Documentation at OTC 2021

This is a follow-up article to our Report on Trends at OTC 2021. It hones in on the documentation that vendors provided at OTC 2021.


General trends

The metric

The awards


I visited 469 vendor booths on the floor of OTC 2021. I gathered data on all of them, and picked up documents from 30, so that I could analyze what’s changed since I last attended OTC, and what trends are catching on. I picked up a wide sampling of documents, though I did not use any sort of structured methodology for sampling.

QR codes

More companies are embedding QR codes directly in their documentation. Most, like American Personnel Resources, used a single QR code, while one or two (such as Zaetric) used several. Combining QR codes with printed documentation allows you to give visitors both a digital and physical takeaway, which combines the benefits of both mediums in one package.

Asian reliance on big, beautiful booklets

When I first visited OTC over a decade ago, it seemed like there were big stacks of big documents on every table. No longer. While most companies (88%) still provide printed docs, those docs are generally smaller.

That’s not true for much of the Asian documentation I saw, at least as far as Japan and China go. Wison provided a gorgeous book with 28 8.5 x 11 pages. The Inpex corporate brochure weighed in at a comparatively light 8 8.5 x 11 pages. Pages that were 8.5 x 11 were the rule for the Chinese and Japanese documents I saw or sampled. That was still the the most popular size for other companies, though there were plenty of exceptions (about 75% of printed docs used the 8.5 x 11 format).

While the Asian docs set a high standard for beauty, the quality of the English writing within them lagged behind all other groups. This is traditional, and likely stems from English’s heightened dissimilarity to Japanese and Chinese in comparison with, say, Italian. Still, a quick edit by a native speaker could eliminate most of the gap. Regardless, the textual aberrations did not overcome the otherwise high quality and aesthetic value of the Asian docs.


Wison’s gorgeous offering excepted, very few companies seem to have created new documents for OTC this year. When I saw publication dates, they were typically from several years ago. With this in mind, unless the information in your docs is time-bound, it’s probably best not to include a publication date. Regardless, including a QR code in the doc itself helps to ensure that a visitor has access to the latest information on your company.

The metric

I rated the 30 documents based on 4 categories:

Organization: Does my eye know where to go? Can I find information by scanning instead of having to read every line?

Graphics: How high-quality and relevant are the graphics? Do they make me want to open up the doc?

Text: Is the text written in plain English? Does it flow clearly, with some pop? Is the size appropriate?

Material: How does it feel in my hand? Is it resistant to damage?

I also captured the page size used for each document, and the total number of pages, including covers.

Trends in the text itself

I was pleased to see that passive voice writing only obscured the content of a couple of documents. This has traditionally been a problem in writing related to the oil and gas industry, so it’s good to see that problem assuage.

However, a few other writing problems plagued a high volume of documents:

Extraneous capitalization (37%): It’s correct to capitalize proper nouns. However, when you begin to capitalize every word you view as “important”, capitalization starts losing its meaning. Use this tool sparingly, and only when necessary.

Egregious typos or grammatical errors (30%): We all make mistakes. But when sentences become hard to read due to the volume or severity of writing errors, we need to go to an editor. If companies don’t have one in-house, they can get a qualified technical editor to make sure their docs are free of embarrassing errors. Not paying, for example, $100 to make sure a flyer or website won’t embarrass a small business, seems like a needless risk.

Non-standardized bullets (27%): Basically, every bullet in a bulleted list should start with the same part of speech (such as a noun or verb). This ensures that the person reading your document can move through your list with minimal mental effort. If you go back and forth between leading off with verbs, nouns, numbers, etc., the reader has to shift their mental logic around, making it more likely that they will misunderstand – or discard – your document.

In addition, a couple of companies still used double-spaces after periods, a practice that was generally discarded decades ago (as we no longer use typewriters).

The awards

Here are the Documentation Awards for OTC 2021:

Most eye-catching

Wison developed their 28-page brochure especially for OTC. They took the time required to craft a visual masterpiece. The vivid cover layout was followed by a vast array of beautiful images, making the booklet worthy of a spot on the coffee table in your living room.

