My ATA Conference Experience

by Veronica Sardon

 

It has been more than a year since I acted on a very unlikely hunch and reserved a room at the 2014 ATA Conference hotel in Chicago.

On the face of it, it did not make a lot of sense. Almost two years into my career as a freelance translator, which I was still doing on the side of my regular job as a journalist, things were not going as well as I had hoped. And I live in Buenos Aires, so going all the way to the United States for a conference my translation business could not really support sounded wacky at best. But I decided I could postpone any final decisions and just make sure that, if I were to go to Chicago after all, I would have a room at the conference hotel.

A few months later, my ATA mentor at the time strongly encouraged me to attend the conference. By then, I had done all the maths: the plane trip was going to set me back about 1,100 dollars, accommodation would amount to about the same, and I still had to add in the conference registration fee, division dinners and any expenses in Chicago. It sounded absolutely crazy, and I told my mentor just that.

He insisted, however. He clearly thought it was worth it, even at that cost. That left me thinking, and by the end of August I had bought my plane ticket.

I did not really know what to expect. I was relatively new to the profession, and since I had not studied translation I knew virtually no one in the industry, even in Argentina. As the conference grew closer, I realised that I was obsessing about how much I had invested, and about whether five days in Chicago could ever justify spending 3,000 dollars. In particular, since I intended to make a living as a translator, would I get any actual clients out of the venture?

Fortunately, I changed my attitude in time. When I got on the plane to Chicago I was determined to just make the most of it, whatever “it” might turn out to be. Enjoying myself, meeting interesting people, and doing all I could to return to Buenos Aires with a sense that I had grown professionally were much more realistic goals than finding 2-3 clients to pick up my conference tab.

To cut a five-day story short, it was a fantastic experience.

It was not all easy, of course. I am fairly sociable once I am “accepted” into a group, but I am awful when it comes to introducing myself to strangers and making conversation out of the blue. So I started the conference quite slowly and had dinner alone a couple of times. Once, a thoughtful translator actually told me off for standing on my own, two yards away from a large group. I was supposed to introduce myself, she said; that was surely why I was in Chicago, after all. She introduced me to a couple of people around, but they were busy talking and I was soon standing on my own again. Mmm…why was I in Chicago?

And yet my luck changed just a few minutes after that. On the way to a division dinner, I started to talk to the man who happened to be walking next to me. When he said his name, I knew who he was from an ATA listserv, so I was impressed. And the longish walk became an opportunity to chat, which led to the opportunity to sit with him and other conference veterans at the restaurant, which led to an after-dinner beer with them back at the hotel, and another beer the following day. Soon, I was finding the odd friendly face in the lobby, during a session or at breakfast. Suddenly, I had developed the confidence to talk to strangers more naturally. Before I knew it, I had, probably for the first time ever, the feeling that I belonged in the translator community. Yes, that was exactly why I was in Chicago.

The sessions were mostly great too, by the way, but I could have found interesting webinars from afar. What made the trip necessary was the people I met, and they were worth it, hands down.

I might as well have bought my plane ticket to the 2015 conference the moment I landed in Buenos Aires. In Chicago, I had fun, learned a lot, and got to feel part of exactly the crowd I want to be a part of professionally. The conference became the confidence booster I needed to feel like a real translator. So I was both extremely glad to have made the investment and determined to do it again a year later.

Of course, I got back home without a single new client. The fact that I did not really measure the event in those terms anymore does not mean that I did not spend a few days on follow-up. But I stuck to my priorities and sent thank you notes first to the people who had made the experience so enjoyable. Then I wrote to a speaker that I thought was particularly good. And only after that did I write to 7-8 agencies.

Only a couple of them wrote back, although those included the one I would have considered my favourite. It was the usual thing: I filled out the forms everyone sent me, someone said my rates were too high, etc. The agency I really wanted to work with did not write back after that initial contact, but I remembered what I had heard at the conference and, in early February, I wrote to them again. Perhaps I had gotten lost in the post-conference hustle and bustle, so it seemed worth another try, to remind them I was available. Within two days, I got a phone call and a job, and I have worked with them on many other projects since then.

