Although I have been an associate member of the ATA (American Translators Association) for a little more than four years, and had considered attending the conference each year since joining, for some reason, it didn’t happen. The momentum in my mind to finally bite the bullet and just GO had been building for the last couple of years. When I realized this year’s event would be in Miami, the city where I was born and raised, subconsciously, I knew I would go. After all, how could I not, the voice in my head kept saying.
After having been to some 15 or more translation conferences and related events on this side of the Atlantic over the past 9 years, I am not exactly a ‘conference virgin’. I have been to events ranging from 20 participants to 300, and do consider myself old-hat to some degree. I know how to pack for them, prepare for them (mentally and logistically), decide which sessions to attend, and I can now even register and pay for the event and book the flight and hotel in under an hour. I even like to think I know how to behave at them, and get the most out of the experience.
The ATA Annual Conference is known by some as the Mother of All Translation Conferences (1600+ attendees this year). It is an event on a scale that is many times the size of the ones I have been to in Europe, in terms of both sessions and attendees. In fact, it can be so overwhelming for the uninitiated that they offer a Buddies and Newbies program for first-time attendees. While I decided to pass on this opportunity, I was incredibly thankful for the conference app, something EVERY conference really should have. The ATA Conference app allows you to fill out your personal profile for contact with other participants, and map out (literally! Complete with floor plan!) your schedule of chosen sessions. It also provides information on the presentations and speakers, shows you which exhibitors are where in the exhibition hall, when and where social and other conference events are held, alerts you to any changes in the program and more. As I often tend to go overboard with this stuff, I installed it on every conceivable device I have before even leaving for the conference. I didn’t want to be without this lifeline.
Everything I had heard was true in terms of how well-organized this conference is. Terms such as ‘well-oiled machine’ and ‘tightly run ship’ come to mind. If anything went wrong, the organizers sure did an excellent job of hiding it.
Choosing which sessions to attend
And now to choose sessions to attend from among the 175 (!) offered over the course of three days. Given my experience and business background, some might say I don’t ‘need’ to attend the sessions focusing on the business side of our profession. This is not true; I believe we can all learn something everywhere, regardless of our experience. Still, my preference lately leans toward the more nuts-and-bolts presentations, the ones offering concrete tips for specific skills we need in our work. My software and technology skills can always use a boost. The learning-by-doing mentality I have adopted (I don’t read manuals! So sue me!) has resulted in certain gaps in my knowledge of the tools we need as translators, which I try to fill by watching tutorials and demos online. However, attending conference sessions ‘live’ works even better to imprint this information indelibly on my memory.
I have to say that every single session I attended was great; the speakers surpassed my expectations. I gleaned something useful from each and every one. The presentation skills of the speakers, most of who managed to hold my attention for the entire 50 minutes or so of their presentation, are envy-inspiring. It’s one thing to be a true specialist in your field and to have specific know-how that others can benefit from, but it is another entirely to be able to convey this in a compelling, comprehensible and even entertaining manner. Not everyone is capable of this.
I took copious notes during Allison Bryant’s session (PDFs, OCR, and Formatting, Oh My!) and Jill Sommer’s (@bonnjill) presentation on tips for better formatting in Microsoft Word. I always take lengthy notes (go ahead, laugh, but my memory is not as reliable as it used to be) during all conference presentations, typing them right into Evernote, so that I can access them anytime I need them on my iPhone, iPad and computers. I have already applied some of these tips since returning and getting back to work last week. One in particular from Allison’s session was a true epiphany for me, and will mean saving countless hours of frustration with converted documents. In monetary terms, this alone theoretically paid for my flight to the conference.
I loved Catherine Christaki’s (@LinguaGreca) presentation on how to find and approach direct clients on LinkedIn, a platform I have been meaning to use more lately. Catherine gave fantastic tips on how to get the most out of this very important tool, and I even learned a few things I have been doing wrong. This is a page in my presentation notes I will definitely be returning to often.
Corinne McKay’s (@corinnemckay) presentation on breaking into the direct client market was a very well-organized, concise session on this very popular topic. Corinne gave valuable tips on where to find these clients, how to approach them, what works and what doesn’t, and great tips on untapped niches.
Percy Balemans’ (@percybalemans) session (Forget what you learned in school: make your writing more lively) was chock full of tips, reminders and eye-openers about writing that we may forget (and others we definitely should forget!) when we get too caught up in our hectic schedules. Percy had many valuable writing and practical tips that are definitely applicable to me and frankly any translator who aims to be the best writer they can be.
Since I do a lot of legal and human rights translations, Paula Arturo’s (@PaulaArturo) two sessions really appealed to me (Translation contract negotiation: how to get to yes and seal the deal and HR arena: a world of opportunities for experienced translators). I was already a huge fan of her blog, but these two sessions were like a crash course in negotiation and an excellent overview of the human rights arena respectively. Paula provided so much information so clearly and left me wanting for more. I hope she makes more appearances on this side of the Atlantic soon!
I had heard great things about Michael Farrell’s (@IntelliWSearch) presentations on his invaluable terminology tool Intelliwebsearch, but for some reason never managed to attend one of these at other conferences. I made a point of not missing it this time, and am so glad I did. Starting to use this tool is also high on my post-ATA to-do list.
In conclusion…I highly recommend going to an ATA conference. It has something for everyone, from beginners to veterans, generalists to specialists, technical to book translators. Yes, it is a major investment, and can be even more expensive if you’re coming from outside the US, but when ‘done’ right, it has the potential to pay for itself in no time. I won’t go into the general reasons for attending conferences (I blogged about that here a couple years ago), but if you can swing it financially, the ATA should be near if not at the top of your list.
The schedule for the next few years reveals even more ‘excuses’ to go to upcoming ATA conferences….San Francisco (lived there)….Washington, D.C. (family there), but the only reason I really need lies in the quality and benefits of attending this wonderful conference.