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Following on from last weekend’s fabulous ITI Conference in Newcastle, I had intended to include these tips at the end of my conference write-up, but I ran out of space (oops!). And then again, I figured they perhaps deserve an entry of their own, as they are the culmination of a number of years of conference-going on my part. Regular readers of my blog will know that I describe myself as being towards the introverted end of the spectrum, yet I claim to love attending conferences. Surely a contradiction in terms?

I think the key to getting the most out of conferences if you naturally incline towards a more solitary existence – and being a freelance translator is certainly one of those, especially if you live on your own to boot! – is having a strategy to make sure you benefit from the networking and socialising opportunities, BUT still make time to recharge your batteries and have time for yourself too.

So here goes:

1. Let the train take the strain – In years gone by I have been tempted to drive to conferences and have ended up arriving tired and frazzled, not at all ready for the onslaught ahead. Taking the train (or ‘plane) means you can read, prepare for the conference, doze or even work as you hurtle through the countryside – arriving refreshed and raring to go. Buying tickets in advance normally means you can get reasonable fares and I certainly couldn’t have reached Newcastle by car in the five hours door-to-door it took me by train from Sussex. A 650-mile round trip would also have been comparable in petrol costs to the train fare.

2. Stay in the conference hotel – Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s far better to spend the extra pennies and stay in the conference hotel. For one thing you’re on the spot and can sneak back to your room for some much-needed time-out, or to change and freshen up, and for another you avoid wasting time trekking back up the road to different accommodation. Today’s conferences are usually such action-packed events that you want to make utilise every second! In Newcastle, this meant I had time to attend the salsa class before the gala dinner on the Friday, and dash down for a quick dip in the pool and sauna before going out for dinner on Saturday – both of which really gave me a lift after a hectic day’s socialising and enabled me to carry on into the small hours. I didn’t manage to get up in time for the 7 o’clock yoga session in the morning, but that’s asking a bit much of a night owl, wherever she’s staying….

3. A room of your own – I know, I know, I’m probably a miserable old so-and-so, but I’ve found I really need to have a room of my own to withdraw to after the hurly-burly of a full day’s unaccustomed networking. Yes, it’s cheaper to share with a colleague, but if you are used to living and working on your own, being cooped up with colleagues for a whole weekend can prove exhausting for the introverts amongst us. I KNOW that I need my own space – and it’s worth paying the single room rate to give myself the chance to recharge. The first time I admitted as much and turned down a colleague who had offered to share, I felt really bad – but now I’ve come to realise it’s important to be honest with yourself – and others – and focus on what’s right for you.

4. Connect on social media beforehand – This has been a fairly recent revelation to me, as I only started using Twitter after the last ITI Conference at Gatwick, and blogging more recently still. The fact remains, though, that using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn is a brilliant ice-breaker at conferences and workshops. Rather than going up to complete strangers, you already have a common bond, a face you may have seen (albeit on a tiny profile picture), or a name you’ve exchanged notes with by some electronic medium or other. In fact, it’s half the battle for a timid soul and makes life so much easier. You also feel as though you already know lots of people, even if you haven’t actually “met” anyone before!

5. Don’t forget your business cards – It’s remarkably easy to do if you’re relatively unused to going out into the big wide world to network and market your wares, so do make a concerted effort to remember them! Again, Twitter can be useful for adding people there and then (at the now ubiquitous tweet-ups and when you see interesting conference-related tweets by people you’ve met), but it’s always handy to have a solid piece of card to hand out to (and accept from) new contacts.

6. Do join in – As Andrew Morris said in his presentation on “The translator’s invisible toolkit”, you only get out what you put in. So, having taken the plunge and invested in a conference in the first place, don’t sit on the sidelines and watch events pass you by – talk to people, engage and join in with the various activities on offer – you won’t regret it! If you go with a positive mindset and are determined to enjoy yourself, it’s highly likely that you will.

7. Allow time to recover post-conference – As well as preparing before the conference by telling clients you’ll be away so you don’t need to worry about taking work calls or answering e-mails during an event, it’s a good idea to allow yourself time after the conference to regroup. The mental energy expended at networking events, especially if you’re not used to mixing with colleagues all day long, let alone for a whole weekend, is tremendous and you will definitely need time to wind down. You really don’t want to be launching straight back into a job with a tight deadline the minute your feet hit the ground…

8. Post-conference follow-up – Having made all those new contacts, it makes sense to follow up soon after you get back, and before you get swallowed up in those work deadlines. Connect on LinkedIn, send Twitter or e-mail messages to people you’ve met and generally make sure that all that networking has been worthwhile. It makes what can be an isolated profession seem much more connected, after all. Keep a note of your conference expenses too, so you can set them off against tax – all this effort is to further your business, after all!

This week alone I’ve had cause to look for a translator into Italian for my former employers and when I came to look at the ITI list, the names that jumped out were the people I’d met, either online, or particularly at conferences/workshops. I’ve also had an e-mail this week from a colleague I met at a conference some years ago, who is now approaching retirement and wondered if I’d be interested in taking over some of his clients. Getting out of your comfort zone and into the world of conferences/workshops and real face-to-face interaction with colleagues/clients really is worth the effort.

I’m sure there will be other tips to add – and I’d love to hear them, for the more translators we can tempt down from their ivory towers and into networking events, the better we can promote/serve the profession as a whole – and ourselves in the process.

ITI Conf Tweetup*With thanks to Lloyd Bingham of Capital Translations for the lovely picture of the ITI Conference Tweet-up

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