It looks like my trip to Chicago will pay for itself after all. The funny thing is, however, that after seriously stressing over it for weeks almost a year ago, I no longer really care. Growth is always more important than money. As great as my new client is, what I will always treasure is the fact that my first ATA conference experience brought me closer to the professional I want to be. See you in Miami!

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About the author: Veronica Sardon is a Spanish journalist-turned-translator who has been living in Buenos Aires for close to 15 years. Before that, she spent seven years in Britain and one year in France. She has a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a Master’s degree in Journalism, as well as the DipTrans in both EN>ES and ES>EN. As a translator, she specializes in international development, business, and the social sciences. You can learn more about Veronica on her website and blog and on Twitter as @wordassets.

After the Conference is Before the Conference: Tips for ATA Conference Networking Success

cloud_mainAttending 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.

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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

Dear newbie,

By Jamie Hartznewbie

We’ve been in your shoes.

In fact, I’m personally still in your shoes. Last year was my first time at the ATA annual conference, and let me be the first to tell you: it’s overwhelming. But take heart! “Buddies Welcome Newbies” is here to help.

I was a first-time attendee and an undergrad student looking to learn more about this “American Translators Association” I kept hearing about. You may be a student like me, or a mom looking to earn some extra money, a business professional interested in a second career, or a professional translator/interpreter who has just never been to a conference before. Wherever you’re coming from, as a newcomer you will have a lot of questions for the real experts: the people who have made it in this field. Here’s how Buddies Welcome Newbies works:

  • On the Wednesday of the conference there will be a Buddies Welcome Newbies intro session where buddies and newbies will be paired up to swap contact information, do some role-playing in preparation for all the real-life networking both parties will do during the conference, and hear some practical advice from me and Helen Eby, my partner in crime (and a very knowledgeable translator/interpreter).
  • During the four-day conference you will be expected to attend one session with your “buddy,” and to have one meal together. This isn’t a lifelong commitment to be mentor and mentee for as long as you both shall live; it’s just for the conference. The experienced translator will be excited to share their knowledge and expertise with you, and you’ll be glad to have a familiar face in the crowd.
  • On the Saturday of the conference there will be a Buddies Welcome Newbies wrap-up session. Here, you’ll reconvene with your buddy to talk about how the conference went and we will provide you with some helpful instruction about how to follow through on the progress you will have made over the previous few days.

Our goal is to provide you with an experienced translator/interpreter who will help you to make the most of this conference and get a good, strong start in your career. With that said, let me point you to two sites that I know will enhance your understanding of the profession and your preparedness for the conference (that is, in addition to this blog, which you should definitely subscribe to—just click “+ Follow” at the bottom right of the page):

  1. The ATA newbies listserv is an online forum that you can join to post any questions you may have before the conference gets underway. It’s easy to join, and you’ll benefit from the questions that your peers ask on the forum as well. Click here to see the group: http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/atanewbies54/info. You can subscribe by sending a blank email to atanewbies54-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.
  2. The ATA conference website has a page devoted to the newbie/buddy sessions where you can register for our event (this will allow us to pair you up with a buddy, and it will give us an idea of how many people to expect). Click “SIGN UP NOW” at http://www.atanet.org/conf/2013/newbies.htm.

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Next week: Why be a Buddy? From Helen Eby.

How to Market Yourself at the ATA Conference

By Kevin Hendzel

Reblogged from Word Prisms with permission from the author

I’ve hired thousands of translators and interpreters for over 20 years, many from ATA conferences.   Here’s how to attract attention, stand out from the crowd and win new clients.

You’ve arrived in sunny San Diego to 70-degree, zero-humidity weather and spectacular views from your room of sailboats, cruise ships and bright lights on the bay.   The conference launches tonight with a Welcome Reception that is always packed and energetic.  It’s the first of many opportunities you will have over the next four days to market yourself and your skills to potential new clients.

