Successful Connections … Virtually!
Experiences and Strategies for Attending Online Client-Side Conferences
By Alison Trujillo
Embracing the unique experience of a virtual conference helped me to enjoy my time during the event and when following up later.
Over the past year, we’ve juggled what may feel like a dizzying array of online platforms to communicate with colleagues, family members, and friends. In my own professional life, this meant choosing to attend an online client-side conference. It was my first time at this particular event, which was hosted by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. I looked forward to connecting with colleagues in one of my specialization fields and was happy to see that an online format would bring me together with colleagues and clients.
NAFSA offered a virtual conference with diverse ways to connect over the course of several weeks, and I’m glad I decided to join in. Not only was the cost reasonable, but there were surprising benefits to the online format. This article shares my experience of attending a virtual client-side conference. I’ll also detail strategies that we as translators and interpreters can use to make the most of these online meeting and networking spaces.
Why attend a client-side conference?
Translators and interpreters can gain valuable expertise and connections by attending client-side conferences. These are opportunities to learn about new developments in our fields of specialization, whatever they may be (law, medicine, education, the arts, travel, etc.). You may also be the only translator or interpreter in the room, so it’s a great opportunity to share how language professionals can serve a particular field and to explain exactly what you, the interpreter or translator, can offer.
I first began to consider attending a client-side conference after taking Corinne McKay’s “Marketing to Direct Clients” workshop back in January of 2020. Corinne’s name is surely familiar to new and seasoned language professionals alike: An experienced French to English translator, court interpreter, and former ATA President, Corinne also offers professional development courses for translators and interpreters.
Those of us in her marketing course heard first-hand accounts from other colleagues who were able to stay on the cutting edge of new developments in their fields and make lasting connections with potential clients through client-side conferences. As a former language teacher, I found myself missing the education conferences that I had so regularly attended for years. Attending one such conference as a translator proved an excellent way to stay up to date with news, trends, and research.
Is a virtual conference worth the price of admission?
Now for the big question: Are virtual conferences worth it? It’s a different world right now, with no welcome breakfasts or chance meetings in the hall. Nevertheless, client-side conferences can provide us with significant learning and connecting opportunities in a virtual format. Online workshops, virtual poster fairs from vendors and professional leaders, and video roundtable discussions are robust platforms for learning. In addition, while we may thoroughly enjoy meeting colleagues and clients in person, it can be overwhelming at times to keep all the names, faces, and job descriptions straight during a typical conference day. Online conferences give us the opportunity to continue learning and to keep all those new contacts organized in the way that works best for us.
Preparing for a virtual client-side conference
Define your goals and expectations before the conference. What do you hope to learn? Is there new research or a body of knowledge that you need to educate yourself about? Who do you want to “e-meet”? Will potential clients be at the conference?
It helped me to attend the NAFSA conference with an open mind. I was there to hear from leaders in international education about new research and trends, especially in light of the pandemic and rapidly changing student travel rules. It was also an opportunity for market research to find out what kinds of translation services clients in international education will need in future academic years.
Prepare to “e-talk” about yourself and your work. Much like the standard “elevator pitch” that we’ve come to know, it was helpful for me to have a one-line description of what I offer as a translator when participating in message boards or other forums. I also kept resources like the ATA and NCTA websites at the ready to share with others, as many individuals outside our industry are not aware that these professional organizations can serve as resources for finding translators and interpreters.
Prepare a spreadsheet to keep track of the people you’ll meet. You won’t be collecting business cards. You won’t be filling a conference bag with flyers and pamphlets. You won’t be shaking hands and noticing someone’s fun shoes or colorful tie—something that, for me, can really serve to jog my memory when a colleague’s name comes up later. A simple spreadsheet was easy to set up ahead of time to keep track of contact names, job titles, and other information.
Finally, make sure you will be fully present for the conference times. Block off the conference times in your calendar. Don’t succumb to the temptation to check email, work on a translation project, or get things done around the house while attending the live sessions and workshops. Like any in-person conference, you will get more out of the experience if your mind is fully present.
During the conference
One of my primary goals at the NAFSA virtual conference was to enjoy myself! I was so impressed by the video workshops and roundtable discussions offered. Like a traditional conference, attendees were invited to choose between various sessions during different time blocks. The conference took place for five days over the course of about three weeks from late May until the middle of June, which was perfect for digesting all the information. In addition, a virtual poster fair and exhibition hall complete with downloadable PDFs and accompanying audio was available for conference attendees to peruse.
The live-stream video workshops and roundtables were a great way to hear experts discuss topics all together. At a traditional conference, each individual may have had their own workshop. However, the virtual conference format allowed each presenter to join the live-stream, allowing robust discussions and in-depth information from diverse voices and locations around the world. The virtual poster fair allowed me to focus on the topics I was most interested in. Whether enjoying a live Q&A feature during a workshop presentation or using a contact spreadsheet to set up future video calls with clients and colleagues, you can really make a virtual conference your own.
Having filled out my contact spreadsheet with the names and information of my fellow conference attendees, it’s been fairly straightforward to follow up with them post-conference through email or social media. As is the case with in-person conferences, the best practice is to follow up promptly and to remind individuals of who you are and what services you provide. Interestingly enough, it was easy to understand each organization’s current projects or initiatives. This was in large part thanks to the virtual poster fair and exhibition that NAFSA hosted.
It may be quite some time before we can spend time together in large in-person gatherings like conferences for our own profession or for our client’s industries. While we may miss seeing friends in person and meeting colleagues over coffee or cocktails, this is also a big learning opportunity. Embracing the unique experience of a virtual conference helped me to enjoy my time during the event and when following up later. I hope that you, my fellow translators and interpreters, will benefit from some of these strategies during the next virtual conference you attend. I also look forward to hearing about other strategies people find useful.
Quick tip sheet for virtual client-side conferences
- Define your goals and expectations before the conference.
- Prepare to “e-talk” about yourself and your work.
- Prepare a contact spreadsheet to keep track of the people you’ll meet.
- Make sure you’ll be fully present for the conference times by blocking off times in your calendar.
- During the conference
- Ensure that you are familiar with the different formats on offer: video meetings, chat forums, poster fairs, etc.
- If individual profiles of attendees are used, make sure to fill yours out.
- Fill out your contact spreadsheet.
- Stick with your calendar! Attend the conference during the times you have blocked off. Take stretch and snack breaks.
- Use your contact spreadsheet to follow up with colleagues/clients.
- Take time to further research what you learned about within your field of specialization.
Alison Trujillo is a Spanish to English translator with a Master’s degree in International Multicultural Education and undergraduate degrees in Spanish and Latin American and Iberian Studies. One of her specializations is education, and she helps schools and universities in Spain and Latin America to communicate effectively with their English-speaking students and colleagues. Alison lives on the Sonoma Coast where she and her husband enjoy trying to keep up with their dog while exploring local beaches and hiking trails. You can find her online at www.lifetranslated.net.