Last year, I attended my first ATA conference in San Francisco. I don’t know why I waited so long to go. It was an amazing experience getting to meet and learn from some of the best and brightest in the industry. If you’re like me, you are eagerly awaiting registration time for ATA58 in Washington DC. This week, I asked Corinne McKay, ATA’s President-elect and the organizer of both ATA57 and ATA58, to answer a few of my questions about the upcoming conference and her takeaways from planning the translation industry’s premier networking and continuing education event.
Ben Karl: First of all, I want to thank you for all of your hard work that made ATA57 in San Francisco such a success. It was my first ATA conference and it was such a great experience. I can’t imagine not going from now on and I am very much looking forward to ATA58. How did you first get involved in the ATA Board of Directors?
Corinne McKay: I joined ATA in 2002 and came up through the volunteer ranks, first as the newsletter editor for the Colorado Translators Association (a critical but very unglamorous job back in the pre-electronic days!), then as French Language Division Assistant Administrator and Administrator for ATA. After serving as the Colorado Translators Association President for four years, I ran for the ATA Board in 2012 and was elected; I then ran for President-elect in 2015, and here I am! I will take over as ATA President when current President David Rumsey’s term ends at the 2017 conference.
BK: What do you enjoy most about your current position on the Board?
CM: As a freelancer, I think it’s very easy to become a bit of a “lone wolf.” Serving on a collaborative Board, where decisions are consensus-based, forces you to collaborate with other people to work through contentious issues and reach a decision. I really enjoy working with other people and serving on the Board helps me keep doing my solo freelance work, which I love, while incorporating that aspect of working with other people.
BK: How would you describe the ATA conference in five words or less?
CM: Translators Gone Wild? Just kidding… I’d probably say, “The language industry’s must-attend event.”
BK: What is the most challenging part of planning an ATA conference?
CM: We’re fortunate to have a great model that has been working for 57 years and great staff who do all of the behind-the-scenes work. But there are still challenges. In the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of session proposals, and we ultimately have to reject over half of them. For example, for the DC conference, we received over 425 proposals for 175 slots. And as someone whose major problem in life is that I want to do everything, it’s hard to make the call on which proposals to accept. Plus, there are many variables that we try to pin down with our best data and estimates (how many people will attend breakfast, for example), but we don’t know the exact numbers until the conference is already in progress.
BK: What was your biggest lesson from ATA57?
CM: The Conference Organizer has to make hard decisions. But if you’re secure in your rationale and reasoning for those decisions, people will respect them even if they disagree with them. And when you’re dealing with a contentious issue, respond to the facts, not the emotions. ATA’s current President, David Rumsey, likes to say, “Don’t take it personally, and don’t make it personal.” That’s a good mantra for the Conference Organizer. That, and coffee: you can never have too much coffee at an event for freelancers!
BK: What are you most looking forward to for ATA58?
CM: So many things! We’ll be meeting at the Washington Hilton. Many people know this hotel as the location of the attempted assassination of then-President Reagan, but well before that, it was famous for hosting a Jimi Hendrix concert in 1968. So, we already know that ATA58 is going to rock, right? I’m thrilled that we received so many excellent session proposals, and the energy of being around 1,500 like-minded colleagues is always incomparable. I honestly start looking forward to the next ATA conference as soon as the previous one is over.
BK: What would you say to language professions who are on the fence about attending ATA58?
CM: Attending my first ATA conference (in 2004) was a big financial commitment. At the time, I was freelancing very part-time and had a preschooler at home. However, I met my first high-quality agency client at that conference, and it was a huge turning point in my freelance career. The trip to the conference paid for itself within three months of that contact. It’s also important to take advantage of face-to-face interaction when you have the opportunity: we’re behind a computer screen for so much of our work lives, so it’s critical to get out and meet real people. I hope to see you there!
Corinne McKay is the current President-elect of the American Translators Association. She is ATA-certified for French to English translation and has been a freelancer since 2002, specializing in international development, corporate communications, and non-fiction books. Her blog, Thoughts on Translation, won the 2016 ProZ community choice award for best blog about translation, and her book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, has become a go-to reference for the language industry with over 12,000 copies in print.
For more information on the 58th Annual American Translators Association Conference, visit the official ATA58 website. You can also tweet about the conference using the hashtag #ata58. If you enjoyed this interview, please tweet Corinne at @corinnemckay to thank her for her time!