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I’ve recently returned from my first ever ATA Conference, and my first ever trip to the States, for that matter. Amazing experiences, both, and whilst I fully intend to write a review of the conference proper in due course, I want to start by recording my immediate impressions as pointers for anyone considering attending in the future. You hear so much about these events, but there are definitely some things I wished I’d known beforehand!

So here goes: first and foremost, as my colleague, newly elected ATA Board member and fellow Brit Karen Tkaczyk replied to one of my tweets, “Don’t think you can do it all“. You can’t. It’s impossible. There’s just too much going on! With over 1,800 delegates and up to 15 sessions to choose from per time slot, there’s an overwhelming choice of material on offer. To say nothing of the exhibition hall, divisional meetings, exercise classes and countless networking opportunities….

Download the conference app (a brilliant tool) and highlight all the sessions you might be interested in beforehand. Inevitably, there are bound to be slots where you have three or more that you’d really like to attend, and others where you’re not so keen. Put them down anyway and you can decide on the day which appeals most, or even switch between them if one doesn’t prove as fascinating as you’d hoped. Another tip, this time from Chris Durban: Sit at the back – then you can sneak out inconspicuously if you need to! Never feel guilty, either, if you end up having a really interesting conversation and miss that session’s presentations altogether. I always think that the networking/talking is just as important as the sessions themselves.

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I didn’t realise until halfway through the event, but you can use the app to program personal events too. Thanks to Judy Jenner for that one; I wish I’d known earlier! Just click on My Show, then My Schedule, then the big + sign in the header line and you’ll see “Add personal event”. Extremely useful when your diary is filling up fast and furious and you’re used to using a good, old-fashioned calendar on the office wall at home….

Make sure you’re active on social media and link up with fellow delegates well before you go. I lost track of the number of people I met who I recognised or who knew me via Twitter, LinkedIn, my blog, or one of the Facebook translation forums. It’s an immediate icebreaker, and all the better if you’ve made contact and actually arranged to meet beforehand. I had a number of lunch dates set up in advance, and arranged a couple of coffee rendezvous when I was there too. If you’re feeling daunted by the sea of people, it can be really helpful to know you’ve got a pre-arranged meet-up planned.

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The Foodie Translators met up at the Tadich Grill, just round the corner from the hotel, to indulge our foodie fantasies with the superb cioppino (seafood stew) in California’s oldest restaurant, while I was honoured to be invited to attend lunch with a group of lovely British ex-pat translators at Plant Café Organic, just along the Embarcadero at Pier 3. All in the interests of networking, of course :-).

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Along the same lines, do share a room at the conference hotel. I know I’ve written before in past conference reviews that I prefer to have a room of my own to recharge my introvert batteries, and yes, in an ideal world, I still would. But, and this is a big but, the ATA conference is so huge and usually held in such prestigious hotels, that having a room to yourself can be prohibitively expensive, especially if you’ve already travelled halfway across the world to get there! I stayed in an AirBnB in the run-up to the conference, but shared with two delightful roommates for the duration of the event. Then again, it means there is at least one more friendly face to smooth your path through the hordes.

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Staying in the conference hotel is a must, of course – it means you can return to your room for some peace and quiet during the day, if you feel the need, or get up at the crack of dawn to join in with the yoga or zumba and set yourself up physically for the day ahead! Just one warning: make sure you go straight to breakfast at 7.30 in your exercise gear rather than getting showered and changed first, as I did. By the time I arrived down for breakfast at 8, there was very little left – hard to believe in a hotel as swish as the Hyatt, but they didn’t really replenish supplies after the first onslaught. Much as I love fresh fruit, it’s not enough when you’ve already worked up an appetite in the yoga/dance studio and have a whole day of conference-attending ahead of you!

Unusually , in the eyes of an English conference attendee, the ATA Conference includes breakfast, but not lunch – nice in that you can go out and about for lunch with colleagues, though, and there was certainly plenty of scope for eating out within a stone’s throw of the venue in San Francisco. There were plenty of breakfast meetings going on too, but I never seemed to make it to them by the time I’d exercised. I’m probably not at my most sociable at that time in the morning, to be honest, although it was worth getting up at the crack of dawn for the stunning sunrise alone.

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I found the Newbies meet Buddies meeting of limited use, but probably because I’m a seasoned European conference addict attendee not a newcomer to conferences, even though this was my first ATA event. If you are a complete conference novice, I should imagine it would be worthwhile – but make sure you get there early! My room wasn’t ready on time, so by the time I finally received the keys, got changed, and made it to the meeting, it was standing room only and very hard to assign yourself to a buddy who wasn’t already allocated. Jonathan Hine very kindly came to my rescue, but I think he soon realised I knew more or less what I was doing! It was good to have another point of contact, though – and would be invaluable if you didn’t know a soul.

As ever, take lots of business cards – you’ll hand out and receive more than you ever thought possible. I found the advice to take paper CVs less useful, likewise the job fair on Thursday evening, although my main purpose of going was not to find new agency clients as such. My green credentials also struggled with the notion of handing out yet more paper when my website has the same information and more….

Finally, drink loads – water, coffee, even tea (!) are all in plentiful supply and you’ll need to keep your voice lubricated for all that networking. And if you’re travelling a long distance, as I was, make sure you allow enough time to recover from jetlag when you get home. I’d allowed a day to sort myself out on arriving back in the UK, but stupidly agreed to squeeze in a small job. Not a good idea. I completely underestimated how discombobulated I would feel for quite a few days afterwards and won’t be making that mistake again! Conferences are exhausting enough for introverts without battling with the effects of jetlag on top….

All in all, a fantastic experience and one I would heartily recommend to anyone who’s tempted to venture Stateswards and taste the delights of a mega conference, meeting colleagues from across the globe and generally broadening your horizons. I’m sure I’ll be back.

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