How to make the most of an ATA conference

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving!

This won’t be a Thanksgiving post though. I decided to leave it to my last post of the year, next month, when I intend to make a 2017 wrap-up. Should you miss my Thanksgiving posts, you can read the ones I published in the previous years: What I learned from a bad year (2016), Five things to be grateful for (2015) and Giving thanks (2014).

Today I want to talk about my experience as a newbie at ATA 58. The American Translators Association (ATA) traditionally hosts every year a huge conference with more than 1,000 attendees, each year in a different U.S. city. This year, in its 58th edition, it was held in Washington, D.C. and attended by exactly 1,721 people from all over the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Upon preparing for it, I asked my colleague and friend Melissa Harkin, who had already attended the ATA conference for the first time last year, for some tips. They were all extremely useful, so I’ll make a summary of my tips, based on my experience as a newbie, with hers.

Since it’s a huge conference, the largest in our area, standing out is key. However, be careful with how you interpret this “stand out.” It doesn’t mean desperately imposing and calling all the attention to yourself; it means gracefully leaving your mark and differentiating yourself among the crowd.

  • The conference has an app. As soon as it’s out, fill out your profile with all possible information, including adding a picture and a CV, and adding your language pair in your description, so people can see your language pair straight from the attendees’ list, right below your name. Believe it or not, most attendees underestimate the app and do not use it for anything. Besides being handy during the conference, since it’s filled with useful information, it’s a great way of making yourself visible.
    A potential client contacted me before the conference – she was looking for Brazilian Portuguese translators. Later she said that she liked my app profile because it clearly stated my language pair under my name.
  • Don’t make it about yourself. Focus on the other (either colleague or agency). Truly engage, show interest, ask questions about them. Avoid being forced and sounding like a robot.
    I met a girl during the Welcome Celebration who took the Buddies Welcome Newbies session’s tips too literally, and the poor thing ended up sounding fake to me, resulting in zero engagement.
  • Be open to meeting new people, naturally engage, occasionally exchange business cards, if given the opportunity, and move on. In Portuguese, the expression “alugar uma pessoa” (rent a person) is used when you talk with a person for a long time. Don’t do that. It’s a huge event, with hundreds of people and a bunch of things to do. Time is precious.
  • The Brainstorm Networking features quick brainstorming sessions where a group of people quickly introduce themselves, exchange cards and discuss a scenario. Follow the steps quickly, and don’t dominate it, so everybody has their say. This is not the place for a heated discussion or parallel conversions.
  • The Job Fair is not on a first-come-first-served basis, so be cool and take your time. Don’t rush in front of other people neither simply throw your card on the table. Stand in line, if there is one, and while you wait for your time try to listen to what the recruiters are saying, so you can spare their time when your turn comes. Even if they don’t work with your language pair/area of specialization, be friendly and thank them for their time.
    Extra tip (by Melissa): Create a personalized visual CV for the Job Fair. You will certainly stand out.

If you are shy or new to conferences in general, don’t miss the Buddies Welcome Newbies session, right in the first day. Buddies are seasoned attendees who are willing to help newbies (first-time attendees) around the conference. The session has great tips for enjoying the conference to the fullest, and you sit at a table with other buddies and newbies, so it’s also a great opportunity for meeting new people. If you are by yourself and don’t know anyone, you won’t be anymore after this session.

If you already have a “gang,” don’t stick only to the person or group of people you already know. Whenever there is a different person around you, switch from your mother tongue to English, so they don’t feel left out. It’s great having familiar people around, but try exploring the event by yourself, being open to meeting new people in the halls, seating right next to you in a session, at breakfast, at social events, etc. Keep a friendly, smiley face at all times, face up. Look at people’s eyes, say hi/good morning even when you don’t know them. Though not in a creepy way of course; be natural. I connected with someone at breakfast who I ended up learning was a project manager. She contacted me after the conference for a potential partnership.

Have business cards on you at all times! It’s unbelievable how people don’t take business cards or don’t take enough. Take around 50 cards per day. It’s more than enough. It’s better to have some left than running out of them. Asking people to take a picture of your last card is, in my opinion, mind you, embarrassing.

When exchanging business cards, make notes on the person’s card, don’t rely on your memory. I had never done that before (never thought it was necessary), I started doing it at ATA 58, but it wasn’t enough. When handling cards post-conference I obviously forgot things. For example, at the Exhibit Hall and the Job Fair you will meet dozens of recruiters. However, some of them may not work with your language pair or area of specialization. If you don’t write it down on the card, you may forget and end up following up with the company anyway post-conference, showing lack of attention and care. Possible notes: where you met the person (Exhibit Hall, Job Fair, Brainstorm Networking and which round, speaker, etc.), if you should follow-up or not and why, your personal impressions, etc.

