into otherwise dry stories. Her ideas are proven to lengthen attention spans. 

Sr Storyteller | LinkedIn
Image of a row of records. A hand pulls out one record from the pile that reads

08/10/2021

DJ Forsyth Fresh drops the Writing Bling

By Kelly Schermer

Image of a row of records. A hand pulls out one record from the pile that reads

Image by Brandon Conboy

You know who gets one big name? Rockstars get one big name. We’re talking show-stopping, stage-rocking, mind-blowing rockstars that know how to shake up their genre and make audiences think and feel in new ways. These are the stars that possess so much raw talent and energy they only need the one name to stake a claim in the hearts and minds of everyone they meet. Think Beyonce, Lizzo, Eminem. Forsyth.

For those of you who haven’t met Forsyth Alexander yet, you’re in for a treat! Forsyth approaches storytelling for business with a fun, can-do attitude that gives her platinum-artist status at 2A. She’s a whirlwind of smooth jazz, bubbly pop, and marimba beats wrapped up as a storyteller extraordinaire. Thinking that sounds eclectic and interesting? That’s not even half of it!

DJ of technical writing

From a young age, Forsyth knew she wanted to be a music DJ and a writer—in that order. She got her degree in radio/television and motion pictures at University of North Carolina while working as a DJ at night and taking as many creative writing classes as she could. After graduation, Forsyth landed a job at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (now called the Horton Museum), where she became the go-to person for IT, editing, and design questions.

These experiences helped her realize her love for learning about new technologies, and her gift for editing other people’s writing to help them sound like the best version of themselves. Armed with this newfound awareness, Forsyth went on to build a vibrant career as a one-of-a-kind tech savant and writer, working for organizations across industries—from an engineering group to a home furnishing catalog company to a tech startup.

Today, Forsyth offers 2A clients her expertise in explaining different technologies as well as skillful guidance on positioning emerging capabilities. Like a rockstar DJ, who knows how to appeal to the audience in the club, Forsyth uses playful words and smart metaphors to draw in her reader and make new ideas stick like fresh melodies.

Spoken word poet

All great artists attribute stars that came before them, for Forsyth there’s no one main influence. “My music playlist looks like I blew up a record store, and it landed on my Spotify account,” she likes to say. But given her time as a DJ and her ability to transition seamlessly between industries, organizations, and writing voices, it’s no surprise that she thrives in variety. From Rolling Stones to Talking Heads to REM, Forsyth’s got great tunes to share, but my favorite Forsyth original is the song she sings about her home.

If you haven’t heard it yet, just ask her where she lives. In her smooth southern accent, she’ll tell you, “I live with eight cats, three dogs, two chickens, two ducks, and a bunny in a big old stone house on an acre of land.” There’s no pear tree in this version, but the rhythm sticks with you all the same.

Forsyth. The woman. The storyteller. The legend. Let her shine for you!

A rallying cry for case studies

04/06/2021

A rallying cry for case studies

By Kelly Schermer

A rallying cry for case studies

Image by Brandon Conboy

At my house, pillow talk includes the future of driver-less cars and basic income,” says Tracey Whitten. In one quote, 2A’s program manager in charge of customer stories pretty well sums up her passion for technology and her activist approach to storytelling. It’s a rare combination that’s a serious boon for our clients when it comes to crafting the best story for case studies of all sizes and shapes. (And, trust us, each case study is its own special snowflake.)

Tracey’s got an unquenchable thirst for stories that started long ago. Even before joining 2A, she used interviews to broaden her understanding of those around her and the process of writing to sharpen and share her own ideas. From a journal to a blog, from classwork to her everyday job, Tracey relies on the basic tenets of storytelling to learn what makes others take action socially, politically, and financially—which is exactly what we need to get to the heart of every case study.

In college, Tracey earned a degree in organizational communications and a minor in legal studies. The plan at the time was to pursue employer law to help improve poor working conditions for underrepresented employees. But who needs law school to affect change when you’re as creative and engaged as Tracey?

