Online ATA 61 conference: my take

Online ATA 61 conference: my take

American Translators Association annual conference

Last Saturday we wrapped up the 61st annual American Translators Association conference. For the first time, it was held online (thanks Covid!). This is the biggest conference in the translation industry here in the U.S. It always runs Wednesday through Saturday, and gathers more than a thousand translators, interpreters, localization experts, educators, project managers and agency owners from all over the world. Although it is a big and overwhelming conference, the ATA creates occasions to welcome and nurture the newcomers to the industry, and allows the more experienced to flourish. The conference offers more than 150 sessions in three days, which makes it hard to decide which one to attend.

Sadly, this year we all stayed home and watched it through our computers. It's unrealistic to expect that such an intensive, stimulating, vibrant and social experience could be repeated online; that’s why I was very happily surprised to see how well the ATA managed to move the annual conference to an online setting. Overall, I had a blast, and I consider it to have been a success.

These are my favorite parts of the conference:

  • Speed networking: Just like with speed dating, we had 5 minutes to meet 1-2 colleagues. This year, I found it easier to talk in a Zoom breakout room compared to what would have been in a conference hall with hundreds of people trying to go through an elevator speech. The breakout room cut on noise, and helped focus.
  • Social zoom: Following an attendee’s suggestion, the ATA quickly opened a Zoom room to be available all day long for people to pop in and out to chat and meet colleagues. It was a way to help with the need to “talk” and meet others in between sessions, or instead of attending a session.

    Lay Summaries translation
    ATA 51 Presentation by Romina Marazzato, on Lay summaries
  • Online sessions: We could jump from session to session seamlessly. We could go into a session without worrying about finding a seat. While listening to the speaker, we could download their power point presentation. Kudos to those presenters who offered their presentations, handouts or references for us to download! It was very convenient knowing that we could jot down notes without going crazy taking screenshots.
  • Profiles: We created profiles with our information and what we wanted out of the conference. We could search for fellow translators with a particular language combination or specialization. It was nice writing to and meeting new people this way.
  • Job fair: what a change this year! I felt more relaxed to browse at my pace the companies that were present at the job fair. I could see their needs, see if I was a fit for them, if they were a fit for me, and reach out to them. I didn't miss past experiences of seeing ten translators surrounding a PM to hand in a business card. It did seem that there were less companies on the job fair, though. While browsing the agencies that were at the job fair I thought it would have been a wonderful opportunities for them to have a landing page specific for us, ATA61 attendees. Afterall, they were at the conference with a specific goal in mind, just like we were.
  • Location: I was home; I could eat, drink, sleep and wear comfy shoes while learning.
  • Online availability: The sessions are available, for us to rewatch, for 6 months… Score! I didn’t miss a session! I can watch all of them and learn what I missed.

The challenges...

However, going online did not happen without some challenges. What could have been better? Apart from tech hiccups, which can always happen, and the fact that my kids were under the same roof all day long (again, thanks Covid! Hurray online schooling!), one can always a couple of things that, in hindsight, could have been better.

  • During the sessions I couldn't see other attendees faces, nor names. Hello networking! Hello old colleagues and friends!
  • We could send chat messages, but we couldn’t see other fellow translators’ questions.
  • We didn't have breakout rooms in the sessions, so it was a lost opportunity for hands on activities, as well as meeting people.

What's next to come...

And, just as I know that overall the online conference was a great success, I can't wait to attend next year's ATA 62nd conference. 2021 will take us to Minneapolis, close to home! For sure, this is a year that has taught us, or reminded us, the value of small things that we had taken for granted.

I enjoyed this year’s conference. The main practical aspect I take away from this experience is the realization that we can and should have more online events throughout the year, not only to learn on specific topics but also to network, share experiences, struggles, and bond during these hard times. While face-to-face events are irreplaceable, online conferences, workshops and social gatherings are a must in our profession, so prone to people working from home.

What about you? Did you attend this year’s ATA conference? What were your favorite parts?