Lesson 109: The introvert’s guide to translator conferences

Lesson 109: The introvert’s guide to translator conferences

Attending this year’s American Translators Conference in Chicago is (yes, still here as I’m writing this article) an amazing experience. The sheer number of attendees and size of the venue make it a one of a kind experience for me, an ATA newbie. I’ve heard rumours that there are over 1,800 translators and interpreters in the building, but during the welcome reception I had a feeling that there were many, many more.

Though I attended a healthy number of conferences in Europe, I really feel like a newcomer here. More people to talk to, more sessions to attend, more events to participate in. It’s all great, but if you’re a bit introverted or shy, it can seem overwhelming in the beginning. It did to me.

So I decided to put together this final article in this month’s series on travelling, including some observations on introvert best practice when attending translator conferences. Something is telling me that you may nod your head when reading a few points below.

1. Don’t start the conference thinking that you’ll have to make an extra effort to be sociable. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about: this feeling of being sort of happy and excited to be here, but at the same time worrying that networking and talking to people will take up a lot of your energy. Just worrying about it sets you in a negative mood and then every conversation really does take a lot of effort.

2. Don’t try to fake being more sociable than you really are. I don’t know about you, but I can fake it maybe for a couple of hours and then I’m drained. What I grew to realise was that it’s perfectly fine to be as sociable as you feel like, even if it means being slightly withdrawn.

3. Prepare a list of questions you can ask the other person to keep the conversation going. One of my biggest fears is the moment when you meet a new person, you introduce yourselves to each other, and then you have no idea what to talk about next. My hack: think about some standard questions you can ask anybody at any conference: what languages do you work with, where are you based, how do you like the conference, what was your favourite session so far, did you do anything interesting in the city, how do you like the venue… See, I’m getting really good at it!

4. Prepare a few things you can say apart from your elevator pitch. Be ready to say a few things about yourself and your work that you feel comfortable with. And it’s perfectly ok to say just a few things to the other person and then say you have to go to another session and you’ll see them around.

5. Book downtime. Make sure you select sessions and events in such a way that you have enough time for yourself. I find these periods very important to replenish my energy.

6. Don’t feel uneasy about spending time by yourself. With everybody around sitting and chatting in small groups you may feel the pressure to find somebody to be your “pair”. If you end up meeting somebody interesting, that’s great, but don’t force yourself; there’s nothing wrong in strolling around by yourself.

7. Find time to go outside. Don’t spend the whole time in the conference venue. Find interesting things to do outside and plan enough time to do some sightseeing.

8. Instead of aiming to talk to everybody, make a list of people you really want to or should chat to. It’s unrealistic to expect you’ll be able to talk to the majority of attendees. A better strategy is to concentrate on meeting with people who you’ve identified.

9. Make time to do your thing. I find it important to keep my balance and my introvert at bay by doing things I enjoy, even if I’m in a hotel in a different country. It may be reading a book, going to the gym, playing a computer game: whatever works for you, just don’t neglect it during the conference days.

10. Don’t feel guilty for skipping sessions. Usually, at any conference, the programme is tight and packed with sessions. Personally, I could never attend all of them, but I’d feel guilty for “not making the most of it”. It took me a while to understand that forcing myself was having the opposite effect than just letting it go and enjoying the conference, city and my time in a different way. As long as it’s not too many sessions skipped, that is!

What are the challenges in attending conferences that you identified? What freaks you out? How do you replenish your energy?


  1. Megan Onions , on Nov 7, 2014 at 13:03 Reply

    I totally agree with everything you’ve covered here, Marta.

    What I particularly identified with was the need to try and ‘make the most of it’. I used to find that I was trying so hard to fit everything in that I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I could. I make sure to take a more relaxed approach now.

    I hope you’re enjoying Chicago!

  2. Erin Rosales , on Nov 7, 2014 at 15:00 Reply

    Great tips! I’d also add not being afraid to kindly turn down spur of the moment invitations to lunch, happy hour, or other get-togethers, especially if it’s to take place during your planned #9 or #5 time. It’s okay to let people know you’ve planned some “recharging” time, and perhaps suggest meeting up at a different time. Also, if you do plan on reading in your downtime, perhaps this would be a fitting book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Word That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Thank you for the tips, Marta!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 28, 2014 at 19:41 Reply

      Thank you, Erin. It does take courage to turn people down – I’m always a little anxious if I didn’t hurt their feelings after all but sometimes it has to be done.

  3. Dmitry Kornyukhov , on Nov 8, 2014 at 22:52 Reply

    Great tips, Marta. The main idea is being who you really are. You don’t have to pretend or fake being sociable because it’s not going to work and will leave you exhausted and drained. People will love you for your ideas and if they have similar interests. Simple as that.

    P.S.: it seems like a link to your Google+ profile in you bio section doesn’t work 🙂 The same goes for LinkedIn and Pinterest. It appears like you put the web-address twice

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 28, 2014 at 19:38 Reply

      Thank you, Dmitry, both for kind words and the tip – the links should be in working order now.

  4. Elina Sellgren , on Nov 10, 2014 at 08:04 Reply

    Thank you for this post, I can relate to all points here! It takes courage to not try to be an extrovert when you really are not one. I just need to think of an elevator pitch before attending my first conference next year…

  5. Diana Coada , on Nov 10, 2014 at 20:48 Reply

    ”One of my biggest fears is the moment when you meet a new person, you introduce yourselves to each other, and then you have no idea what to talk about next.”

    Yes, yes, yes!!! How did you know? 🙂

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