In the years since she graduated, Tracey has built up communities and expanded her resume through positions that speak to her multifaceted talents. From organizing labor unions and communities for social change, to helping a tech startup get off the ground, to launching a civic engagement technology platform, there doesn’t seem to be a challenge Tracey can’t tackle. And through it all, she weaves her passion for understanding, honoring, and telling the stories of those around her. 

In her new role at 2A, Tracey heads up our case study practice. Considering the number of client requests for these stories keeps doubling, we couldn’t be more excited to have her join us! With her dogged commitment to ensuring all voices are heard and her technical drive to plan, organize, and execute against a deadline, Tracey’s our ace in the hole for turning out high-quality case studies that satisfy partners, customers, and solution providers alike.

Wondering who has the breadth, depth, and drive to get the most out of your story? Meet Tracey!

Turning up the heat on wikis with technical animations

01/14/2021

Turning up the heat on wikis with technical animations

By Kelly Schermer, Annie Wegrich

Turning up the heat on wikis with technical animations

Animations are blazing hot sauce in marketing today for good reason. They’re informative, persuasive, and add a spicy zing that keeps your company top of mind—in less than two minutes. With nearly two-thirds of customers preferring to watch a short video over reading a document (Wyzowl), animations offer the biggest bump for your brand. They have the potential to deliver a higher message density (think Scoville Heat Units) per second than other types of video by giving you full control over the auditory and visual elements as well as the interplay between the two.

A lot of animations today target the check-writing, decision-making customer at an organization. Typically, these animations stay at the organization or product level to help business leaders make the best choices for their teams. However, in the B2B technology space, staying at a higher level can sometimes mean burying the details of your main differentiator in technical wikis, docs, and blogs. In short, not giving it the marketing props it deserves.

This strategy can be troublesome as your offering gets vetted down the sales funnel. It forces developers and engineers, who are the key influencers and ultimate implementers of your solution, to slog through technical documents to find and unpack crucial nuggets. Who can blame them if they can’t find your buried differentiators?

A technical animation targets tech-minded influencers  

At 2A, we help B2B clients troubleshoot for these potential pitfalls by considering how a technical animation can be used to round out their marketing strategy. Technical animations target the developer/engineer influencers, homing in on a single feature or capability and describing both how it works and why the audience should care about it—in under two minutes. They can be especially useful if you want to:

Land a technical concept that’s not well understood and explain your product’s advantages

Demonstrate key features and controls you offer that exceed current industry capabilities

Investigate different scenarios and/or environments that might create new use cases

Our technical animations give you the old two-for-one punch by educating influencers about nuanced topics and promoting the value of your solution. If you’ve been relying on classic technical documents to help communicate what sets you apart, you could be missing a valuable chance to stir up more interest with a technical animation.

Spice up a technical story with us!

Emily Maryatt—webinar maestro extraordinaire!

01/07/2021

Emily Maryatt—webinar maestro extraordinaire!

By Kelly Schermer

Emily Maryatt—webinar maestro extraordinaire!

In the best of times, writing up a spotlight blog means grabbing a drink with a colleague to dish on work. Seeing as we’re still reeling from 2020, let’s just pretend I’m sitting down with Emily Maryatt at her favorite hangout. Emily’s been with 2A for over a year working as an embedded consultant for Microsoft. She runs the MSFT research webinar series doing everything from branding, pitching, recording, hosting, and reporting. She calls it a marketing-PM-producer role all in one. While most of the presenters are engineers, scientists, and/or researchers under Microsoft Research, they often have guests join from other universities who are working on the same project.

Join me in my imaginary social outing. The scene opens on a small café table where a woman (Emily) sits alone sipping a drink, while a second mug waits in front of an empty seat across from her. Another woman (Kelly) enters and inaudible pleasantries are exchanged. As Kelly sits and unwraps her scarf, the interview begins (okay, this next part is all real).

