This month, I had the pleasure of attending my first professional conference in the form of the 2019 ITI Conference. Before hand, I was pretty nervous and a little intimidated. Deciding to go to conference was big consideration both in terms of finance and time. Would the benefits really offset the costs? Would I be the weird outsider lurking on the edges of a well-established club? Would anyone want to talk to a new translator when they’re far more distinguished and experienced? Am I finally going to be called out as an imposter and banished from the community?
You’ll be delighted to know that my experience was far from these rhetorical questions. As a result, I’ve decided to explore some of the myths or unhelpful thoughts that can hold us back from professional conferences and counter them with the benefits.
Myth Number 1: No one will talk to me
Before you go to a conference it’s easy to panic and think no one will talk to you. Everyone have their friends and be in a cosy little bubble and you’ll be an outsider looking in. This is the complete opposite of my conference experience. I was delighted to find a warm and welcoming community who were happy to engage with anyone on any subject. Yes, sometimes you have to be brave and make those introductions yourself and start those conversations but isn’t that part of running your own business and networking anyway? And yes, there is a solid core of people who know each other and have genuine friendships with each other but rather than seeing this as a negative, it can be a really positive aspect. Firstly, because it highlights the fact people can and do form real friendships which is encouraging if you struggle with isolation and working alone and secondly, it also means these people can introduce you to their friends and contacts, thus expanding your own circle. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the number of people I “knew” from Twitter and it was such a delight to make those connections in person and gives you a starting point to work from.
Myth Number 2: I absolutely have to do everything
In one of my first conversations I had at conference, someone helpfully said you don’t have to do everything. It was really useful to hear this advice from someone older, more experienced and with multiple conferences under their belt. Conference is amazing – there’s a buzz of ideas, a wealth of information, hundreds of conversations to be had – but that can also make it overwhelming. A week on and I still feel like my brain is in overdrive and it will take me a long time to untangle everything I’ve absorbed and figure out when to apply it. With this advice in mind, I often popped out at lunch to have a little time to myself, digest the day so far and go back recharged and ready for action. It would be easy to feel guilty about “missing out” but hearing this advice early on was incredibly freeing and lead to a more productive conference for me.
Myth Number 3: Conference success is based on how many people you talk to
If you can talk to over 370 delegates and have a meaningful conversation with each one in approximately 20 hours congratulations – that’s a real skill! However, the reality is that it’s an impossibility for most of us. It can be really tempting to try though and run around like a headless chicken, dashing from one conversation to the next. I learned to slow down. I tried to focus on having one meaningful conversation in each break time and to actually get to know someone and find out a bit more about them. Anything else was a bonus. Cynically, you could say that this is a far better tactic in terms of finding people you want to collaborate with, which could lead to profitable work. Arguably, it is a much better tactic than having a quick two-minute conversation, chucking a business card at someone and moving on to the next person. However, it’s also a better way to build real relationships with people, to building up friendships where you can discuss the reality of your job with people who get it and people who you can have a laugh with. For me, that’s the priority with any work as a result of these connections being a lovely bonus.
Myth Number 4: No one will care what I think I’m too...
Young, old, inexperienced, weird, unconventional… fill in the blank. Sometimes it’s easy to cut yourself out of the conversation. I would encourage you not to. What I found that ITI was a vibrant community where each person had a different viewpoint which was celebrated. The programme itself reflected this, with seminars specifically aimed at a range of career stages – from newcomers, to those looking to diversify, to those wanting to give back or to explore a new field. The other interesting and encouraging thing is the variety of routes people have taken to the translation/interpretation industry. Very often, this isn’t people’s first career which leads to a whole range of opinions and backgrounds which are celebrated and add to the debate, rather than being ignored.
Myth Number 5: Everything will be too highbrow and theoretical and won’t be applicable to my daily life
It’s easy to assume that a conference will all be focused on theory and not be applicable to actual practitioners who are working at the coal face. This simply wasn’t the case. Yes, some talks were more researched focused but virtually all the speakers were practitioners themselves. To me, it appears to be a dynamic community of people wanting to share and exchange ideas and best practices. I was also so encouraged by the generosity of speakers who were happy to share their resources or take time to discuss points further. Furthermore, it provides a forum where you can learn about new developments in the industry, such as machine translation and the implications, and figure out how that looks practically in collaboration with others.
Myth Number 6: Translators and interpreters are super boring and introverted
Safe to say this one is easy to disprove! The lovely thing about the ITI Conference is the range of fringe events which show there really is something for everyone! From sake tasting, to running, to singing, to yoga, to hiking… it’s all covered! Once again, it goes to show how varied and interesting the whole community is. It’s also a lovely opportunity to get to know people personally which is essential to combat isolation and loneliness.
Myth Number 7: I can’t take time off my work, it’s far too important
It would be easy to argue that taking time off work is a luxury, that clients will suffer and that the cost will never outweigh the benefits. I’d like to suggest to you that this isn’t true. Firstly, it’s absolutely key to take time off work – whether for holiday or CPD. As a freelancer, it’s easy to feel guilty, especially as a newcomer, but one of the joys of freelancing is that freedom. Secondly, taking time off can be exceedingly beneficial. It can help get you out of a rut, it can be energising and restful and ultimately, lead to you being more productive. Thirdly, there’s the issue of expense. Yes, conferences can be expensive. However, this cost is justifiable for a number of reasons. Investing in CPD distinguishes you as a professional, it shows you take your job seriously which can be very attractive to clients. The benefits from attending conference in terms of career progression, client acquisition, diversification and networking also hugely outweigh the costs.
Ultimately, I had a fantastic, energising and stimulating time at my first conference experience. I hope that if you’re considering investing in a conference that this helps ease some of your worries and encourages you to take the plunge!