Attending the largest annual translation conference in the USA can be a little daunting if you do not know any attendees beforehand. Luckily, my first ever ATA conference coincided with the newly established Newbies and Buddies program initiated by Helen Eby and Jamie Hartz. Here are some tips I picked up and suggestions to help you navigate your first conference.
Prepare Your Conference Strategy
- Find a conference roommate: ATA staff pointed me to the conference roomie blog (this year’s is at http://ataroommate-chicago.blogspot.com/), which helped me find a lovely roommate who was also my first personal contact at the event.
- Create your conference profile online: Once it becomes available, you can access the free ATA Conference App, which lets you communicate with fellow attendees and work out your schedule in advance.
- Social media is your friend: Use Twitter (the hashtag for 2013 was #ATA54) and other social media platforms to connect with attendees before, during, and after the conference.
- Business cards and résumés: Be sure to have enough business cards (hundreds rather than a handful) with you at all times and also pack a few paper copies of your résumé, which can come in handy for the Résumé Exchange and other networking opportunities.
Make the Most of Your Time during the Conference
- Plan your day: Set your priorities, e.g. gaining more clients, networking with colleagues, running a successful freelance business. Figure out which sessions are the most suitable for you at this point in your career.
- Go with the flow: Having said that, Helen and Jamie definitely stressed to also go with the flow. If you’re being invited by another attendee to come along to a particular session, networking drinks or dinner, go ahead and do it. I made some interesting connections during a few of the more unexpected gatherings I joined.
- Useful sessions If you’re not sure: If the extensive conference schedule seems a bit overwhelming, try a few of these: Buddies Welcome Newbies and the debriefing session (both a must for any self-respecting newbie or buddy!), division meetings (by language or specialization), Annual Meeting of All Members, Résumé Exchange (face-to-face contact with potential agency clients) and the Business Practices mixer.
- Your elevator pitch: It seems like a cliché, but it is essential to be able to sum up in one or two sentences what it is you do and specialize in. This is especially handy when meeting prospective clients and networking with colleagues.
- Take breaks: Conference days are long and eventful, so taking a short walk outside the venue or having a coffee in a quiet corner once or twice a day is great for recharging your batteries. While the social events in the evenings can be very tempting, try and have at least one early night to keep your energy levels up throughout the busy event.
- Don’t forget to visit the trade exhibit: ATA speaker Eve Lindemuth-Bodeux (http://bodeuxinternational.com) recommends that “in addition to attending educational sessions and social events, don’t forget to spend time in the Exhibit Hall. Seeing who is represented will give you an idea of what is hot in the translation industry and what is not, and introduce you to various products that are useful to translators, various translation buyers and other related information.”
- Ask questions: Your bright red newbie badge is your passport to introducing yourself to other attendees and asking questions that will help you navigate the conference jungle. It also helps you to easily spot other newbies, who are always worth buddying up with. The language dots are another excellent ice breaker, so don’t forget to add them to your badge.
- Broaden your horizons: Another piece of advice we were given was to attend at least one session that’s a bit different. This year, I went along to one on translating Willie Nelson’s tour blog as well as a hands-on workshop for translators interested in doing interpreting. Not to forget the speed networking, which may sound a bit scary to the more introverted among us, but it was actually a remarkably friendly, fun, and useful event (don’t forget to bring lots of business cards).
- Take stock: Spend a few minutes every night or morning making notes on the business cards you have received and keeping a running to-do list so you can launch straight into follow-up when you get back home.
- Quality over quantity: Just like in real life, it is less important how many business cards you hand out and collect; what really count are meaningful connections with people you have something in common with. If someone shares your interests or outlook on life, they are much more likely to trust you and therefore collaborate with you in the future.
- Indulge your creative side: Attend or participate in the literary After Hours Café or have fun learning some new dance steps, like salsa, line dancing, or Kurdish dancing, at the conference closing party.
Don’t Forget the Post-Conference Follow-Up
- Organize: Sort and work through your follow-up list starting with the items which require immediate attention. Stay motivated by aiming to do a few every day for a week.
- Stay in touch: Write a brief follow-up email to your new contacts within a week after the conference and include any information which might be helpful to them.
- Get involved: Now that you have a better idea of which ATA divisions interest you, join them and find out if you can volunteer for a committee or write a guest blog post.
I had a really fantastic time at ATA54 and am looking forward to being part of the Newbies and Buddies program again this year – this time as a buddy to someone in the next group of first-time attendees! ATA speaker Corinne McKay (http://translatewrite.com/) also enjoyed her conference experience: “At my first ATA conference in 2004, I remember walking in to the opening reception and feeling completely intimidated because I didn’t know anyone. I think that this year’s Newbies and Buddies program was a huge step toward making people’s first conference a rewarding and less stressful experience. I’m excited to see this program continue!”
In case you missed the 2013 event, here is a fantastic short video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72iI5mUA6To. If you have any additional tips or questions, please leave a comment below.
About the author: Gisela Böhnisch is a qualified English to German translator currently based in London, UK. She translates her passion for words, travel, cultural events, and design into targeted campaigns for businesses, NGOs, and cultural organizations that require quality content in German. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/giselaboehnisch