I recently returned from ATA62, the 62nd annual conference of the American Translators Association. Executive summary: it was fantastic, and I highly recommend attending in-person conferences if they are in your COVID comfort zone. The details:
Deciding whether to attend in person
We’re at a phase of the pandemic where people have different levels of comfort with in-person contact. I am pretty COVID-cautious in general, but as soon as I got vaccinated, I went back to interpreting in person in court and then in prison. I felt that if that was within my comfort zone, it didn’t make sense to miss out on the ATA conference. Additionally, I felt that the conference’s COVID protocols were robust. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test was required (and this was actually checked and recorded at registration). Masks were encouraged for everyone and required for those not vaccinated, and green/yellow/red wristbands to indicate your social proximity comfort level were provided.
I feel like all of these precautions worked well. Additionally, ATA offered a full virtual conference with all 120 sessions livestreamed and recorded. This meant that anyone who didn’t want to attend in person didn’t miss out on anything. Additionally, in-person attendees could watch the livestreamed sessions. I talked to several people who were tired, not feeling well, etc. and really appreciated being able to watch a session from their hotel room.
Is the dual format sustainable?
Lots of people wondered whether this dual format is sustainable. Typically, only a small number of sessions are recorded, and none are livestreamed. This year’s format required a full time a/v tech in every session room, for the entire day. At the ATA annual meeting, the ATA leadership’s consensus seemed to be that this year’s format was both expensive and necessary. The COVID situation is just too uncertain to yank the virtual option, and the in-person conference (around 400 people) was significantly smaller than a typical ATA conference, even for a smaller city like Minneapolis.
Will this format be repeated? Right now, no one really knows, because no one can predict what the COVID situation will be in another year. One ATA leader even commented that if the actual costs were reflected, the fully livestreamed option would cost more than attending in person, which I’m sure is true. I’m glad ATA offered that option this year, and I think it’s totally understandable if it’s not offered or has to be priced higher in the future.
The conference was held at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, right on the Nicollet Mall in the city center. I stayed at the conference hotel and enjoyed it very much. ATA really tried hard to offer the same level of food and beverage service as usual, in a COVID-safe environment, and I was impressed with how this worked out. There were no buffets, all food was individually served by the hotel staff from behind plexiglass partitions, and the food was excellent. It was really quite impressive to see how the hotel had adapted to the “new normal.”
Most people wore masks, and people did seem to notice when someone else was wearing a red wristband (no contact). Personally I felt quite safe at the conference and I felt like there was a good mix of in-person interaction while respecting the personal space of people who didn’t want to shake hands, hug, etc. Lots of restaurants in Minneapolis seem to have permanently closed due to the pandemic, but the places I ate were really good, and service was sufficient considering how hard it is to hire waitstaff right now.
Sessions are the heart of the conference, and every session I attended was excellent. Conference organizer Madalena Sanchez Zampaulo gets a huge shout-out for basically organizing two conferences (in person and online), selecting excellent sessions, dealing with a lot of cancellations, and displaying an amazing level of adaptability. Some of these more “nimble” adaptations should, in my opinion, be maintained for future years. Gone is the glossy conference program (beautiful but wasteful), replaced with a one-page handout covering two days’ worth of sessions plus the special events schedule. I didn’t really miss the program at all, and I appreciated having just the one page to refer to.
I attended sessions on a variety of topics, with a focus on interpreting. I’m still translating just as much as ever, but I’m focusing most of my marketing and professional development on interpreting right now.
On Wednesday I taught an AST session on direct client marketing and I think it went well. Thursday I attended Eve Bodeux and Emily Safrin’s session on proofreading, and Athena Matilsky’s session on resources for interpreters in languages other than Spanish. Both of these were really well-prepared and packed with information. I find that the conference is often a good reminder of things I keep meaning to do but haven’t gotten around to. Eve and Emily talked a lot about PerfectIt, an editing tool I already own but don’t use enough, and Athena reminded me that I want to pair up with a French A interpreter to create some new resources that we could both use.
Friday I attended Judy Jenner’s session on interpreting price quotes for the new normal, then I skipped a couple of session blocks (doing what I tell everyone else not to do: working while at the conference!), and attended Ingrid Holm’s session on Google Ads. These were both very eye-opening because they’re topics I know a little bit about, but definitely not enough. Judy’s session got me thinking about items I want to add to my interpreting services agreements, and Ingrid’s session gave me some good ideas not only about online advertising, but about reworking some of the text-heavy pages on my website.
Saturday I’m proud to say that I attended a session in every single block: Jessie Liu and Rony Gao’s session on trilateral consecutive interpreting practice methods, Abigail Dahlberg’s session on translating sustainability reports, Céline Colvin’s session on interpreting for the U.S. Department of State, Ray Valido’s session on the vocabulary of diversity, and rounded it out with a session on remote simultaneous interpreting, by Ernest Nino-Murcia, Aimee Benavides, and Tamber Hilton. All of these were really interesting, and the presenters were so well-prepared. I really don’t think there were any lackluster sessions this year, plus there was the “wow” factor of seeing everyone in person again which added to the excitement.
I personally cannot wait for COVID to truly be in the rear-view mirror, and I think it’s understandable that many people don’t yet want to attend a large, in-person event. I’m hoping that things will be more stable by the time of ATA63 in Los Angeles next October. All the same, it was wonderful to see so many dear colleagues and friends in person, and huge thanks and congratulations to the organizing team for the conference!
Robin Bonthrone says
I don’t think anybody alive today is going to be living in a “post-COVID” world, but I’m sure we will be able to cope with it more effectively in the future, especially if vaccination rates keep climbing. As you no doubt know, we both got breakthrough COVID (aka “involuntary booster”) in September, and I was still suffering from the after-effects in Minneapolis. I do think this reflects the “new normal” as far as COVID is concerned.
I’m very much looking forward to LA next year, and I would encourage all colleagues and fellow ATA members to seriously consider attending, as long as you’re vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated for genuine medical reasons, you may want to stay away. And if you’re not vaccinated for other reasons, just do the rest of us a big favor and stay at home. And when I say “at home,” I mean do not leave your own four walls. Ever.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Robin! Ugh, yes, I’m so sorry about your breakthrough COVID! And congratulations on your appointment to the Board, you’ll do a great job!