Ahead of next week’s American Translators Association conference, many U.S.-based translators are printing résumés, putting the finishing touches on presentations, searching the closet for presentable outfits and dreading the inevitable rooms full of strangers at this sizable event. At the same time, every successful translator has to admit that ours is a business that depends on name recognition and word of mouth referrals, and in-person contacts go a long way toward building up both of those elements. ATA President Jiri Stejskal’s column in this month’s Chronicle had some excellent tips on networking, and here are a few that I’ve gleaned over the years.
- Don’t be shy about distributing your résumés and business cards. It’s no secret that building relationships with clients and colleagues is a major reason to attend a professional conference, so just offer to exchange cards with everyone you talk to; bring a lot of cards!
- Ask people about themselves. If you’re not an extrovert, think of a few questions you could ask people to get the conversation flowing; what sessions has this person been attending? what are his/her specializations? what does he/she think of this conference as compared to past years? what trends does he/she see in the industry? Most people feel comfortable talking about themselves and their jobs, so these are good ways to start an interaction. If you don’t feel that you’re a good talker, be a great listener.
- See other people in your language as allies, not competitors. When you meet other people in your language pair, use the time to share information that can help both of you. Maybe this person works in a specialization that is different from yours, and you could potentially refer work to each other. Maybe this person is also looking for ways to market to clients overseas, and you could share ideas.
- Remember that no one wants to listen to a complainer. I thought this advice in Jiri’s column was spot on; we’ve all gotten stuck talking to the person who has nothing positive to say about the hotel, the food, the sessions, the weather, etc. Is this a person to whom you would refer your clients? Even if your trip isn’t going well, save the complaining for a time when you’re with friends who already know you.
- Thank the presenters. Aside from the Distinguished Speakers who are invited by the ATA Divisions, the vast majority of presenters are volunteers. Saying something specific, either in person or in an e-mail after the fact, about something you enjoyed in the presentation will make that person’s day (trust me!). It’s also a good way to start a relationship with someone whose work you admire.
- Turn off the distractions. You spend the rest of the year dealing with communication overload, and professional conferences are about the closest approximation of a paid vacation when you’re self-employed. Check your phone and e-mail messages if you have to, but focus on what’s at the conference too!