Small Talk Tips for Translators

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

The old industry adage might be spot on: most interpreters are fairly extroverted, while most translators tend to be introverts. That’s an oversimplification and I know that there are always many exceptions, but during my years in the industry, I’ve noticed that translators struggle more with one important thing than interpreters do: small talk.

Do you hate small talk? If yes, read on. I know small talk can be painful, but you can make it easier on yourself by keeping a few things in mind.

Keep it short.

At networking events, no one wants to hear long, complicated stories. Be succinct and interesting, but resist the urge to tell your life story.

Work on your conversation starters.

The easiest way is to introduce yourself and say something simple along the lines of “I’m new to this event” or something similar. Experienced networkers will get the hint and will introduce you to others. Another good way to start a conversation is to ask questions: about the organization, about that particular event, and about the person to whom you’re speaking.

Learn to listen.

The best relationship builders are people who truly listen and who are not obsessing over what they can sell, but rather how they can help the other person. It’s a powerful thing to think long-term and big picture rather than short-term and project-based.

Don’t monopolize people.

Once you get comfortable talking to one person and your nerves settle down a bit, you might want to hang on to that person for dear life because it’s scary to start over with another person. However, remember that everyone is there to mix and mingle and that you are not the only person to whom they want to speak.

Brush up on current events (including sports).

Even if you don’t like baseball, you’d better have something to say if you’re at an event during the World Series. And while local politics might not be all that interesting (mostly), it would still be good to know that a big new company is investing $100 million in your state. You don’t have to know everything, but the bottom line is to be informed so you can participate in conversations.

Avoid certain topics.

It’s usually best to steer clear of politics, religion, and highly personal matters. Sure, there’s always an election around the corner, and it’s perfectly fine to have an opinion, but I prefer to talk about more neutral matters with people I don’t know or barely know.

Get the introductions out of the way.

It can be awkward when another person walks up when you’re already engaged in conversation and you don’t know the names of either the first or the second person. In my experience, it’s usually best to be honest and say “I’m sorry, we just met, would you mind telling me your name again so I can introduce you to ….” It’s horrifying to stand next to people all evening without knowing their names, so it’s good to get the introductions out of the way early. And it’s fine to admit you don’t remember the person’s name. Just ask again. Get a business card and try to remember one particular thing about the person to help you remember (e.g., her purse, his shirt, her cute earrings, his Boston accent).

Small talk is similar to translation in one way: it’s art, not science. And just like translation, it usually gets easier the more you do it. Happy small talking!

Author bio

Judy Jenner is a court-certified Spanish interpreter and a Spanish and German translator in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she runs Twin Translations with her twin sister. She is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She hosts the translation blog, Translation Times (www.translationtimes.blogspot.com). You can also find her at http://www.entrepreneuriallinguist.com. Contact: judy.jenner@twintranslations.com or judy.jenner@entrepreneuriallinguist.com.

Connecting with translation and interpreting clients during a pandemic

COVID-19 has changed the way we connect. For public health reasons, networking events are no longer taking place in person. Since February 2020, people around the world have been recasting their connections. What used to be in person is now done remotely if possible.

What are we noticing?

I have been attending meetings with my local Chamber of Commerce, which has done quite a few things:

  • They switched their weekly live event (usually over 50 attendees every Friday) to a Zoom session every week.
  • They set up three trainings a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, for Chamber members to learn how to switch their business models to survive the new circumstances.
  • They moved as many networking meetings as possible to Zoom sessions, with the same schedule they had before.
  • They invited the Mayor for a Town Hall in English and another one in Spanish.
  • They are keeping members abreast of all developments, and set up tip jars, resources for starting up, and an amazing support service.

What have I learned through these sessions over the last three months?

  1. Be there. Show up and be involved with your community, no matter how your group meets. Yes, we are anxious to have coffee together, but can have at least this connection with some precautions.
  2. Go through your old, discarded list of contacts. As you look at it, you will remember some of the conversations you didn’t have the time to follow up on. Now is the time. Those people remember you too. Just send a couple of emails a week and see how it goes. Personally, I took all the cards I had collected and dropped them into an Access database. I am contacting a few of the people in that database a week.
  3. Take a few online trainings. Personally, I need at least 30 minutes between one online session and the next because meeting online is more intense than meeting face to face. I take those 30 minutes to take a couple of notes, maybe send a quick email, even stretch or have a cup of coffee. I like to start each session somewhat fresh.

