How to Get the Most Out of the ‘Buddies Welcome Newbies’ Program at the ATA Conference

ATA 56th Annual Conference #ata56 Miamiby Helen Eby

This post contains some of the information we provide in a presentation for the Buddies Welcome Newbies program we hold the day before the conference (Wednesday). Our goal is to help you think about how to prepare for the conference. We hope these tips will serve you well at other networking events too.

Why did we start Buddies Welcome Newbies?

  1. Because it’s fun! We love getting to know you.
  2. Because, truth be told, I was scared when I came to my first conference. And my second. And my third. And people kept saying, “Hi, Helen, so nice to put a face to your name!” No matter. The crowds intimidated me. So this is to give you exactly the kind of help and tips I would have liked to have had back then.
  3. Because we think people of courage should get a nice welcome mat rolled out for them! It takes a whole lot of courage to come across the country to face over 1,000 strangers!
  4. Because we believe we have a lot to learn from those who come to the ATA conference. As Buddies, we expect to learn from you!

Buddies Welcome Newbies is something we dreamed up right at the same time we conceived The Savvy Newcomer. Both are resources for people starting out in the field. One is a resource for networking. The other is an online resource. But the same people run it, which keeps the online resource real. In our mind, they are two sides of the same coin.

Travel light! Carry as little as possible.

  1. Your smartphone, for the ATA conference app.
  2. A small notebook. I like the Moleskine notebooks.
  3. Business cards. Never leave home without them.
  4. Your wallet, because you’ll probably impulsively take off for coffee with someone.
  5. Your room key and ATA conference lanyard/ID. We’ll show you the most effective way to use it.
  6. A pen! Electronic notes are not the answer to everything, folks… We process things differently with a pen.
  7. Emergency rations if you can fit them in, but there is fruit and coffee at the coffee breaks.
  8. Your bag should be as small as you can get away with so you can just grab it in one swoop and move on quickly. You don’t want to be the one who forgets your stuff in the session because you changed your mind about what session you wanted to be in!

What sessions should I go to?

  • I find that I learn a lot from what I expected to disagree with, so I make sure I go to at least one session per conference that I expect to thoroughly disagree with—I mean learn a lot from, of course. Those are great! As an interpreter, I was skeptical about online training. I went to a joint session by some online interpreting trainers, and they convinced me they had worked out important kinks and it was an important option for some of our members.
  • Go to a session about something thoroughly impractical. Relax! Open your mind! After all, this is a conference. You never know when this other material might come in handy. It might even be a session in a language that isn’t yours. I went to a session on literary translation into Hebrew once. It was fascinating! I learned that literary translation skills help us in all fields.
  • I attend presentations of speakers I want to encourage, especially they are my friends. So, go to your Buddy’s presentation, or to a presentation given by someone else you connect with along the way! After the presentation, have lunch or send the speaker an email with your thoughts.
  • And last but not least,, sessions on topics you are interested in should always be on your list.
  • During the sessions, keep in mind that the people next to you are interested in the same things you care about. Watch for people who ask interesting questions and strike up a conversation with them right after the session. Exchange cards with them. Those could be your best contacts! Sometimes I even quietly move to where they are during the session and give them my card to make sure we connect before they leave. I figure if this can happen at the Capitol, I can do it at the ATA, right?

With all these great choices, you will surely be able to fit in at least one session with your Newbie or Buddy, regardless of your respective languages, specialties, etc.!

The conference is hectic, so take time to relax.

  • Go to your room for a nap.
  • Take a walk on the beach.
  • Go to an art gallery.
  • Hang out with a new friend over coffee, during a session.

Just don’t obsess about being there every minute of every day. If you do, you will be so tired you won’t actually be able to take advantage of it. Take breaks, and the best breaks are actually during the sessions. I’ve been known to go off to visit friends who live in town during a session, especially if they are totally disconnected from the interpreting and translation field. Or loiter the halls networking with other attendees playing hooky.

And make sure you sleep well!

Networking is a very powerful tool.

However, it is often misunderstood. You have to use it wisely, appropriately and professionally. Be aware of these guidelines:

  1. Thou shalt not just count cards. It is not just a question of seeing how many people you meet, but of establishing relationships with people you can count on.
  2. Thou shalt give without expecting reciprocation. It is an investment of time, energy, sharing ideas and resources without expecting anything in return.
  3. Skilled networking will put you a step ahead of the competition: People do business with people they know, like and trust.
    • Know what you want and need.
    • Know who you need it from. Anyone you might want to meet or contact is only 4 or 5 people away from you. Your contacts will recommend you to their contacts.
    • Know who you are and what you do
      • Be an expert in your field
      • Be able to clearly and quickly tell others what you do. If you can’t explain it, why would they trust you with it?
      • Become a resource for others.
      • Be the best professional you can be. It will show.

