Attending Industry-Specific Conferences and Events

By the time you read this, you’ll have come back from yet another extraordinary ATA Annual Conference, this year in our nation’s capital. I don’t have a crystal ball, but if the past 15 years or so are any indication, I bet it was amazing indeed.

The week of ATA’s Annual Conference is one of my favorite times of the year, especially when I have the chance to go with my twin sister and business partner, Dagmar, as was the case this year. That being said, to acquire new and/or more direct clients, it’s essential that linguists also attend events in their specializations or fields of expertise, as that is where the clients are. This is not to say that you won’t meet potential clients at translation and interpreting (T&I) conferences (e.g., colleagues and agencies), but, in my humble opinion, a solid marketing strategy involves attending a combination of T&I conferences and what I call industry-specific conferences.

Depending on where you live, the industry in which you work, your travel budget, and availability of events, you might want to make it a goal to attend one or two events per year—or one a month, or whatever works for you. Finding the event might require some research, but it’s worth it.

Before committing to a large annual conference or expo-type event, I highly recommend checking the attendee list and visiting the website of the companies in attendance to make sure they are a good fit. As opposed to T&I conferences, large annual conferences in other industries tend to be pricier. For example, I attended a digital marketing conference in Silicon Valley years ago that cost around $1,500 a day, so make sure you spend your money wisely. Also keep in mind that you should stay away from doing any hard selling at the expo—the goal of the companies attending is to sell products and services rather than buy them. A better approach is to treat these conferences just like T&I events—as an opportunity to learn and network using a softer approach. While signing up for educational sessions tends to be more expensive than just attending the expo, this is usually a good use of your time and monetary resources, as learning new things about the industries in which you specialize is always a plus.

To keep things more manageable and less overwhelming, it might be a good idea to start with a simple industry networking event on a smaller scale. For instance, if you work in the biology sector, look for (I’m making this up here) the Dutch Association of Biologists and attend an event they happen to have in Amsterdam. In my experience, lawyers love happy hours, so I’ve attended many a local Bar Association event at a bar, which is always nice. You’ll often be the only linguist there, which is a great opportunity to meet the people you need to reach: potential clients. Just remember to stay away from selling your services directly. Instead, start by asking people what they do. Invariably, they will eventually ask you what you do. This is where you get to do your elevator pitch, meaning talking intelligently and concisely about what you do for a few minutes.

I also enjoy attending smaller one-day professional development events in my fields, especially the legal field. I’ve tried to ask intelligent questions from a language perspective and have had many people come up to me after to inquire what it is that I do. One year I went to a workshop on immigration and asked the presenter if her firm had informational materials in other languages, as her services would probably sell better if she addressed potential clients in their own languages. She thought it was a great point and we ended up chatting after the event. Even though she didn’t become my client, she recommended my services to fellow lawyers.

Finally, attending these industry events is one of the best ways to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry in which you work. What are the new trends? What are the industry influencers excited or worried about? Which new software is going to change the direction of the business? Which new buzzwords are being coined as we speak? As specialized linguists, it’s very much our job to keep abreast of changes and developments in our fields of expertise. Clients appreciate it when they notice that you are an industry insider just like them. So with that, perhaps you can make the commitment to attend at least one industry event before the end of the year. Who’s in? I am.


Judy Jenner is a Spanish and German business and legal translator and a federally and state-certified (California, Nevada) Spanish court interpreter. She has an MBA in marketing and runs her boutique translation and interpreting business, Twin Translations, with her twin sister Dagmar. She was born in Austria and grew up in Mexico City. A former in-house translation department manager, she is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She writes the blog Translation Times and is a frequent conference speaker. She is the co-author of The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation. Contact: judy.jenner@twintranslations.com.

This column is not intended to constitute legal, financial, or other business advice. Each individual or company should make its own independent business decisions and consult its own legal, financial, or other advisors as appropriate. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of ATA or its Board of Directors. Ideas and questions should be directed to judy.jenner@entrepreneuriallinguist.com.

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