Translation Conferences Better With Practice

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By Marion Rhodes, CTA Vice President.

Translators from around the globe gathered in Miami at the beginning of November for the 56th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association. Professional conferences can seem intimidating in general, and with 1600 attendees, the ATA Conference can be an overwhelming experience. It certainly was to me when I attended my very first ATA conference in New York City only a few years ago. I can still recall standing in the lobby of the conference hotel in NYC, intimidated by the large venue and the groups of people with the ATA badges, who all seemed to know each other. I felt like Dorothy after being blown into the Land of Oz!

I don’t remember talking to anyone at that conference; I certainly didn’t have any meaningful conversations. My translation career was still in its infancy. I had no clue what I was doing, how to network, or how to connect with my colleagues. Translators aren’t exactly known for being the most extroverted bunch, and I was living proof of that stereotype. While I went home armed with new knowledge, I didn’t get much else out of my first ATA conference experience.

But most things in life get easier with practice, and conferences are no exception. This year marked my fourth ATA conference, and I can only marvel at the difference I see in myself these days! Gone are the days where I hide behind my cell phone, or try to blend in with my surroundings in the hope that no one talks to me. This time, I was so busy chatting with my fellow translators, I barely had time to grab coffee between the sessions. Once I set foot outside my hotel room, I usually found myself engaged in conversation with other conference attendees within a matter of minutes. I chatted up people in the elevator, at the breakfast bar, and in the hallway between sessions. There wasn’t a single meal I ate by myself. I had lunch with industry experts and wasn’t shy to approach the speakers after their presentations just to say hi, compliment them on their great sessions, or tell them I follow them on Twitter.

In the exhibit hall filled with representatives for translation agencies and potential clients, I used to stroll insecurely from table to table, grabbing promotional materials and dropping my business cards into bowls, all the while trying to avoid eye contact and, above all, small talk. My tactic during my second conference wasn’t much better. I would walk up to a booth, wait patiently in line to talk to a representative, and awkwardly start a conversation that would go something like this: “Hi, I translate from English into German – do you have demand for German translators and would you like my resume?” The results were… shall we say, meager.

Luckily, practice, experience and exposure have given me confidence over the years. These days, when I walk up to a booth, I glance at the marketing materials, and if they look like a fit for my language combination and expertise, I start the conversation by focusing on the exhibitor, not me: “Hi, I’m not familiar with your agency yet. Could you tell me a little bit about the work you do, the clients you work with, and what kinds of projects you take on?” Rule 101 of human interaction: People like to talk about themselves, so show an interest in what they do. Works every time.IMG_4900

As a four-time conference attendee, I decided that I should give back by participating in ATA’s “Buddies Welcome Newbies” program this year, which pairs first-timers with experienced conference veterans to help them avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed that I knew so well. I ended up with two colleagues from Europe under my wings. One was an experienced, outgoing translator, the other one an unobtrusive translation tool developer. Together, we formed an interesting mix of experiences and perspectives, which added another intriguing layer to my conference experience.

I wish I had had a “Buddy” when I attended my first ATA conference, but I don’t think the program existed back then. If it did, I wasn’t aware of it. So instead, I joined the Colorado Translators Association. My work as CTA media coordinator, which turned into my current role as interim vice president, gave me a chance to meet my colleagues and the impetus to start networking on a larger scale. It also allowed me to get to know some frequent ATA presenters. My volunteer activity was my stepping stone into the translation social scene.

Somewhere along the line of the last few conferences, I realized that even the most famous translators in our industry are just people like me, who have an area of expertise and a passion to share their knowledge. Each of us can make a name for him- or herself. We just need to put ourselves out there. For me, connecting on social media has made a huge difference. The distance between myself and the people presenting to this diverse audience of 1,600 people from across the globe has shrunk considerably in the process.

This article has been adapted from its original post.