How to participate in online events:

  • Focus on the content.
  • Participate in the chat. Then, select all the text in the chat (control-a), and copy it into a Word document so you can follow up on whatever you want to keep track on.
  • Keep in mind that in the chat you can send private messages. It is like passing secret notes in class and it is a lot of fun!
  • You are on candid camera, so pay attention to how you look. You are now part of the gallery show. You can, of course, turn your camera off or choose speaker view. Keep in mind that if you choose speaker view, the rest of the world can still see you so picking your nose is still a no-no! By the way, artificial backgrounds make your head look strange when you move at all.
  • In the chat, at least in the case of the Chamber of Commerce, the first thing we all do is write our name and email address so folks can get in touch with us later. Every online session is a networking session. That is how we collect cards today. Go for it! Add your phone and a short blurb about yourself. For example: Peter Pan, peterpan@youthful.com, keeping the world happy. Now we know who Peter Pan is, how to reach him, and what he does! Just remember, nobody likes an essay in that section…

There is a dizzying amount of online conferences, online networking sessions… Take advantage of a few of them. However, don’t forget to pick up the phone and call a friend, send a card to a client, call someone to ask how they are doing, write an email to your contacts and tell them how you are coping. Today, being human is expected. All calls start with “How are you doing?” and people actually want to know.

What do I want to keep from this era?

  • The flexibility in extending deadlines when my internet crashed, and everything took longer because of COVID. Nobody broke a sweat.
  • How nice everyone is, since everyone starts phone calls by asking how we are doing. I like being treated as a human being.
  • FaceTime stories with my two-year-old grandson every day! That lightens up my day.
  • The sense that we are in this together. The whole community is acting that way in so many ways. When one person is successful, the whole Chamber rejoices. When one interpreter gets quarantined because they were with someone who got COVID-19, everyone is sad. There is a huge sense of community.
  • The respect for people who are ill. “No, stay home, please.” It used to be, “Well, can’t you go interpret anyway?” (and probably catch whatever bug is floating around with a weakened immune system if you are not well, to add insult to injury.) Now, if only some interpreters didn’t have to pay a penalty for missing appointments… I would be even happier.

So, stay well. Take care of business every day. Remember, taking care of business includes:

  • Taking care of yourself. You are your most important asset. Never skip this.
  • Doing paid work, if that is on your schedule for the day.
  • Contacting sources of work. Always save some time for this!
  • Doing other things that will set you up to be a stronger professional. This should always be on your weekly schedule.

By the way, some say we will be interpreting remotely for the long haul and that remote meetings are the norm for the rest of our lives. As I interact with my neighbors at the Chamber, I am not so sure. We are tired of Zoom. We want to connect in person. We celebrate every meeting that moves from Zoom to in-person!

How we stay in touch might change based on the circumstances. We are still people and work with people we know, like and trust.

Stay connected. Be human.

Public Outreach Presentations: Change Perceptions Outside our Industry

This past fall, Veronika Demichelis and I had the opportunity to speak about translation and interpreting at Rice University. My hope is that in sharing our experience, you will be encouraged to seek out or accept similar opportunities. It’s important to bring greater awareness to the general public about our industry and to educate potential buyers of translation and interpreting services. We each have a role to play in that.

The opportunity

Located in one of the most diverse cities in the country (Houston), Rice University offers a class called Multilingualism. Rice linguistics professor Dr. Michel Achard teaches this course and approached Veronika about presenting to his students because of her volunteer efforts with the Houston Interpreters and Translators Association, where she serves as VP of Professional Development. Since our experience attending the Offshore Technology Conference together last May had gone so well (read about that here), she invited me to join her for this presentation. This was especially exciting for me because not only would we be presenting at my alma mater, but most of these students were majoring in Cognitive Science, which was one of my two majors. What a small world!

This course was focused on the challenges faced by governments and society as a result of multilingualism. Veronika and I were asked to discuss how translators and interpreters solve some of these problems. Additionally, we saw the students as possible future buyers of translation and interpreting services and felt the presentation could have a real impact in whatever fields they will later choose to dedicate themselves to. It’s always good to have allies.

Preparing the presentation

Have you ever attended a lecture/presentation/conference session and left disappointed because the presenter hadn’t spent enough time preparing or didn’t have you in mind while preparing? How about when the presenter shows up with a few points written on a napkin? Ack!