Best use of color

Roxtec didn’t just have some of the most useful demos on the exhibit floor. Their muted, mesmerizing blue color scheme adds delight as you travel through their 40-page tome.

Most innovative layout

There is a tie! First, Biosolvit’s economical layout and paper choice scream “Recycle!” And that’s perfect, since their product materials come from discarded biomass. Ingenius.

The Ghana Investment Promotion Centre’s passport-style booklet made me chuckle when I picked it up. The booklet feels great, and is packed with relevant information and excellent photography. What a great hook!

Best writing

Ah, this one is near and dear to my heart. There were several top competitors, mostly in the computer technology space (think TeamViewer, though Roxtec scored high for a physical product company).

I’m going to give the nod to Pandata Tech. The writing in their 1-page flyer was clear, direct, and energetic, providing a potent blend of information and presentation. Way to go, guys!

Congrats to all the companies who brought well-organized, beautiful, creative, and well-written docs to OTC in 2021! May 2022 be even better!

Report on Trends at OTC 2021



General trends


Few demos for professional organizations and educational institutions


Updated gifts

Scaled-down booths (with really cool features)

Focus on human trafficking

Streamlined slides – and no takeaways

Region-specific trends




Less overseas traveling

Trends over time


I wanted to know what had changed since the last time I attended OTC, and how different countries and organizations compared in what they were doing in their space. To do that, I visited 469 booths. The official vendor tally was 548; the difference is likely due to vendors who either didn’t show up, participated virtually, or combined their booth with that of one or more other vendors. I tallied data in 3 categories:

Docs: The company has printed documents sitting out for people to take.

Demos: The company has their products sitting out for people to interact with.

Gifts: The company has takeaways such as promo materials, candy, or food sitting out for people to take.

A few clarifying notes: Many items that companies showcased did not fit these categories. For example, if a company had a great-looking model of an oil rig in their booth, but customers could not touch or interact with it, that didn’t make it into my tally. Likewise, many companies, especially those that deal in products, had videos playing on screens in their booths. But if a visitor would simply be expected to watch the video, it didn’t meet my definition of “demo”, and thus I didn’t include it. More analysis of video use would be interesting.

However, I can make one point strongly: If you’re going to use screens to show your products or services, make sure they’re set up low enough, or on the outer edge of your booth, so that they don’t block your view of visitors as they walk in front of your booth. When I walk by a booth, and see that the vendor’s face is hidden behind a screen, the connection just doesn’t happen between us.

It’s likely that, at a few booths, documentation, demo materials, or gifts were hidden beneath a table. In such cases, I didn’t go hunting about to try to uncover them. As information must be findable in order to have any value at all, so the materials that vendors bring to conferences must be readily available to visitors to have value, from a marketing perspective, generally.

I compiled this data for both region-specific pavilions, and a general “Other” category. “Other” includes both domestic U.S. organizations and any foreign companies who were not part of a marked region-specific pavilion.

One note – by tallying data for these categories, I’m not suggesting how many companies “did it right”. If, for example, Aramco and McDermott feel that they get more value by providing a beautiful booth and focusing on capturing visitors contact information digitally, that’s fine. Canary, on the other hand, provides both a project video screen behind their booth, and a PC-based demo. In this report I’m providing analysis and ideas for how organizations might think about or improve their booths. Providing printed docs, demos, and gifts isn’t going to be the ideal for every booth.


The first time I attended OTC, it seemed that everyone had multiple stacks of printed documents on their table. Many organizations now use QR codes to provide information to visitors. Pandata used a digital business card to send information into visitors’ phones. QR codes are certainly cheaper and more efficient than paper docs.

However, the majority of booths (413 of 468, or 88%) still provided some form of paper documentation. There are risks to QR codes: some visitors may have security concerns, and if visitors don’t take the time to add notes to what they scanned in between booths (assuming their phone allows them to do so), their connection with your organization may be lost, and they may not be able to follow up.