Kelly: Hearing about your role gave me serious job envy! You must learn a ton of cool stuff! What’s been the most interesting project so far?

Emily: Oh gosh it’s endless. There have been so many topics from improving accessibility in image search, securing election fraud, importance of quantum cryptography, drones, and how you can manipulate data to tell almost any story you want. I think the data visualization webinar was my favorite because it was so applicable beyond our typical researcher audience. It felt like something almost anyone could watch. Then, we had just one last week on how an avatar’s virtual reality environment changes user behavior. 

Kelly: Wait! What does it mean? Is my avatar controlling me?

Emily: It means people tend to make decisions differently based on how much an avatar looks like a real person and what the field of view shows in VR. The less life like, the less they take it seriously. Also when it comes to pain, if a person feels connected to the avatar they are less likely to take risks or more afraid of someone hurting them, say stabbing them in the hand in the VR experience.

Kelly: Oh, that’s very cool, so there’s like a threshold of VR that triggers empathy?

Emily: Haha, I’m no expert, but it seems to imply that people have a different decision path depending on how they connect to the experience.

Kelly: I see that you’re a serious photographer too. How does your experience behind a camera help with your role on the webinar team?

​​Emily: I think having a creative eye always helps in marketing, especially branding. Since I have a lot of freedom in this job, it’s allowed me to choose the design aesthetic, and work with our graphic designer closely. I’m sure he really appreciates all my feedback. lol

Also, I deal with a lot of new clients in photography and am always working with them to achieve their goals and bond with them to make them feel comfortable. I take that same approach when I reach out to new researchers pitching webinars. Once they sign on, I walk them through the process and show them what they can expect while always trying to make it painless and fun. 

Kelly: I love that! You sound like a real asset to the webinar team!! Last question, if we could meet for a drink, where would we meet and what would you order and why?  

Emily: hmm let me think. Pre-COVID I’d probably say Percy’s in Ballard. They have a drink called the awaken one, and it’s the best dang drink around. It’s also just good music and a fun vibe.

Kelly: Let’s plan it for next time! Thanks so much for meeting up with me today. It’s been super interesting to learn about your work.

Emily: Of course! Thanks for the interview. Back to real life, I guess. haha

Scrolling bling for marketing

12/04/2020

Scrolling bling for marketing

By Kelly Schermer

We’re coming into the holidays, and you know what that means—it’s time to add a little sparkle and get a little tinseled. After all, there’s nothing like sprucing up to get attention. You might say it works the same way in B2B technology marketing, although (spoiler alert) it’s highly unlikely that blow-up characters and garish lights will seal the deal for you. Not to worry, we’ve got something better to last the whole year through. 

At 2A, we’ve come up with a full-stack approach to lighting up your marketing assets. We put engaging copy and arresting design into motion, creating a scrollable, interactive web experience. You can full-stack just about any written content—from case studies to ebooks to you-name-it-we-can-do-it! It’s a surefire way to put a fresh spin on an asset that’s just too good to miss.  

Recently, we created a full-stack experience for WeaveWorks to add some twinkle to their GitOps ebook. While the content is the same as our PDF version, the experience appeals to a whole new audience and effectively extends the asset’s reach. 

“Removing the barrier of logging in, downloading and waiting for an email allows us to deliver our ebook content to prospects faster,” said Sonja Schweigert, VP of Marketing at Weaveworks. “Giving ours the full-stack treatment allows people the option of scrolling through the content from the convenience of their phone or tablet instead. It’s a nice change from a typical webpage asset, because we can meet the reader on the device and channel of their choice and still give them the full story. 2A Consulting not only wowed me with timely and superb execution but also delivered an outstanding content and design experience for our clients.”  

Curious about how the full-stack technology works? Erin, 2A’s head orchestrater behind the process, takes you behind the scenes of our case studies on the 2A website.  

Curious about how to make the full-stack experience work for you? Give us a ringle jingle!  