Here are a few tips to consider when preparing your public outreach presentation:

  1. Get to know the audience and think about how our industry can solve some of their headaches.
  2. Spend time both brainstorming and whittling down your list of topics so that you can focus on quality and not quantity. A good presentation takes time to prepare.
  3. Avoid writing your full script on your PowerPoint slides whenever possible.
  4. Consider using information from the ATA’s Client Outreach Kit (read here for more information).
  5. Practice your presentation beforehand.
  6. Ask questions of your audience and be receptive to audience questions.

We wanted to ensure everyone would walk away feeling like their time was well-spent. Before the day of the presentation, we chatted with Dr. Achard for an hour on Zoom and were able to get a deeper understanding of his class, his students, and his goals for our presentation, as well as learn about some topics he was interested in us exploring.

Objectives

Dr. Achard wanted us to introduce the students to the fields of translation and interpreting. Additionally, he hoped that our presentation would give the students some ideas for the research project they were going to carry out later in the semester. Knowing his goals helped us immensely.

We talked with the students about how translation differs from interpreting and we discussed the variety of different environments translators and interpreters work in; the different types of assignments that translators and interpreters are asked to work on; and the skills, education, and tools translators and interpreters use to perform their jobs successfully.

Our hope was that when multilingual issues come up for these students in the future, they will know how to and why they should find professional translators and interpreters to help them.

In line with Dr. Achard’s objectives, we discussed with the students how interpreters and translators can solve some of the challenges found in societies where residents speak many different languages. The two of us were able to give several impactful examples of challenges that hospital administrators, medical professionals, and non-English-speaking patients face every day in Houston. The students also learned about some of the difficulties LEPs face in the legal system and that courts face in dealing with the wide variety of languages found in Houston. I also spoke about some legislation that a local Texas representative had drafted last year that would have reduced the passing score required to become a Licensed Court Interpreter in Texas. ATA, HITA, TAJIT, and others opposed this legislation and worked to successfully defeat it.

Conclusion

Veronika and I enjoyed the chance to educate these college students about our careers. The students asked several great questions and walked away with a new perspective on some important issues. Veronika and I are hoping that we can leverage the hard work we put into preparing this presentation and use it to do more public outreach in Houston. We do not want this to be a “one and done” effort.

I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Rice students so much that I decided to sign up as a volunteer associate at my former residential college. The Linguistics Department also recently invited me to join an Alumni Panel. What unexpected outcomes!

While we don’t know whether any of the students left our session inspired to become translators or interpreters, the truth is that I was inspired to turn my dream into a reality after attending a similar outreach presentation in Tokyo while I was wrapping up my time working on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme.

You just never know how much you can impact others and I encourage you to get involved in sharing our profession with your community. This brings greater awareness to our industry, helps prospective clients know what to look for when hiring language professionals, and is an interesting way to network and learn.

Author bio

Jessica Hartstein is an ATA-Certified Translator (Spanish>English, French>English) and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Spanish-English). She holds an 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.

Attending your clients’ conferences

Have you ever been told, “go where your clients go,” “meet your clients face-to-face,” or “attend an industry event”? Have you been interested, but not sure where to start?

Attending your potential clients’ conferences can be very rewarding: you learn new terminology, get familiar with the industry, meet potential clients, and promote your services. The list goes on! However, conferences can be overwhelming, and putting yourself out there can seem intimidating.

Have you considered attending with a colleague? Do you think attending alone would be a better fit?

Earlier this year, Veronika Dimichelis and Jessica Hartstein teamed up and attended an international conference together, and Veronika attended a local symposium alone just a few weeks later.

We hope this article gives you some food for thought on how you can make the most of attending large, non-translation industry conferences and find new ways of partnering up with colleagues.

Choose the right client conference

We chose to attend the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) together since we both worked in the oil and gas industry in the past. This is an international oil and gas conference and tradeshow with 2,470 exhibitors and 60,000 attendees from 100+ countries. We had both attended this event in the past through our former employers, so we knew what to expect and excitedly anticipated running into old co-workers.

Of note, many non-technical companies attend and exhibit at events like this; you can find people to talk to even if you’re not working with technical subjects. Think: communication experts, law firms, and even environmental and human trafficking NGOs.

A few weeks later, Veronika attended a local Human Resources symposium with 2,000 attendees and around 100 exhibitors. She is a trained HR professional; it’s one of her areas of specialization and she knows the subject matter. Given her experience in this field, she found it easy to connect with people and start conversations around common challenges and focus areas.

