A Translator's Guide to an International Conference

by Izabela Wisniewska

If you are lucky enough to work in the translation business, you will have learned already the wide array of careers open to you. They range from straight up translation to working as an expansion manager into territories where you can speak the language. Sometimes, the two will crossover.

You may, at some point in the future, be asked to attend an international business conference. It may be specific to two countries (a Chinese business expo in America, for example), or one that is more multicultural, with businesses from all over the world in one centralised location. There is lot of resources how to handle business conference, like dresscode, food etc, you can even find resources on how to choose music for business conference, however we haven't found many resources for translators. So,below, you'll find some tips to surviving, and thriving, in this environment.

Learn a little about the business you are working with

If you are attending the conference as a freelance translator, hired by a company to help with translations on the day, you need to be a least a little clued up about the business you are working for. Translation and localisation is hard enough without getting muddled up with industry specific terms.

So ask your client to give you a background on the company, a crystal clear idea of what they do, and clarification of any industry specific terminology. Of course, these terms may not be universal, so ask them if they know already how these terms translate into another language. If they don't know, research their translations before your get to the conference.

Research heavily

In the build up, research every company at the expo that you speak the native tongue of. Your company will likely have targeted companies they intend to speak to, which you should pay heavy focus to, but you should have facts on every company that is attending, just in case.

When researching, compile factsheets on each company, including simple explanations of who they are, what they do, where they operate, and who the main staff are. Hand them out to everyone going to the conference with you, and also clue them in about certain customs (bowing, shaking hands etc.) that will help smooth out the process. The more knowledgeable the client, the better they will come across.

Avoid on the spot agreements between parties - agree everything in writing

When at the conference, networking can happen at a breakneck pace. With everyone looking to expand their international dealings, there can be a hint of overeagerness to get business done. As you translate between parties, a pretty tasty business proposal can form verbally, and the temptation can be to seal the deal on the spot, as so to avoid another company coming along after yours and stealing your opportunity away.

But you have to refrain from such on the spot deals. Translating verbally on-the-fly is great, but there is every chance that something will be lost in translation, regardless of your skill level. Instead, perhaps agree a handshake deal in principle, but make it clear nothing is concrete until it is in writing. Here, you have a chance to write down all the terms, and translate them perfectly. This will avoid any confusion or misunderstandings down the road, which is better for everybody.

If you are freelance, don't be afraid to network

Speaking of networking, do some yourself! As a freelance translator, you are free to go wherever you please, and at an international business conference, there may be hundreds of potential employers out there. So be prepared with business cards, and hand out as many as possible. Who knows where it may lead!


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