How to get the most out of industry conferences

How to make the most of industry conferences?

This year’s edition of the Translation & Localization Conference in Warsaw is coming up. The first one, in 2013, was a delightful experience, but the second one – a disappointment. This year, I’m counting on the full rehabilitation of the TLC image. But there’s more to the conference market than the TLC, everyone will find something to their liking, even abroad. But why is going to industry conferences worth it and how to make the most of them?

There are countless linguistic conferences organised – even the University of Warsaw holds a few each year, so PhD students can’t get bored. After all, they have to score points for the scholarship and gain academic achievements somehow. However, there aren’t that many market-related conferences. TLC, the Translation and Localization Conference, organized every spring in Warsaw is, in my opinion, the best-known conference in the translation industry.  One look at the name and you can tell that basically, translation and localization are the main subjects, which also means topics related to machine translation, summary of the market development, etc. These are the permanent items on the agenda.

However, it turns out that last year’s survey’s results have gotten to the organizers. When I ran into some of my colleagues during a break, they were as demotivated as myself. The subjects of the conference mostly focused on IT, systems, or sponsors’ presentations, but for us, interpreters, interesting sessions were almost impossible to find. So this year, I’m offering the TLC the last chance to make up for that. After all, it is a significant investment which has to bring considerable profits. But this year’s agenda looks promising.

When you actually go to a trade conference, what’s the best way to use it to the full potential? Obviously, when you pay more than 220 € for a two-day-conference pass, you want to make the most of it. This year, I’ve seriously considered my options – how to have no regrets afterwards and to benefit from it to the fullest.

10 tips on making the most of a conference

  1. Business cards
    It’s a bare essential. First, take more or less 100 business cards with you. An upcoming conference is a good opportunity to look through your supplies, as no matter how many card you order at once, they eventually run out, and analyse what your card says about you. If it only shows that you are a translator, it will not make it easy for the newly met people to remember you as a potential co-worker. It’s best if your card is accurately suited to your target group, and contains only necessary details (let’s agree that the tax identification number is not one of them), plus a catchy phrase which sums up your professional profile. This small piece of paper really makes a difference. If your business cards are already perfect, or you suffer from CLT (complete lack of time), go ahead and order another batch from the printer’s, and bring them to the event.
  1. Networking 
    If you think that at a conference, discussion panels are crucial, I’m about to wake you up from your fantasy. Speeches and panels are only the background of the key activity – networking. A conference is a great opportunity to get to know other translators, potential clients, translation agency representatives, and speakers whom you may only recognize from the Internet. That’s why I think I can give up on participating in a boring panel to wind down on a lobby couch or enjoy tea, but I must take part in coffee breaks, lunch, networking dinner, or the conference after-party. There’s no better opportunity to have a chat with interesting people for longer than 3 minutes and get useful tips, see how others manage their micro-companies, or have a look at their attitude to their profession.
  1. Use breaks…
    … for more than sipping coffee with good friends. Obviously, it’s nice to see each other after a year or a few months and hear about “What’s new?”, but maybe not the whole time. On the one hand, translators who you’re on friendly terms with are often great business partners because they can be trusted and working together is pure pleasure. On the other hand, why limit yourself? In two days, if you try a little, you’ll meet many people to whom you can pass on clients outside your field, instead of hanging them out to dry, for example. You’ll get to know translators from abroad, and find out more about ethics, good practices, or trends over the Polish border.
  1. Attend what you’re most interested in and what you don’t know a thing about
    It’s a golden rule. If you’re into a subject, it’s worth your while to listen to the speakers. Either you will hear something surprising, or something you already know; but it never hurts to enhance your knowledge. If you’re not really fond of some topic, you most likely won’t experience the so-called “Aha-Erlebnis”, so feel free to skip it, unless you have time and energy to attend all the speeches or debates, and none of them collide. If a subject is a complete mystery to you and you don’t feel like hearing about it, you should break the ice. If you go, you might see that it’s actually not so dreadful. At most, you’ll confirm your reluctance to it, but at least, you’ll gain a reason why you don’t like it so much. 
  1. Don’t let the energy drain out
    It’s only two days a year, so you need to accumulate energy reserves and not to give in to tiredness. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then take a break. A walk around the hotel, a longer tea break, or relaxing on the lobby couch will energize you; ineffectively sitting tired in a conference room will go to waste. You’d better get the energy back, and after an hour rejoin the conference with full strength. Don’t forget to eat healthy; remember that sweet snacks at conferences may look delicious, but they don’t boost your energy. I’m still waiting for a conference with a healthier catering suited to 8 or more hours of speeches when we want to keep concentrated. So far, I haven’t had such a chance, so we have to find another way.
  1. Sit with people you don’t know…
    …and give yourself a chance to experience something different than last year,  broaden your horizons. Being shy, I have to force myself to mingle with strangers, which is a big challenge, but I’m sure it’s worth it.
  1. Work on your self-presentation
    Have you ever been at a meeting of 20-30 people where everyone was to speak about themselves for 2-3 minutes? It seems like a piece of cake, but not everyone has instantaneous self-presentation mastered. Besides, even if you feel comfortable talking about yourself, it doesn’t mean you make the impression you wish for. Preparing a so-called “elevator pitch”, a short presentation about yourself/your idea/your company, is a good way to start. If you ask me, my first self-presentation was a failure, but I’ve forged it into a challenge. Now, I’ve been benefiting from different opportunities to test and practice self-presenting. And if the aim of a conference is, among others, meeting people, self-presentation really matters.
  1. Take notes…
    … otherwise, you won’t remember everything that happened during two days, no matter how much you want to. As simple as that.
  1. Steer clear of the sponsors’ presentations
    What could you possibly find out from them? That in the beloved Trados there is a new function or a new version coming up which is a must for every self-respecting translator? If CAT tools are not the passion of your life, you can easily skip them. You’d better use this time to hang out with interesting people or simply take a rest. Of course, we do appreciate sponsors  because it’s thanks to them the larger-scale conferences can happen. But there’s still no point in wasting time hearing about their products, is there?
  1. Go to a workshop
    Workshops are one of every conference’s better part, as they bring a change for a couple of hours. Instead of sitting in a room bursting at the seams with participants, I find myself for a while in a smaller group and get my dose of practical knowledge. This year’s TLC’s agenda suggests that the conference will be more business-related; good thing, there will be a workshop with Marta Stelmaszak, a great trainer of business aspects of the translation trade. Ok, it’s surely a lot of tips. This only means that there are a few aspects to think through before a conference to benefit even more from the investment you make. And the bigger the effect, the more satisfaction you get, and the more you want to go to this one or a completely different conference next year. Besides, conference travelling is also a good idea for a change from sitting at the same desk. But if you do go to conferences, be mindful. Participate in conferences, so that they directly affect your income and enable you to work with the right partners.
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