Fly solo or go with a colleague?

Jessica initiated the buddy approach with OTC. She approached Veronika because she felt like they had similar communication styles and knew she’d be comfortable talking to prospective clients with Veronika. Keep in mind that while you and your buddy may work for yourselves and offer separate services, you are likely to reflect on each other to prospective clients.

In our case, we have completely disparate language pairs, and this meant we would never feel in competition, but teaming up with someone in your same language pair or with your opposite language pair may be the right fit for you.

The pros of attending with someone else are that you may feel more comfortable striking up conversations, you have a chance to learn from the other’s experience, you can vouch for each other’s professionalism, and it may simply be the crutch that gets you to the event!

The cons, if not managed well, could be that you talk to fewer people, take backstage to your colleague, or are less efficient with your time. Toward the end of our visit, we had to split up because the tradeshow was so large, there was no way to get to every exhibit we wanted to otherwise.

Preparation

Rather than just punching the address into your GPS and winging it, it’s worth the effort to think about what your main objective is in attending the event. You are making a time and financial investment to attend the conference, so be strategic.

For example, is your biggest priority to find potential clients? To improve your understanding of the subject matter? To get inspired and find new ideas for services you can offer or markets you can target? Or is it to catch up with former colleagues or to position yourself as an expert in the field? Once you’ve determined your main goal, look at the events with that goal in mind.

In our case, OTC is a 4-day event, but we set aside enough time to be in the tradeshow for about 4 hours. Our hope was to connect with companies who work in Spanish-speaking countries (Jessica) and Russia (Veronika). We individually looked at the exhibitor’s list and took note of which companies we thought would be a good fit for ourselves, and then compared our lists beforehand. With over 2,000 exhibitors located in two different arenas, it’s important to have a game plan!

We also wanted to bump into former colleagues to let them know what we were doing and to get a chance to learn about what they were up to now. We reached out to the people we knew and stopped by their booths. It was an excellent opportunity to reconnect and introduce each other to people who know the value of professional translators.

As Veronika prepared for the HR Symposium, she looked at the exhibitors’ list, reviewed their promotional materials, and took note of companies that work in Russia or offer services that have to do with relocation or international assignments. She also made a list of presentations related to topics that she worked with as an HR manager in the past. The HR Symposium was a relatively small event, so she felt that she had to be comfortable asking questions and contributing to the discussion after the presentations.

The day of the event

Go prepared with an elevator pitch that specifically targets that industry or even the companies of greatest interest to you. Prepare a few good conversation-starters and avoid using T&I jargon. For example, clients are unlikely to be familiar with “source language” and “target language.” A simple “do you have English documents you need translated into Russian?” would probably get you the information you need or start a conversation where you can help them learn more about the industry.

Neither of us is pushy, and while many companies at OTC need or use translation services, we both knew that the exhibitors had their own priorities, and our services were not what they were targeting at this event. Thus, we were respectful of people’s time, engaged in conversations about their international presence, and provided information about T&I wherever we could. In fact, Veronika very politely pointed out to an exhibitor that was trying to present an international face with a multilingual display that they had made a significant error in Russian. We could see him immediately appreciate the need for professional translators, and we’re fairly certain he went back and told his team about that to improve the display for his next tradeshow.

At the HR Symposium, Veronika focused on participating in conversations with other participants, primarily about international assignments and intercultural challenges that arise when operating in different countries. She could relate to examples and challenges discussed and could share her own experience as an HR professional and a translator.

At a “niche” event like this, she really stood out as the only translator in the room, and most people were interested in learning how translation works and why translators want to stay abreast of trends and focus areas in the fields of their specialization.

Conclusion

There is no one right way to attend client conferences. The only thing for certain is that NOT attending is a missed opportunity. Of course, it’s important to set realistic expectations for what success will look like to you.

Is it fair to think you’ll have 10 new and fantastic clients sending you work immediately after one day at a conference? No! Both of us have the long-game in mind and feel that attending client conferences is one component of that.

At the very least, this is a chance to be better informed about your potential clients’ interests, challenge yourself to step out of the T&I bubble, and practice talking about what you do with confidence.

We will definitely be attending more client events in the future, both together and separately. We hope you will, too!

