Yesterday, I returned to Colorado after attending the 56th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association in Miami. What a different experience it was compared to my very first ATA conference in New York City only a few years ago! I can still recall standing in the lobby of the conference hotel in NYC, intimidated by the large venue and the groups of people with the ATA badges, who all seemed to know each other. I felt like Dorothy after being blown into the Land of Oz!
I don’t remember talking to anyone at that conference; I certainly didn’t have any meaningful conversations. My translation career was still in its infancy. I had no clue what I was doing, how to network, or how to connect with my colleagues. Translators aren’t exactly known for being the most extroverted bunch, and I was living proof of that stereotype. While I went home armed with new knowledge, I didn’t get much else out of my first ATA conference experience.
Four conferences later, I can only marvel at the difference I see in myself. Gone are the days where I hide behind my cell phone, or try to blend in with my surroundings in the hope that no one talks to me. This time, I was so busy chatting with my fellow translators, I barely had time to grab coffee between the sessions. Once I set foot outside my hotel room, I usually found myself engaged in conversation with other conference attendees within a matter of minutes. I chatted up people in the elevator, at the breakfast bar, and in the hallway between sessions. There wasn’t a single meal I ate by myself. I had lunch with industry experts and wasn’t shy to approach the speakers after their presentations just to say hi, compliment them on their great sessions, or tell them I follow them on Twitter.
In the exhibit hall filled with representatives for translation agencies and potential clients, I used to stroll insecurely from table to table, grabbing promotional materials and dropping my business cards into bowls, all the while trying to avoid eye contact and, above all, small talk. I’m no good at small talk. Like most of my German compatriots, I’m a get-to-the-point kind of girl. My tactic during my second conference wasn’t much better. I would walk up to a booth, wait patiently in line to talk to a representative, and awkwardly start a conversation that would go something like this: “Hi, I translate from English into German – do you have demand for German translators and would you like my resume?” The results were… shall we say, meager.
Luckily, practice, experience and exposure have given me confidence over the years. These days, when I walk up to a booth, I glance at the marketing materials, and if they look like a fit for my language combination and expertise, I start the conversation by focusing on the exhibitor, not me: “Hi, I’m not familiar with your agency yet. Could you tell me a little bit about the work you do, the clients you work with, and what kinds of projects you take on?” Rule 101 of human interaction: People like to talk about themselves, so show an interest in what they do. Works every time.
As a four-time conference attendee, I decided that I should give back by participating in ATA’s “Buddies Welcome Newbies” program this year, which pairs first-timers with experienced conference veterans to help them avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed that I knew so well. I ended up with two colleagues from Europe under my wings. One was an experienced, outgoing translator, the other one an unobtrusive translation tool developer. Together, we formed an interesting mix of experiences and perspectives, which added another intriguing layer to my conference experience.
I wish I had had a “Buddy” when I attended my first ATA conference, but I don’t think the program existed back then. If it did, I wasn’t aware of it. So instead, I joined the Colorado Translators Association. My work as CTA media coordinator, which turned into my current role as interim vice president, gave me a chance to meet my colleagues and the impetus to start networking on a larger scale. It also allowed me to get to know some frequent ATA presenters. My volunteer activity was my stepping stone into the translation social scene. It is the reason I am now part of a Mastermind group with two very well-known translation colleagues. The people who used to leave me awe-struck are now some of my regular contacts at the ATA conference and beyond.
One thing that had me absolutely thrilled this year was how many apparent strangers approached me to tell me that they know me. “You look so familiar, I think we’re friends on Facebook or LinkedIn!” “Aren’t you @IMCTranslations? I follow you on Twitter!” “You write a blog, right? I love reading your articles!” And imagine my surprise when I found my Twitter profile displayed on the screen in front of hundreds of colleagues as a positive example during a presentation on effective social media marketing!
Somewhere along the line of the last few conferences, I realized that even the most famous translators in our industry are just people like me, who have an area of expertise and a passion to share their knowledge. Each of us can make a name for him- or herself. We just need to put ourselves out there. For me, connecting on social media has made a huge difference. The distance between myself and the people presenting to this diverse audience of 1,600 people from across the globe has shrunk considerably in the process. In fact, I could see myself standing in the front of the room, sharing my expertise with this great audience of fellow linguists, at some point – who knows, maybe even at the next ATA Conference in San Francisco.
Final Conference Wrap-Up
- ATA Leadership Training
- Buddies Welcome Newbies
- Presentation of Candidates & Election
- Deutsche Rechtschreibung: Was bleibt nach den Reformen?
- Transcreation and Translation for Marketing
- Brainstorm Networking
- How to Use Blogging and Social Media to Grow Your Client List
- How to Find and Approach Your Ideal Clients Through LinkedIn
- Sex and Crime in English and German
- German Language Division Annual Meeting
- Productivity Strategies for Freelance Professionals
- Ticken die Deutschen anders? Understanding the Idiosyncrasies of Doing Business in Germany
- Beyond the Basis: Tips for Better Formatting in Microsoft Word
- The BOLD Speaker: Fast Track Your Business
- Get More Business: Successful Sales Techniques for Translators
- Keynote Address