Think like a translation buyer

A central tenet of successful marketing is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.   Think like a translation buyer, not a translation provider.  ATA conferences are distinctly different experiences for translation buyers.  They are bombarded and often overwhelmed by the hurricane forces of resumes, business cards and pitches and blasted by a dizzying array of faces, names, languages, events and sessions.   So everything becomes a blur.   When I used to work my company booth in the Exhibits Area, it took about two days before my brain staged a cognitive revolt.  I just wanted to hide under the table, mostly from the resumes.  And I’m a translator. Who likes to read resumes.

So you will want to stand out in this sea of sameness.

Shine like a star

Translators and interpreters are word people, but the world is a visual place.  This is especially true of human decision-making which turns out to be emotion-driven, not logic-driven. That means that you want to make your best impression visually, and persuade verbally, with the objective of imparting confidence, trust and interest in translation buyers.

  • Dress: Clean, crisp and professional.  Your first visual impression is important. People judge your dress emotionally and subconsciously, and are often not even aware of how visual impact affects them.  This is a subtle but powerful factor.
  • Business cards: Original, memorable, flawless and available.  Include your language(s) and direction(s) and multiple ways to reach you (phone, website, Twitter, LinkedIn, FB, etc.)
  • Body language: Much of this is common sense. Smile, don’t scowl; engage, don’t avoid; look at people, not your footwear.
  • Narrative: Gracious, inquisitive and thoughtful are better than the hard sell.  Lead with questions about the other person, finish with their wanting to hear more about you.
  • SubjectsGood translation customers care about the following, and in this order:
    • Expertise
    • Reliability
    • Accessibility
    • Flexibility
    • Value

They care a lot LESS about what translators instinctively and compulsively talk about in sort of an encoded-in-our-DNA way:

    • Education
    • Degrees
    • Countries of residence
    • Training programs
    • Certifications (really)

I recognize that this contradicts a lot of what you’ve been told about how to market yourself as a professional translator or interpreter at ATA conferences.  But it will make perfect sense if you think about what you, as a consumer, value when you are looking for a plumber, dentist, doctor or any other professional service and are spending your own money on them.  That top list is a lot more important and compelling to you as a consumer than the second one is. That’s because the second list is just a description of the provider’s personal history.  The first list is all about the customer.

Focus on your customer’s requirements, not your own life story (leave the highlights of your life story to your resume).  It can make all the difference to a translation buyer who you wish to impress and convince to buy your services.

Five Fails

Translators and interpreters are very good at many things at ATA conferences.  They always get out of the hotel and visit the host city, make fast friends with hotel staff, comb through all the dictionaries, software tools and vendor products, listen politely, share experiences and stories and are uncommonly generous.  The Five Fails listed below are the most common pitfalls encountered at the conference.  You will want to avoid these.

  1. Friends Only.  It never ceases to amaze me how many translators will fly thousands of miles to live for several days in a hotel room in a remote city surrounded by hundreds of potential new colleagues, mentors, advisors and friends only to insist on talking solely and exclusively to…people they already know.   The conference is certainly a great opportunity to meet with old friends and renew acquaintances, but its real value lies in pushing boundaries.  That means moving outside your comfort zone by striking out on your own and talking to new colleagues.
  2. Grousing and Complaining.  It’s a rich and supportive environment to let loose about downward pressures on rates, unreasonable client expectations, crazy deadlines, and a total lack of appreciation among the general public and even clients for what translators and interpreters do.  After all, where else will you find people who understand your professional life quite so well?  We all grumble at times about the vagaries of the profession, of course, but try to resist the temptation of grousing and complaining all the time, especially in the educational sessions or the ATA plenary events.  Negativity tends to breed downward spirals of doom and in its purest form is a stunningly powerful client repellant.
  3. Deadly Speeches.  Making comments or asking questions during sessions should be done in the service of the speaker and the topic.  Avoid the temptation to turn your public comments or questions into revival speeches, angry tirades or public challenges of the speaker’s integrity.  It’s the nature of controversial topics to sometimes incite such reactions, but if you go down this path, be prepared to alienate the audience.  It’s best to seek out a middle ground where civil discussion is possible, even (and especially) if you disagree with the speaker.
  4. Staring at Shoes.  There’s an old translator joke that goes like this: “Introverted translators stare at their shoes.  Extroverted translators stare at everybody else’s shoes.”   It may be true that translators are more introverted than other professionals, but take advantage of the more accommodating environment of your colleagues to speak up and share your experience.
  5. Arrogance Breeds Contempt.  Be careful about throwing your weight around too much.  If you want a lesson in humility – and in how spectacularly talented and accomplished your colleagues actually are – the ATA Conference is great place to learn all about it.