Networking is something we learn how to do. Many of us are shy—even interpreters, who are used to expressing the ideas of others. Here are some clues:

  • Watch those in the room who look effective, and try taking a page out of their book.
  • Get to the room early and stay late.
  • Establish a goal, e.g. today I will hand out three cards to people I had not met before.
  • Start easy, maybe with people you feel it’s OK to not do a great job introducing yourself to. You’ll see it goes great! They will introduce you to others, and you will start to introduce others yourself.
  • Bring lots of business cards, but don’t be handing them out every time you shake someone’s hand.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Wear a nametag high and on the right hand side. As you shake hands, the person’s eyes will be drawn to your name.
  • Stand by the food line. It’s a great place to chat with people.
  • Start by focusing on others. Be genuine. Ask why they are here, how you can help them. After you get to know them, you might find a way to help them, or maybe you will decide to tell them your services aren’t quite what they need, and you might send them to someone else. They’ll remember your honesty. People work with people they know, like, and trust!
  • Be involved. When you commit to something, follow through. Remember, volunteering is a great way to build your reputation as a professional!
  • Be consistent. Attend as often as you can. People like to know they can count on you. People work with people they know, like, and trust!
  • Don’t sound like a tape recorder! It’s great to have an elevator speech, but I will never forget the guy who I noticed gave exactly the same forty-second speech every time he shook hands with people… When he shook mine, I just didn’t feel connected. Being a good listener and asking plenty of pertinent questions will give you a better idea of who you are speaking to and how to present yourself, as well as make you more authentic.
  • If you want to meet someone specific, ask for an introduction. Someone will know someone who can introduce you.


Yes, it’s easy to feel lost. So please, in the crowd of 1500 people, 180 sessions, 3 days of non-stop excitement…

Relax. Remember why you came. Maybe you might have it written in the front of that Moleskine notebook you carry around. Check it and see if you are on track with that.

Keep notes. Most of us don’t remember most of what we think we are going to remember. “Yes, I’ll call you later.” Especially now that people have some much information in the app, it’s easy to trust the app to remember it all for us. I still write it in my notebook. “Just a minute. Let me write this down. ‘Call Mary Jane Brown, from Texas, about how she studies medical terminology.’” Now you can have a way to really get back to her! She will love knowing that you care enough to make sure you don’t forget.

Then… follow up! Write to Mary Jane:

Dear Mary, it was great to meet you at the conference. I was really curious about what you said about medical terminology. I’ve been studying in some crazy ways, but I never ran across your method, and you said you had a description written down. Could you please send it to me? I think it will really help me solve some of the translation problems I run into. By the way, would you like to work with me on some of the translations I do? Maybe you could review some of my work, and we could see how it goes.”

Bingo! You probably got a new partner! Because Mary would rather review the work of someone who respects her opinion and who she trusts than someone else.

Give lots of referrals:

Dear Mary, as I was talking to Joe at the ATA conference, I realized he is working on exactly the same problem you are trying to solve. I think if you and Joe got together you would do great work. Why don’t you connect with him? His contact information is in the app. Tell him I mentioned him, because I was talking to him about you today. I hope it goes well!

Then others will give you referrals, and you thank them:

Dear Peter, thanks so much for recommending me to Client X! The work I did for them was incredibly interesting, and I believe this relationship will last a long time. Thank you so much for trusting me with such a great job! I will keep you in mind in the future, and I really appreciate this! The next coffee at Starbucks is on me, buddy! Let’s catch up and compare notes on the work we are doing.

Just remember this. Networking isn’t just about you. It’s about connecting with your community. As you connect, you will see where you fit in, and will be able to serve others better and wow them.

So don’t start with your pitch before knowing anything about the person you are talking to. Listen first. Look for ways to be helpful. You’ll get your chance. And enjoy the process of getting to know others.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” -Dale Carnegie

We hope these pointers help you in your networking events as you visit local conferences with your ATA chapters, ATA affiliates and other groups, local chambers of commerce, and other groups you might decide to go hang out with. Go connect!

About heleneby

Helen Eby grew up in Argentina, the land of the gauchos. She is certified as an English Spanish translator by ATA and as a Spanish interpreter by the Oregon Judicial Department and by the Oregon Health Authority. She co-founded The Savvy Newcomer and the ¡Al rescate del español! blogs, both of which are team efforts to provide resources for other language professionals. She is also a founding board member of the Spanish Editors Association.