Book within colored swirls

08/31/2020

You can say that again (and get new results)!

By Kelly Schermer

Book within colored swirls

My family has never let me live down the Christmas morning that I took charge of the video camera and escorted my loyal viewers on a tour of the table—from an ant’s perspective. To hear them tell the story you would think it was part of a premeditated plan to make them all sick. As it turns out, it was an excellent warm-up for Ana Pastor’s writing class that I took through the Hugo House.

In a nutshell (or an ant’s bathtub, as some of us prefer to think of it), the class followed Raymond Queneau’s book Exercises in Style, and taught us how to walk around and through and over and under a story. We started by writing a very simple story in the style of notation and then practiced 15 of Queneau’s 99 variations, including retrograde (telling it backward) and animism (giving the agency of the story to non-living things).

Did I get tired of thinking about my story? You bet. Were any two tellings of it remotely the same? No way. Turns out, you can say something again and again and again with varied results. Super interesting for a bunch of word geeks like my 2A posse.

And therefore, and so with, and wherein, I invited workmates to join me for a virtual lunch and test a couple of Queneau’s styles on our own unremarkable stories. We did notation, retrograde, and dream (in which you say it like it was…. well, a dream). Here are some of the results:

 Toddler strollin’ and podcast rollin’

  • Notation: Getting my kid ready for school takes 30 minutes when it should take 5. So sometimes I run him to school instead of walking him to school. And either way I get to listen to a podcast alone on the way home, which is a win.
  • Retrograde: I started my morning alone listening to the NPR Politics Podcast after running my kid to school in our jogging stroller. It was a lovely slice of “me time” after negotiating with a toddler to put on shoes for 10 minutes.
  • Dream: I show up to drop my kid off at school, but there’s a mom test I didn’t study for. All the other moms read the email and studied, but I missed the email and had no idea there was a test.

Zen and the art of dishwashing

  • Notation: I put on headphones and walk into the kitchen. I scroll for some music or a podcast.  I stare out the window. I turn on the water and wash the dishes.
  • Retrograde: I turn the water on and wash the dishes. I stare out the window. I scroll for some music or a podcast, after walking in the kitchen and putting my headphones on.
  • Dream: I float into the kitchen. Noise is everywhere. I look out the window and see our neighbor, my uncle, and old boss floating down a river.

Thin-soled, thick-skinned runner

  • Notation: I stepped on a rock while running in my thin-soled shoes. My foot seemed fine for the remainder of my route. When I stopped running, my foot began to hurt.
  • Retrograde: My foot hurts, like it’s bruised on the bottom. It seemed fine when I was running just a couple minutes ago. I guess I did step on a rock with my thin-soled shoes.
  • Dream: I stepped on sharp stones, I couldn’t avoid them no matter how hard I tried, but I was able to continue on without pain. As I slowed the stones disappeared, and my feet felt cold.

Cool, right? Same ideas, same words, different stories. In summation (please approach the following as a choose-your-own-adventure call to action):

  1. If you’re feeling stuck in your writing, take a page from Queneau’s book and try a different angle or 78 of them.
  2. If you, too, need a fun way to give everyone at work a brain reboot, run an Exercise in Style workshop.
  3. If you’re more of a picture person than a word geek, check out Matt Madden’s 99 ways to tell a story to see how boss he was at making this technique his own.
  4. And, if you’re tempted to hijack a family holiday in favor of building empathy for ants, just hand over the camera.  
Decks without talk tracks are like dancers without pants

06/18/2020

Decks without talk tracks are like dancers without pants

By Kelly Schermer

Decks without talk tracks are like dancers without pants

We’ll be the first to admit that building a PowerPoint deck is a strange dance. First, you whittle the key points into slides using design to make them visually compelling, then you write the talk track to tell the overarching story. It seems out of order, but over the years we always come back to it. We’ve learned that by carefully deconstructing and then retelling the story it gets stronger and clearer.