Why the American Translators Association?

ATA Logo/Tag--sampleBy Daniela Guanipa

When I first joined ATA back in 2003, I knew it was the organization to join if I wanted to be serious about my language career in the United States. But the truth is I did not know exactly why.

During the fall of 2002 I had had the opportunity to attend my very first ATA Annual Conference as an employee of a language company. The 43rd ATA Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, was an extraordinary experience, though at the time, as a representative of an LSP, my role and interests were different, and I did not take advantage of many opportunities during the conference simply because I was not an independent contractor.

Nevertheless, it provided a great opportunity to learn more about the organization, and this experience is what ultimately led me to become a member the following year when I was no longer working with the LSP.

Had I not had that experience in 2002, perhaps it would have taken me longer to join ATA, because I didn’t know much about it. This is one of the challenges of being a new freelancer: Because we are independent contractors, we depend heavily in the networks we develop, we need to look for information as it is not handed out to us, and we must be very active and involved to stay current with trends, software, etc.

An excellent way of accomplishing this is by joining a professional association. In the United States, ATA, its chapters and divisions, are, without a doubt, the main associations for language professionals.

ATA was founded to advance the translation and interpreting professions and foster the professional development of translators and interpreters. Its 10,500 members in more than 90 countries include translators, interpreters, teachers, project managers, web and software developers, language company owners, hospitals, universities, and government agencies.

The Association membership is available to individuals (Active, Corresponding, Associate, Student) and organizations (Corporate, Institutional) with an interest in the profession, and offers a variety of programs, benefits, and support services, including:

1)      Annual Conference. The ATA Annual Conference is held every fall in a major U.S. city. The conference features more than 150 educational sessions, an Exhibit Hall, and numerous networking events.

 2)      Certification. ATA offers a certification exam to translators in 26 language combinations. Becoming ATA certified allows translators to objectively document their abilities in specific language combinations. To me, earning ATA certification marked an enormous difference in my career. Almost 70% of all new contacts/business find me through the ATA directory because my name stands out with the magic words “ATA Certified” next to it.

3)      Professional Development. The Association offers monthly webinars to provide education in diverse specialties and languages at all skill levels.

4)      Honors and Awards. To encourage, reward, and publicize outstanding work done by both seasoned professionals and students of the craft, ATA presents several awards and scholarships during the Annual Conference.

5)      Divisions. Through 18 specialty- and language-specific divisions, ATA provides ways for members with common interests to network more effectively. Divisions organize formal and informal networking events at the ATA Annual Conference and offer blogs, online discussion forums, and social communities such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

6)      Local Groups. ATA chapters and affiliates provide local translators and interpreters with regional information, marketing, networking, and support.

7)      Client Education. The Association has developed publications to educate consumers about translation and interpreting services and the value that professionals bring to the project or job.

Another interesting fact is that ATA is a member of the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT).

As you work your way toward becoming a professional linguist, I encourage you to look into the multiple and priceless benefits that ATA, its local chapters and divisions have to offer to both newcomers and seasoned professionals alike.