I finally found the perfect opportunity to attend the ATA’s flagship event, the ATA Annual Conference: ATA59 in New Orleans. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more!
As you think ahead to attending your first conference, I thought it might help to learn a bit about how I prepared for, attended, and followed-up on my first ATA Conference. I’m sharing some of what I did to ensure it was a wise professional investment and not just fun.
Understanding What to Expect
I wrote to or spoke with at least a half-dozen colleagues to ask them about their experiences and to ask if they had any advice for me. A few tips I got a lot: 1) plan your conference ahead of time, 2) don’t try to do everything, and 3) stay away from enormous events. I followed tips 1 and 2 but chose to attend the massive Spanish Language Division Dinner with 200 other people, and it was great. Already, on the walk over, I bumped into two Texas interpreters I had been meaning to connect with but didn’t know would be at ATA59.
I also listened to a few podcasts about the event. One was the official ATA Podcast, hosted by Matt Baird. He conducted several interviews with candidates running for the board and led an informative episode with ATA President-elect Ted Wozniak about anything and everything to do with the conference. The Speaking of Translation Podcast, hosted by Corinne Mackay and Eve Bodeux, also has episodes dedicated to the topic of ATA conferences. They discussed making firm plans with anyone you want to meet well in advance, mentioned that the CAT tool companies offer their best discounts at the conference, and recommended choosing your shoes very wisely.
My ATA Mentor (you can read about my ATA mentoring experience here), former ATA President Dorothee Racette, CT, suggested I think long and hard about what my main goal for the conference was and to plan my conference experience accordingly. She suggested reading about sessions and events with my goal in mind, but also encouraged me to allow enough flexibility to miss a session or two in order to spend time in the Exhibit Hall or to continue a great conversation with someone.
Two of the best connections I made while at the conference came from reaching out to people I knew beforehand who connected me to others they knew. These two new connections were a wonderful and professional agency owner, as well as a veteran conference attendee who became my unofficial conference mentor, inviting me to join his group for a few meals, and introducing me to a number of his colleagues. Both of these connections made a huge impact on my experience; I treasure the wonderful insights they shared about their working life and was pleasantly surprised that these interesting conversations even led to some work offers after the conference.
Translators and interpreters are a nice bunch, so if there is someone you have noticed on ATA forums, or whose writing has caught your eye in the Chronicle or on the Savvy Newcomer blog, or that you’ve heard about somewhere else, reach out and start a conversation before the conference.
At the Conference
I thought it might be helpful to see how much you really can pack into a few days, so here’s a bit of what I did while at ATA59.
In addition to thought-provoking educational sessions (there were 180 to choose from during 12 slots), I also attended the Buddies Welcome Newbies events held on the first and last days, the Welcome Reception, the Exhibit Hall, the Mentor-Mentee meet-up, the Annual Meeting of All Members, the Law Division lunch, the Spanish Language Division dinner, the Career Fair, and I even was able to enjoy the “Breakfast with Board Members” by sitting at a table with a number of board members.
Meeting people at these events was not only fun, but talking shop face-to-face in informal settings gave me great knowledge of what others in my field are doing. It also led to fantastic conversations with Savvy Newcomer leaders Jamie Hartz and David Friedman, which ultimately resulted in me writing this article. You just never know what might happen!
The Buddies Welcome Newbies event offered on the last day of the conference had a lot of great tips about following up. Helen Eby, one of the Buddies Welcome Newbies leaders, tallied up the cost of attending the conference, both in terms of actual travel and conference costs and the opportunity cost of not working on those days. Helen asked what we would spend that kind of money on and then just throw away, never to think about again! This obviously highlighted the importance of post-conference follow-up.
I did personally follow-up with a number of people I met, and that has led to many interesting conversations. That being said, have I made the most of the momentum I felt after I returned from New Orleans? I have not thrown away the experience by any means, but I will admit that I have not done as much as I could to incorporate new business skills I learned, for example. I also recognize that I could do more to strengthen connections made.
Next time, I will probably pre-write a to-do list of what to do after I return and pre-schedule those tasks into my calendar before I leave for the conference, so that when I return, I can head to my office and let my calendar remind me to do everything I know I need to do.
My best advice is to recognize that your conference fate is really in your hands, and it is up to you to figure out exactly what you want out of it and to make a plan for how to achieve that. I hope my experience can give you food for thought about how you can make that happen for you. Attending the ATA Annual Conference was a wonderful investment in my career and business, and I am ecstatic when I think about all the conferences in my future. I hope to see you there!
Jessica Hartstein is an ATA-Certified Translator (Spanish>English, French>English) and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Spanish-English). She holds a MA in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies from the University of Leeds and graduated Cum Laude with a BA from Rice University. Prior to working freelance, she held full-time, in-house translation positions at a marketing firm in Luxembourg and an oil and gas engineering company in Houston. Jessica specializes in legal, medical, asylum, and oil and gas translation and interpreting projects. She has been fortunate to have lived abroad in Spain, China, Japan, England, and Luxembourg. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: http://www.jessicahartstein.com/