In the race to the perfect presentation, talk tracks are often overlooked. The energy goes into developing the slides, and when they’re done, the presentation seems ready. But it’s important to remember that presentations are about speakers presenting. Slides provide smart visuals that give the main points wings, but it’s the talk track that determines how well your speaker lands the story.

A talk track is a well-constructed script that can be practiced by the speaker to ensure they’re interpreting and sharing the story the way you intended. It provides an easy-to-follow narrative that gives speakers confidence and enriches the slides. From a pitch deck to a keynote, every presentation needs a talk track. It can make the difference between a sale and a goose egg, or a high-earnings projection and a slip in market confidence.

By following the 2A approach of whittling, prodding, and testing, you can build a better story for your slides and your speakers. And be confident that speakers from anywhere—with any level of expertise—can bring the story to life.

Want some help practicing your presentation dance moves? Let’s give it a twirl together!

Fill critical gaps in your project teams with an embedded consultant from 2A

05/12/2020

Fill critical gaps in your project teams with an embedded consultant from 2A

By Kelly Schermer

Fill critical gaps in your project teams with an embedded consultant from 2A

We’ve all been there before: spread too thin at work, in desperate need of a specific skillset, without the time or open seats to hire. Considering it takes more than 40 days to fill an open position and costs 75 percent of the employee’s salary just to get them started, lobbying for additional headcount at the moment you’re most vulnerable can feel like a tragic plot twist. Suddenly, the solution to your biggest challenge has just become your new biggest challenge.

That’s where 2A embedded consultants (EC) come onto the scene! We handle the legwork of sourcing someone who can hit the ground running in the role you need, saving you the time and money that goes into it. 2A ECs act as temporary teammates who provide support and subject matter expertise. From junior to senior, left brained to right, and everything in between—our ECs complement your team’s existing skills to help you tackle your gnarliest challenges.

Whether you start off thinking of our ECs as project or program managers, in no time at all you’ll see they’re really the number cruncher, go-to-market guru, or channel whisperer your team needed all along:

Number cruncher—This all-around business manager makes sense of IOs, POs, SOWs, and more to prevent your team’s expenses from going MIA. See how 2A finds teammates, like Amy, to talk some dollars and sense into your budget.

GTM guru—Need someone to help you identify new market opportunities, develop partner and sales programs, and drive revenue growth? 2A marketing masterminds, like Kyle, are ready to help.

Channel whisperer—If you’re looking to increase partner engagement through program planning, training, and recruitment, we’ve got seasoned channel captains, like Laura, who can rally the troops.

Tell us what you’re looking for, and we’ll help you make a match. A few weeks with a 2A EC and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

Birthday advice for the middle-aged: Don’t attempt the math

10/03/2019

Birthday advice for the middle-aged: Don’t attempt the math

By Kelly Schermer

Birthday advice for the middle-aged: Don’t attempt the math

Some years, birthdays are all about the numbers. Like this year. I drove 8 hours across 3 states with one 6-year-old and watched 2 feet wiggle during the 9 hours I was trying to sleep, in order to hear 3 stories told by 1 stranger on behalf of 47 newly naturalized citizens…. It added up to the kind of experience that left me energized and exhausted.

In case it wasn’t clear, I spent the day at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh watching my sister-in-law, Masha, become a U.S. citizen. Families and friends sat shoulder to shoulder on one side of the courtroom, the newly naturalized citizens on the other, Girl Scout troupe 414* filled the jury box, and a self-proclaimed short judge sat in a very tall chair behind the towering bench. We all surrounded a podium on the floor.

Immigration has never been an easy topic, especially when it strays to the gray areas of the law. But, as with all issues that have the potential to irrevocably change lives, it demands compassion first. Compassion is a gaping black hole in our current government, which over the past term has created a black hole in many of our hearts. The speech I heard on behalf of the citizens sparked the first genuine feeling of hope I’ve felt for our country in a long time. It wasn’t just the stories that got through to me, either—it was also how they were told, which was another gift all its own.

