ATA 62: Attending Remotely as a Newbie
Where Hybrid Conferencing Meets A Different Time Zone
From October 27 to 31, 2021, the American Translators Association hosted the 62nd ATA annual conference in Minneapolis. It was my first time—finally–attending an ATA conference. As I live in Germany and have two children, flying over to the States for a week hasn’t really been an option so far. So, hello, hybrid conference!
I booked the conference and an Advanced Skills Training session riding a wave of enthusiasm. Finally, a conference! In the first flush of joy, I completely underestimated how much the time difference between Germany and Minnesota combined with working during the day and attending the conference at night would impact the experience for me. Silly me.
I’ll say it straight out of the gate: The quality of the sessions I attended was superb! I had a tough time choosing which sessions to attend live and which ones I’d leave for later because there were so many good ones to choose from.
Wednesday: I started off with Marion Rhode’s AST “Multilingual SEO 1010: From Keyword Research to Content Optimization.” It took place after a full working day in Germany, so I was feeling a little droopy when I logged in. Well, I perked up real fast! Marion had it all: It was a whirlwind trip through SEO basics, how to do keyword research, how to write content, and how to optimize it. Marion came armed with exercises for us, tool tips, worksheets, and templates. She covered A LOT during her three hours.
Thursday: I kicked off with Allison Bryant’s session “Unveiling PDF Proofs” and then moved on to “Five Heads Are Better than One: Lessons from a Mastermind Group” with Carola Berger, Isabelle Berquin, Abigail Dahlberg and Tess Whitty. After that exhaustion kicked in, and I called it a night.
Friday: After a good night’s sleep and a less long workday, I was back all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Ray Valido’s session “Deep Dive into Formatting, Images, and PDFs” was the perfect start. It was that kind of session where you’re furiously taking notes. Anyone who’s ever wrestled with a stubborn image in Word or spent much too long fiddling around with an animated PowerPoint presentation: You should watch the recording! (And definitely check out Ray’s other session “Words Matter: The Vocabulary of Diversity.”) I followed Ray’s session with Matthew Schlecht’s session “Poly-what? A Translator’s Guide to Polymer Science.” I’m not going to lie: It was a bit advanced for me, but it’s always good to stretch a little.
Saturday: This was the day I was looking forward to! I’ve been slowly getting into working more in the field of sustainability and the circular economy. Abigail Dahlberg’s presentation “Fifty Shades of Green: An Introduction to Translating Sustainability Reports” was basically written for me. It was a blast. Sustainability reports are everywhere and translating them is fascinating. Abigail is experienced and she came prepared. She had a hall of shame for how not to do it, great points about identifying greenwashing, and a wonderful example of a sustainability report as spoken-word art. And she had GIFs!
From that session, I went straight to Nic Jelinski’s presentation “The Magic of Soil: Connecting Basic Principles to Applications.” Nic was the Distinguished Speaker for the ATA Science Division and they hit the jackpot with him. It was magical. Go watch the recording. And go watch Nic’s other session “Permafrost-Affected Soils in Alaska: Distribution, Comparative Morphology, and Change” while you’re at it.
There were so many more sessions that I wanted to attend that were just too late for me. Germany is 7 hours ahead of Minneapolis, which means that the after-lunch sessions started at 9 pm my time. That’s pretty close to lights out for me. Thank goodness for the session recordings!
The Hybrid Experience
Hybrid events are a strange beast. While they offer more people access without the burden of travel or childcare, there’s a disconnect between the physical and the virtual.
How do you give those attending remotely that feeling of connection and spontaneous conversation that those mingling at lunch or running into one another in the hallway enjoy? I don’t think you can. Scheduled networking sessions (which took place in the middle of the night for me, anyway) are just that: scheduled networking.
What makes conferences so thrilling and so mind-blowingly exhausting is the chitchat over coffee that turns into a three-hour conversation in the hallway. Or your new best friend who happened to be waiting in line behind you while you were registering. Or those little whispered discussion groups that form around you in the audience during a presentation.
I don’t want to complain. This was a tightly run ship! The sessions streamed without a hitch and the moderators took great care to include all of us watching online. But not being able to see anyone except the speaker and still hearing moments of easy laughter from people in the physical audience—well, that made me feel a little like a kid banished to my room at bedtime while the adults got to stay up and have fun.
Seeing all the happy pictures on Twitter just drove the point home: Conferences are best when you jump right in and revel in the joy of so many like-minded people in a room with you. There’s that thrill of seeing so many people who care just as much as you do about language and communication.
So, yes, I’m really glad that I could attend virtually, but I’m also a little sad that I missed out on the group experience. Still, I got plenty of inspiration from the sessions I attended. If I stretch out the recordings long enough, I can make them last until next year’s conference.
Thank you to everyone involved in staging a great conference and no thanks at all to COVID for making everything so complicated!