Image source: Unsplash

Authors’ bios:

Veronika Demichelis is an ATA-certified English>Russian translator based in Houston, TX. She holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics and Intercultural Communication and an MBA in Human Resources Management, and specializes in corporate communication, HR, and social responsibility.

She serves on the ATA Membership Committee and is the co-host for the Smart Habits for Translators podcast and Director for Professional Development for Houston Interpreters and Translators Association.

Jessica Hartstein is an ATA-Certified Translator (Spanish>English, French>English) and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Spanish-English). She holds an 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.

Let’s Spring into Action in Miami this March!

From March 16-18, 2018, Miami is hosting what will surely be the must-attend event of the season for professionals of the T&I industry.

Co-organized by the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF), the Spanish Language Division of the American Translators Association (ATA), and Florida International University (FIU),* Spring into Action will be a three-day event featuring the internationally renowned speakers of Palabras Mayores, along with 25 terrific professionals hailing from different parts of the U.S. and abroad, who will be presenting on various topics.

The four speakers of Palabras Mayores—Jorge de Buen Unna, Xosé Castro Roig, Alberto Gómez Font, and Antonio Martín Fernández—will guide us through the intricacies of the Spanish language, help us improve our technical knowledge of the language and brush up on our basic skills, and provide practical tips for writers and translators alike. The content will be relevant not only for translators, but also for interpreters, journalists, and basically anyone whose job is to communicate in Spanish.

Spring into Action was designed to offer something for everyone.

Even though Spanish is at the heart of the event, the conference is not geared exclusively toward practitioners working in the English/Spanish languages. In fact, of the 35 sessions, almost half deal with topics that may be applicable to other language combinations, are language-neutral, or are suited for professionals working into English.

The offerings are extensive, and attendees will have the opportunity to choose from as many as three sessions happening simultaneously in any given time slot.

Interpreters will be delighted to see advanced workshops to hone their skills, while translators—and dare I say writers and journalists?—will be able to delve into the depths of grammar, terminology, and style, and will even have the opportunity to explore the growing (and controversial) field of post-editing. Check out the program to learn more about sessions and presenters to get you all fired up!

ATA Certification Exam Workshop.

Bright and early on Friday March 16, translators working in the EN>ES combination and interested in taking the ATA certification exam will have the rare opportunity to have their practice tests corrected by ATA graders at the ATA Certification Exam Workshop. Participants must sign up ahead of time as space is limited. You will be asked to translate a 275-word passage and your hits and misses will be used anonymously to create the slides that will drive the workshop. Request your passage by writing to TallerEnMiami@gmail.com. They will send out as many passages as are requested, but only the first 20 translations received will be reviewed and used during the workshop. The first 20 people to send in their translations will be allowed to attend the workshop. This is truly a first come, first serve event!

Registration: Open to all and quite reasonable.

Despite the world-class level of this conference, it is extremely affordable and open to both members and non-members of the ATA. Early bird registration ends on January 30 and is priced at $175 for the general public. Interested in becoming a member of ATIF? Join and you will secure a $100 registration fee until January 30, in addition to a full year of benefits from ATIF. After January 30, registration increases to $250 for the general public and $175 for ATIF members.

The Magic City

Spring into Action will take place at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus of FIU, and information about the venue and accommodations can be found on the event’s webpage.

As if sessions and presenters (and affordability!) weren’t enough reasons, the attraction of Miami as a conference destination is undeniable. Tickets to Miami, a major travel hub, are usually very reasonable, whether you’re coming from anywhere in the U.S., South America, or even Europe, as some of our presenters are! Most airlines offer direct flights from major cities, so getting here is a breeze.

Spring is a fabulous time to visit Miami—not too humid, not too hot. It’s perfect for exploring the Magic City and, of course, its beaches!

Speaking of fabulous, in case you’re still reading this article and not over at ATIF’s website registering for the conference, let me casually mention the welcome reception. On Friday, March 16, after our first day of sessions, ATIF is inviting conference attendees to a swanky reception at one of Miami’s historical landmarks: The Biltmore Hotel. It will be the perfect backdrop to a perfect evening of relaxation and mingling with colleagues and friends.

As I said: Let’s Spring into Action, and see you here in Miami!

*DISCLAIMER: Florida International University’s Translation and Interpretation Program is providing space at the FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus as a professional courtesy to the American Translators Association’s Spanish Language Division and the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida for the event “Spring into Action 2018.” FIU/T&I is not responsible for the content, finances, or administration of the event.