Some thoughts on small conferences

In the past month I’ve attended two mid-year conferences, one organized by the ATA Translation Company Division and one that I helped organize for the Colorado Translators Association. Both of these conferences went very well, and both got me thinking about some of the differences between large conferences and small conferences.

No question about it, I love the annual ATA conference and all of its 1,500-2,000 attendees. Tons of sessions, tons of colleagues, and a great chance to see a new city. However, I’ve become increasingly excited about small conferences as well. Here’s why:

  • They generally cater to a non-beginner audience, and attract a more homogeneous group than larger conferences do. That might be people who work in a certain language pair or specialization (like Translate in the Catskills or the summer financial translation conference organized by the Swiss Translators Association) or people who are interested in honing their business skills (like the ATA-TCD conference).
  • The sessions are more discussion-friendly. Both of the small conferences I recently attended had about 30-40 attendees per session. This is enough people to create a convivial feel, yet few enough that it’s possible to have a real discussion. I really noticed this when I was presenting: my pre-conference seminar at the Denver ATA conference had 70 attendees and it was definitely tough to manage the discussion. But with 30 people in the room, the presenter can put questions out to the audience or ask experts in the audience to talk about something specific.
  • It’s easier to have real conversations with people. To me, the best and the worst part of the ATA conference is that everyone you know in the industry is there. It’s energizing, but it’s tough to fit all those people into the 3 days of the conference. At both the TCD and the CTA conferences, I was able to have more in-depth talks with people, rather than the “Great to see you! How was your year?” conversations that so often happen at the ATA conference.
  • Sometimes two sessions are better than 10. When there are two sessions at a time, you only have to make one decision: this session or that session. When there are 10 sessions, it’s easy to see something appealing and something unappealing about all of them (or maybe that’s just me being indecisive!).

I do think that there’s a large and untapped market for even more small, niche conferences. Kilgray recently held memoQfest in Budapest which sounded like a blast, so maybe other tool providers will follow suit. Chris Durban’s Translate in the Catskills is proof that one high-profile person can organize a conference and lots of people will come. Any other ideas for niche conferences you’d like to attend?

4 Responses to “Some thoughts on small conferences”
  1. ebodeux May 19, 2011
  2. Karen Tkaczyk May 19, 2011
  3. Martin May 21, 2011
  4. Sally Loren May 31, 2011

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