My apologies for the tardiness of this post, I had an unexpected family emergency two weeks ago that prevented me from writing for a while. Now that that has calmed down, I’ve finally found the time to finish up this last blog post in this ATA Chapters series.
So, this is the last piece of this series and I’ve loved addressing these issues over the past nine weeks. I truly believe that we can resolve the membership issue in ATA at the Chapter level and that we should. There are a few chapters that, if they put the time and effort in, they could turn around their nearly dying chapters and make them into a living, vibrant organizations again.
So let’s get to talking about the topic of the day: The Conference. The first year I was a member of MATI, I was unable to attend the MATI Conference in Madison because I was presenting on MemoQ at Kent State for NOTA – AND THE MATI PRESIDENT HAS NEVER LET ME LIVE IT DOWN SINCE. The next year (last year, for those of you playing along), I was newly installed as VP and presenting on translator scammers. We had three other presenters who spoke on other T&I issues. For a chapter conference, that took place in Indiana, it was a good sized conference with a good number of attendees. The feedback was great, and we had a great number of attendees stay afterward for the food and social hour. So let’s look at what made MATI12 successful.
First and foremost, it was the lineup. We had Cris Silva first up as our main presenter who spoke on educating the next generation of translators and interpreters. It was a great topic that appealed to all attendees. It didn’t single out either translators or interpreters, and everyone found it interesting and informative. This was an ideal placement in the conference because it was welcoming and got everyone in the mindset of talking about industry issues at 9AM in Merrillville, IN at the Radisson Star Plaza – and some had driven for upwards of 4 hours to attend. My presentation was second, and it was equally as applicable to both translators and interpreters, despite being mainly focused on addressing translators, and at 11AM, the attendees were well-caffeinated and ready to engage in a lively discussion in addition to being fully awake to get my jokes. After the lunch break, we came back to topics that were more directed toward interpreting and more focused in scope. So, the most important part of the conference, especially when you’re working with a limited number of speakers and the presentations take place in one room, is the order of presenters. Invite the attendees into the conference with a broad scope presentation and then narrow the focus throughout the day.
The second aspect of the conference is sponsor tables. Having a group of sponsor tables helps attendees put names with faces, and connects them with resources they may have otherwise not known about. Additionally, the sponsor tables let the sponsors know that their contributions were appreciated and gives them a sales opportunity.
The third important aspect of the conference is social time. People attend these conferences to socialize and network, so planning for socialization time is important. Nothing facilitates professional communication and networking more than food… Okay, alcohol facilitates communication better, but you shouldn’t be budgeting alcohol costs into your conference fees if you want to pull it off for a fair price – even with a cash bar, you’ll be paying for someone to stand behind a table uncorking wine and opening bottles. At MATI12, we made sure coffee was provided in abundance, as well as snacks during breaks. Additionally, we had an hors d’oeuvres/social hour after the conference and people were able to connect and ask the presenters additional questions.
Now, the last item I’d like to bring up in regard to conferences is format. When it comes to format, knowing your attendees is best. Our conferences don’t get hundreds of attendees and having multiple simultaneous sessions would be a waste, but if your conferences can accommodate that larger format, by all means, go right ahead. The more quality presenters you can get to your event, the better the event will seem and attendees will view it as a better opportunity since they had the choice of speakers on a wider variety of topics. One idea that came from another chapter (Atlanta Association of Interpreters and Translators – AAIT) was that of having a job fair at the same time as the conference. So let’s breakdown how AAIT does their (now) annual job fair.
The AAIT job fair is free to attendees but charges a table fee for exhibitors. Exhibitors range from for-profit companies looking to expand their provider base to non-profit organizations and government entities (the exhibitor fee is waived for 501(C)3s). Exhibitors may additionally sponsor a light refreshment for an additional charge. Aside from the exhibition hall, there is a selection of 30-minute sessions which address professional development and if you missed one you wanted to see, it may repeat later in the afternoon. Now, when the AAIT representative mentioned this at the Chapters and Divisions meeting in Miami, it was met with wide praise – it was a fresh approach to the conference that no one had thought of before. Now, there are a couple downsides to this. In deciding on putting on a job fair in lieu of a conference/symposium, you’re working under the assumption of getting enough exhibitors to cover the cost of the space. If the venue and necessities were to cost $3000, you’d need at least twelve exhibitors paying $250/table to break even; but twelve is not an implausible number. Secondly, in the way that AAIT executes the job fair event, I foresee an issue in the number of approved Continuing Education credits issued to attendees (if they’re issued at all). Attendees to the annual MATI Conference have received 7 CE credits for attending the 7 session hours (conference from 9 AM to 5 PM with an hour break for lunch). Please correct me if I’m wrong, AAIT, but it doesn’t appear that they grant any CE credits at all to attendees and if they did, I think the most they could get away with issuing would be at most 5 or 6 (because of the length of the job fair, the number of professional development sessions, and the fact that 2 out of the five half-hour sessions are given twice).
In all, the conference should be approached as a great opportunity for members to socialize and connect, and the speakers can share their knowledge with your members who may not be as knowledgeable in that subject matter. As such, planning should be focused on the experience as much as the information. Attendees may or may not take what the speakers have to share to heart, but the lasting impression of the conference, and the determining factor in whether or not the attendee comes in the future is the experience they had at the previous ones. Finally, don’t forget that these social events are a great way to get members more involved in other aspects of chapter operations; these conferences will be the main way you recruit new members to help out with the Webinars, Blog, Podcasts, etc.
Thank you for taking the time to read this series of blog posts. I truly believe that by reinvigorated chapters, we can take the burden of finding new members off the shoulders of the national association and we’ll strengthen ATA as well. Involvement goes hand-in-hand with ownership and once a member takes ownership of a chapter, there’s a better chance that that member will remain active in the organization throughout the duration of his or her career. Please feel free to share these posts with your chapter board members and if you’ve got any comments and suggestions, I’m always open to give thought to your ideas.