ITI Conference 2021 – a tale of wonder

Like so many other conferences, this year’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting event was held online. Of course Zoom events are difficult in many ways, but this one worked very well for me because, having just undergone the most stressful house move of my life, there’s no way I’d have had the time or energy to travel to an in-person event.

As it was, I’d just finished a rather large project and, although I had other work to deliver, I could fit this in around the conference schedule. So I managed to attend quite a lot of the sessions (though it quickly became apparent how often my working day is interrupted by delivery men either with parcels for signature or lost somewhere in rural France and apparently unable to read their own GPS).

This was my first ITI event since becoming a member several years ago, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But the programme was interesting, and the ticket price seemed very reasonable compared to the cost of attending a physical event. The entire thing took place on a dedicated platform which made navigating between sessions very easy.

Overall, my favourite sessions were the translation slams – I missed the German-English one, thinking that as I didn’t understand German it wouldn’t be relevant, but a comment by a colleague led to me attending the Spanish-English one and finding that indeed there’s a lot to be learned even when you don’t have more than a rudimentary grasp of the source text. For this reason I found it very helpful that Tim Gutteridge, moderator of the Spanish session, used DeepL as an introduction to each new section, though I can understand why Chris Durban had chosen not to do something similar in the French one.

I also got a lot of food for thought from Edward Lamont and Emma Paulay’s session on “Getting Things Done”, which explained the GTD methodology and its benefits. I haven’t yet managed to implement a system that works for me, but I’m spending quite a lot of time thinking about it, even though I realise this probably isn’t the best approach!

Gary King’s “The Freelancer’s Dilemma” was also interesting – if only for the shocked comments in the chat when he suggested that what we all need is to be earning an additional few thousand euros a month by automating more of our business processes and focusing instead on our core skills. I’m by no means a top earning translator, and “a few thousand” more a month seems like a big claim to me too, but judging by some of the reactions in that chat there were a number of attendees who really need to take a serious look at how profitable their business is!

In terms of my own specialisations, I enjoyed Ngaire Blankenberg’s thought-provoking session, “The Cost of Silence”, on her work to help museums reassess their inherent biases. This is an area I’d like to explore more, as I’ve previously had to fire museum clients (notably one major French ethnographic institution) for refusing to alter their patronising and outdated attitudes.

Handwritten notes briefly describing the first two sessions I attended - largely decorative image.
Note taking – and parcel reception duties

Now, I think it’s clear from the sessions I’ve mentioned so far exactly why I don’t tend to go to translation conferences. I’m not claiming to be an exceptional translator, but I know enough about the process and the basics of the business side of it to more than get by. Sessions that are tangentially related to my business are much more interesting to me than translation theory, the future of MT or sessions for people in the early stages of their career. So although I dipped into the sessions about pricing, freelance business and impostor syndrome, I didn’t feel they were particularly giving me things I didn’t already know.

Meanwhile, productivity, profitability and getting inside another translator’s head and understanding the choices they make during the process of actually translating are of much greater interest. As was Colin McKeand’s “Is your online NETworking NOTworking?”, where he emphasised that the important thing isn’t who or what you know but who knows you (as you can see from my notes on this one, I missed the main point of Colin’s presentation due to yet another errant parcel, but fortunately the session recordings were available to watch later!)

And speaking of networking, although my favourite sessions were the translation slams, my favourite thing about the conference as a whole was actually the networking platform, Wonder, where you could choose a group to join based on a set of topics that changed at each break. This worked extremely well and for me was so much less stressful than real-life networking where you’re trying to make sure you’ve got a drink, been to the loo, checked your email and chatted to a few new people in such a way that they remember you, all in the space of 15 or 20 minutes between sessions.

Another hugely enjoyable part of the event was how smoothly it all ran – testament, I’m sure, to an enormous amount of work behind the scenes. Everything felt extremely well organised and professional, the conference team seemed to be cheerful and relaxed and as far as I could see the technology worked without a hitch. And we all know how rare that is.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed ITI’s 2021 conference, and got to the end of the event feeling energised and inspired in a couple of important areas. However, I did also come to a more complete realisation of exactly how tiring I find this kind of thing. Maintaining concentration on unfamiliar subjects and chatting to colleagues – no matter how pleasant, and regardless of being online – are things I find extremely wearing, and having largely been imprisoned in my own house for the last 14 months certainly hasn’t helped.

So despite having gained a lot from the conference, I shan’t be attending next year’s edition in Brighton… Unless it’s run as a joint virtual/physical version, of course – in which case you’ll find me on Wonder!