Last but not least, have fun!

After the conference, wait for about two weeks before following up, so you can give people a chance to settle down or even contact you first. When contacting them, don’t assume they will remember you. Briefly recapitulate where and how you met, and attach your visual CV so they can easily remember you.

My post is already too long, so now I’ll leave it up to you: Do you have any other tips to add?

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How to successfully network at a translation conference

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Courtesy of Unsplash, by Matthew Henry

Those who know me well are quite aware of the fact that I am a conference rat. I love conferences and, most of the time, they are an “excuse” for traveling somewhere and visiting some place new. So much so that whenever I travel my mom asks if I am going to attend any conferences. Well, sometimes I do travel to visit friends, you know?

After attending so many conferences, you end up naturally mastering this networking thing. However, I know how difficult it can be the first or second time we attend one. We feel lost, most of the times we do not know absolutely anybody, we are shy, and we want to dig a hole on the ground to hide and simply disappear from this frightening place. See? It is normal, it happens with anybody. I never feel comfortable whenever I go to a new place either, like a new gym, for example. But I will not stop exercising just because of that, am I? Well, I know this may be more than an excuse for some people though…

Keeping this conference newbie tiny issue in mind and the fact that the Abrates Conference is just around the corner, I decided to share with you some tips for successfully networking at conferences without simply throwing yourself at the people either.

  • First of all, having and carrying your business cards with you at all times is a must. And this is valid for any occasions. Have a bunch of business cards in your wallet, purse, gym bag, car. Whenever someone asks for your email or phone number, just handle them your card and make a good impression with your professionalism. 😉
  • However, do NOT just randomly start giving your cards away to simply anybody with no reason whatsoever. Wait for the right time. Timing is everything when you want to make a good impression.
  • In order to find the right time, first, you need to be open. When we feel shy, we tend to bury our heads in our notepads, mobiles, or even in the coffee break food. (Who never?) Look up, not down, and keep a smile on your face at all times. Do not be afraid of saying hi to people even when you do not know them, especially those who are sitting right next to you during the numerous talks. This openness is key to finding the right time to “strike,” besides making it easier for people to approach you.
  • Approaching other attendees is not necessarily the worse thing ever. Small talk is there to rescue us! Comment about the icing cold air conditioning, the horrible Wi-Fi connection, the nice venue, the amazing lunch you just had, that coffee you terribly need, you name it, with the person who is sitting next to you. After breaking the ice, show interest and ask the person their name, what they do, where they are from, etc. And take the chance to ask for the person’s business card, so you can keep in touch. Naturally, they will also ask for yours. There you go. It does not hurt, does it? And you cause a way better impression when you show you are interested in knowing about the person than if you make it about yourself from the beginning. This approach can also be used during coffee breaks: comment about the amazing food, the interesting talk you just attended, how sleepy and in need of coffee you are… And repeat the same next steps: show interest to know who the person is and ask for their card.
  • Another way of approaching other attendees is when you “know” them somehow: you always see them commenting/posting on Facebook groups, you like their blog/what they do, you are Facebook “friends,” you name it. These are great ice-breakers.
  • Do not leave a conference without talking to presenters you like or whose presentations you enjoyed! There is no better ice-breaker than approaching the person to say you watched their presentation and loved it. Ask for their card so you can follow them on social media, and there you go. Or, if given the chance, you can even approach them before their talk (even if you are not really planning on attending it), saying you saw they are presenting, you are interested at the topic but unfortunately will not be able to attend it, so maybe they could give you their card so you can keep in touch? 😉

In a nutshell, the key is to be friendly and open at all times, and take every chance to start a small talk and take it to the next level by showing interest at the person. Only make it about you if the person opens the floor for you to do so.

If you engage with as little as one person per period (morning and afternoon), you end up with four contacts to follow up at a two-day conference. If you adequately follow up with them after the conference, these four people may introduce you to other people throughout the year and at the next conference as well. It is a vicious circle that only gets bigger with time, and one that works for itself, with no need to make such a great efforts anymore.

Now, last but not least, it is also important to know how to properly follow up.

  • Write an individual and personalized email to people you really liked meeting showing your appreciation.
  • Do NOT simply add people on social media without sending them a private message reminding them exactly where and how you met, or where you know them from. Actually, this should be always applied, like a best networking practice. It is hard to remember every single person we meet at conferences, and anywhere for that matter.
  • Now, I know this is hard to ask nowadays, but I actually prefer to follow their blog, like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, etc., instead of adding them as friends on Facebook or LinkedIn, especially those I did not really have a chance to connect that much.

Those who are at the the ITI and NAJIT conferences can already start applying these tips. If you do, let us know if it worked. And for those who are attending the Abrates Conference next week, like myself, you can start practicing in the shower. 😉