I didn’t catch the speaker’s name. She was a middle-aged, professional woman who seemed competent although not charismatic. She started off by saying, “I’m going to share three stories with you,” and I cringed. The structure made me think of Goldilocks and the 3 Little Pigs—stories that teach there’s one right way to do things. I couldn’t fathom what lesson she would surmise from three stories that would be true and respectful of the different paths that led all 47 newly naturalized citizens here.

The first story was about her dad, eager to explore the world outside India; the second was about her mom, a homebody subjected to an arranged marriage; and the third was about herself as an 11-year-old, Canadian girl forced to move to America.

Instead of tying them together with a one-size-fits-all moral the way I expected, she reflected them back on the audience to say that whatever experience had brought us from where we started to where we were today, that experience was valid. For some like her dad, it might be the pursuit of a dream. For others like her mom, it could be the fulfillment of a larger obligation. And for those like herself, it might be something entirely out of their control. But all of them can be true.

That twist really hooked me. It got me thinking about how between the lines of her speech, she was actually saying one-size doesn’t fit all in the US.  Between the personalities in her family she was creating space where others could find themselves.  Between her intro and her conclusion, she was demonstrating that stories don’t have to tell the audience what they should see, they can also tell the audience how much they’ll never see.

While the past four years have been a cold, dark stretch in our country’s history as a safe harbor for immigrants, the message I heard on my birthday helped me realize that I don’t know how this story will end no matter how much I think I might. And between all the possibilities that exist, there’s always a way to make room in the story for hope. Short of a new back and a full night of sleep, I can’t think of a better way to feel young again.

 

*The troupe number has been changed to protect the identities of minors. ? And because I can’t remember (please reference the note about getting old).

A round (the world) applause for our full-stack developer, Aradhana Elisa

08/21/2019

A round (the world) applause for our full-stack developer, Aradhana Elisa

By Kelly Schermer

A round (the world) applause for our full-stack developer, Aradhana Elisa

Packing up and moving to the other side of the world, sights unseen, might seem impetuous for some, but for Aradhana Elisa it was the exact opposite. Listening to her talk about the experiences that led her from Chandigarh, India to Southern California to Seattle, make it clear she’s a persistent, passionate person open to new perspectives. In her role as a full stack developer at 2A, Aradhana’s winning traits have made her an invaluable piece of the web development team. 

Perspective

Aradhana approaches decision making with equal parts curiosity and determination. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, she knew she wanted to earn either a master’s in Computer Science or pursue an MBA. Instead of leaping directly into a program, she sought out a position at a software company as a user-interface (UI)/user-experience (UX) developer. In this role, Aradhana learned how to build new websites and software from the ground up versus coding into existing assets. It gave her a new perspective on what an advanced degree would provide, which she used as a springboard into her next phase.

Persistence

Sprint. Automate. Iterate. Lots of development processes focus on speed, but one of Aradhana’s greatest traits is her persistence—her ability to identify her goal and create a clear succession of steps to get there no matter how long it takes. After Aradhana decided to pursue a master’s in computer science in the United States, she set a year-long goal for herself and broke the monumental task into dozens of small activities logged in Excel sheets with timelines. From sitting for entrance exams to curating a list of target programs to applying to schools and completing Visa paperwork, Aradhana steadily chipped away at her long to-do list after work and on the weekends until her plane finally touched down in Southern California. 

Passion

Aradhana leans into her passions to get more out of every project. During her master’s program, she worked as a student assistant in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness for Fresno State, where she taught herself how to build predictive models with Python to answer questions about the student population. While she had always known she liked working with data, she was surprised by how much. Instead of punching out to study the way most students do with university jobs, Aradhana brought her work to school, using it as the basis for her master’s thesis.

Judging by her personal and professional path, you might wonder if there’s anything too big, too complicated, or too tedious for Aradhana to tackle. From our perspective, probably not.