In my opinion, the smoothest combination seemed to be a digital information sharing option, plus a small, high-quality printed document. A small, powerful document makes it less likely that visitors will discard it after they get tired of carrying it. It also provides a tactile connection to your organization that provides a good follow-up option. Additionally, some visitors simply prefer either a digital or a printed option, so having a reasonable version of both makes sense. So having a QR code include in a small, high-document might be optimal.

Postcards were reasonably popular this year. They provide an example of physically manageable documentation that could be paired with digital information capture methods such as QR codes.

Ultimately, the days of having big stacks of thick printed docs at one’s booth seem to be drawing to a close.

Few demos for professional organizations and educational institutions

Most booths for professional associations (SNAME, ASCE, IADC, Columbia Southern University, and others) contained printed documents and gifts. However, they very rarely if ever had a video component, much less a demo (overall percentage of booths with demos was 61%, with product-based companies leading the way, and professional and educational groups lagging far behind). Part of that makes sense – would a video of an educational luncheon be compelling?

If one of these organizations could bring an interactive demo, such as a brief computer-based test that visitors could complete for prizes, to the conference, it would set them apart from every other organization in their area of the conference.


Most companies re-used their documentation and promotional materials from 2019 – or before. Part of that trend is probably the result of the difficulty in having promo materials shipped from China right now.

One of the most outstanding exceptions to the re-use rule was provided by Wison, whose marketing department created a beautiful brochure specifically for OTC this year.

Updated gifts

IFP probably had the most practical, and perhaps best, gift on the floor. With water fountains closed, they provided bottled water, which was certainly needed in the humid Houston weather. Ideal Electric and TeamViewer competed for the “Most Useful Gift” prize with their phone charging options. Perhaps the best pen I’ve ever seen at a conference was provided by Kuraray. DLPS offered perhaps the most unique gift with their turbans. Ghanans are proud of their chocolate, and multiple booths provided authentic Ghanan chocolate bars.

There was more hand sanitizer and other sanitary products than I remember in prior years. As OTC requested that vendors minimize what they hand out, the volume of gifts may have been down slightly. As some vendors pointed out to me, promotional materials are great to remind someone of a conversation. But if someone comes by looking for takeaways, they’re probably not who you want to be talking to, anyway.

Scaled-down booths (with really cool features)

Some organizations didn’t build out their booths as much as in prior years (and a few didn’t show up at all, since businesses paid for their spot last year, and were given a free spot for this year after last year’s conference was canceled). However, there was plenty of booth architecture and tech to marvel at this year. Aramco’s spiral staircase, leading to a private seating area above, was perhaps the most impressive sight. Holloway also had an impressive upper area. ICI’s intimidating drone was an eye-catcher, as was Gordon’s robotic “dog” as it marched around the showroom floor.

Streamlined slides – and no takeaways

I’m used to seeing a fair amount of Death by PowerPoint at OTC. However, the slides I saw this year in the handful of sessions I attended were more simpler and clearer than what I’m used to at the conference. Part of this was due to the fact that presenters were often remote, and screen spaces were needed for spaces, not paragraphs of text. Much of this trend is positive, but it may be going too far. When you don’t leave attendees with any sort of takeaway, you risk them forgetting everything you said.

Focus on human trafficking

United Against Human Trafficking had a booth set up outside of the exhibition hall, where they educated visitors on various aspects of the fight against human trafficking. They used a spinning wheel to focus visitors’ attention on various aspects of the fight. Perhaps some of that interactivity could work for some of the professional organizations and educational institutions at the conference. Houston is a hub for human trafficking, so this focus is helpful.

When you look carefully at what different regions brought to the conference, and how regions compare with one another, trends appear, some obvious, some not.


Even with the move towards digital, nearly 90% of both region-specific pavilion companies (65 of 75) and other companies (348 of 394) set out printed docs for visitors.

The Japanese pavilion provided excellent examples of the larger, thicker documentation that one traditionally finds at a conference like OTC. They also provided bags to carry these docs, which is a logical pairing. This particular high-quality job is also an example of the document re-use prevalent at the conference.


Foreign pavilions were far less likely to bring demo products to OTC. However, while around 30-40% of Brazilian, French, Italian, and Canadian booths had demos, Japan, Ghana, and Guyana had none. It’s understandable that foreign companies would have fewer demos – it’s harder for them to ship in a section of pipeline than it is for an American company. But though Ghana, Guyana, and especially Japan had enough room for demos, none of them provided any. There may have been logistical issues. But in an environment where you provide something that none of the booths around you provide, you really stand out.


Region-specific pavilion booths provided gifts at a rate of 57%, while other companies provided gifts 62% of the time. Since only 19% of region-specific pavilion companies provided demos, as opposed to 68% of other companies, region-specific companies may have used gifts more often to offset some of the potential value gap created in their booths by the lack of demo materials.

Less overseas traveling

Many international vendors and visitors were unable to attend this year due to travel restrictions. Since it’s relatively easy for domestic companies to engage with domestic customers throughout the year, many told me that they rely on OTC to provide them the opportunity to connect with foreign customers. With less international travel this year, there were fewer opportunities to do that this year.

Hopefully, travel restrictions will have been removed by next year, and businesses will be able to make those connections again.

Obviously, OTC was smaller in 2021 than in 2019. Many experienced vendors told me that they’re used to being packed into their space, with a constant flow of visitors. This year, they had plenty of room, and were looking to generate traffic.

Perhaps some of the ideas in this report can help companies capture a greater share of available visitors. On Monday, I got the feeling that I was absorbing more time from salespeople than I deserved as an observing non-customer. However, as Tuesday progressed, I noticed that the same salespeople who had spoken with me the day before were now absorbed in conversations with potential customers. This gave me confidence that organizations were getting in the groove, beginning to generate the value that makes coming to OTC worthwhile.

Stay tuned for my breakdown of the quality and contents of this year’s printed documentation!

What Technical Communicators Can Learn from the Airline Industry

The higher the risk, the more you need good documentation. In perhaps no industry is this more true than in the airline industry.

Early on in the industry, pilots were held to be remarkably smart people. Part of the aura of a pilot was that they were expected to be able to hold any needed flying or plane maintenance procedures in their heads.This tradition grew up as a result of the example of the first pilots. The Wright Brothers performed extensive checks on their aircraft, and were intimately familiar with all aspects of their equipment. However, the Wrights’ machines were comparatively simple. As aircraft grew more and more complex, pilots were expected to store and execute more and more, and increasingly complex, procedures. 

That all changed in 1935. Two pilots for an important Boeing Model 299 test flight neglected to check one piece of equipment. Essentially, they forgot to check a single box in their mental checklist. This resulted in the malfunction of a key control mechanism, and a fiery crash.

In the wake of the crash, the industry realized that expecting pilots to remember many complex procedures was asking for trouble. The stakes were just too high.

Airlines, and the Air Force, developed detailed, written checklists for a variety of piloting and maintenance tasks. These checklists reduced risks by ensuring that pilots’ memories were not overtaxed. As Air Force Magazine points out, a checklist is an “informational job aid used to reduce failure by compensating for potential limits of human memory and attention.”

Moviegoers were treated to a great example of these checklists (collected in a QRH, or Quick Reference Handbook) in the 2016 movie Sully, which detailed the miraculous landing of an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River. As you can see in the video here (starting at 17:30), the two pilots of the failing craft carefully consulted the book of procedures in landing their craft safely in the water.

Checklists (and other documentation) are chiefly useful when a situation isn’t optimal. When equipment malfunctions in an unusual way, when you have a new person in a role, or when risk is high, documentation becomes essential. 

A note of caution, though: checklists don’t work for everything. When you need substantive product documentation that describes how to implement or use an entire system, a checklist may not be enough. As this article from the Nielsen Norman Group points out, some companies make the mistake of substituting feature checklists for substantive information on how to use or understand the product or service. For more guidance on using checklists well, see this article.

Still, used properly, checklists and other documentation can reduce risk and increase efficiency. That’s what we help you do!