This is a round-up of my experiences of the ITI International Conference in London this year.
This year was only the second since 2003 that I did not attend the conference in person. I did seriously consider arranging a trip back to Europe based around the conference, but last year decided to focus my resources on events around the Asia-Pacific region instead. Then late last year, Philippa and I were invited by the organising committee to present a paper on social media, based on our own experiences of applying these tools to our everyday business activities. The idea was that we could also demonstrate some of the possibilities of web 2.0 by working together and ultimately, presenting, with me based in Brisbane and Philippa in London. It was an exciting idea and Philippa and I got to work.
I do not consider myself to be social media “expert” but I am aware that I am one of a relatively small number of professional translators actively and visibly using social media as part of my everyday business practices. For example I joined LinkedIn in late 2006 and Twitter in April 2008, and in between I’ve explored countless other applications and tools and developed strong ideas on how to use social media in the professional sphere.
We put a lot of thought into the level at which we would pitch our presentation. Some ITI members are active users of social media while some still think Google is the work of the devil – we wanted to offer food for thought, at the very least, to all levels. It was also important to us to make clear that while social media may not be a business necessity for every translator (because I don’t believe it is), it is more than a passing fad because it represents a massive shift in the way technology is currently used in all spheres of our lives.
Our aim was to speak for about 10 minutes each, with two clear parts to the session: a high-level overview of social media and then a quick demonstration of 1 – 2 tools, all within the context of business use by language professionals. We knew we would have to do more than just dazzle people with an all-singing, all-dancing software ensemble. So we put quite a bit of time into getting some perspective on our ideas, by researching theories and applications, reading case studies and compiling examples of good practice. All this background work reassured me that we were delivering relevant and useful knowledge, not just parroting a gimicky, flash-in-the-pan marketing message.
Philippa found mind mapping helped her clarify her thoughts around the subject, while I work best with OmniOutliner. We used Delicious to share relevant references and articles, and used Skype to IM and talk to you each other. We worked on our abstract at the same time using Zoho Writer and used Zoho Show to pull our slides together.
We considered setting up some kind of community or group around the theme of social media for translators as a way to get a better idea of our audience prior to the conference, and as a centralised source of information following the conference. However after weighing up a couple of factors we both decided against it. Although the idea is an exciting one and it would be great to see it work in the future, I’m getting to a stage where I realise I’m not really interested in “closed-circuit” groups and forums. I think they’re only fruitful when there’s a very specific set of circumstances in place, and when they don’t work then they are a real waste of time – not something any of us as freelancers can afford. I much prefer the more open, flexible approach offered by blogging communities, for example.
We looked into a couple of different web conferencing, presentation and remote-classroom style environments early on in our planning and DimDim seemed to best suit our needs. It is free, offers voice and video streaming, and features include the ability to share presenter controls, desktops, web browser, whiteboard and documents.
In practice, we found the voice option too delayed for our purposes, and the shared web browsing feature didn’t work with any of the sites we wanted to demonstrate. As a workaround to these issues, we decided to use Skype for video and audio, and our usual browser but via DimDim’s shared desktop feature. I’ve spoken before about being wary of relying Skype for business-critical purposes but it seemed like the best option for us. ‘Rehearsals’ went really well once we tweaked our settings to what we were trying to achieve and it was exciting to see it all coming together.
I presented from my home office in Brisbane, with very little change to my existing workstation set-up. Philippa used her own laptop in the presentation hall, which was hooked up to a projector and the venue’s sound system. We were both working from headsets with microphones to reduce ambient sound and interference. We had a dry run at lunchtime in London on Saturday (about 10pm Saturday in Brisbane) so we knew everything was in good working order. About an hour before the presentation started on Sunday morning (Sunday evening in Brisbane), I logged on to DimDim, created a meeting with the settings we had tested and sent Philippa an invitation. I then uploaded our presentation into the environment and prepared the applications and my browser with the pages I wanted to share.
Before the conference started on Sunday, Philippa logged into our DimDim meeting and called through on Skype for a final brief chat. She then arranged her desktop so the Skype video window was in front of the presentation (see picture here*).
I sat patiently while the hall filled, introductions were made and Philippa ran through her part of the presentation. I could see Philippa’s face and a corner of the white screen behind her in my Skype video window, and of course our presentation with the pointer she was controlling in our shared DimDim workspace. It was difficult to keep focussed and remember that I had an audience of 200 people at this point and I was glad I’d thought this part out in advance. If I’d gotten distracted or forgotten the video was running, the potential for embarrassment would have been huge.
When it came to my turn to present, I was a bit dismayed to hear a strong echo on the Skype audio line – not something we’d encountered in our rehearsals the day before, or even earlier that morning. The echo was clearly not an issue conference-side, but it made it pretty hard to concentrate on what I was saying right to the end of my sentences – my voice is bad enough the first time around without hearing it bounce back at me several seconds later 🙂 Once I got going this wasn’t so distracting, but I’m not sure I didn’t sound a bit more like a strangled cat than usual.
It seems there was a slight technical issue conference-side too. Although everything looked good visually from my side, apparently conference attendees couldn’t see when I changed slides. This was easily remedied, as Philippa just opened the screenshots we had prepared in advance and stored locally, should just such an issue arise. The downside of this was that I was flying blind – I couldn’t see when these were being displayed, nor could I use the shared pointer to indicate what I was talking about. As a result, I had to be more explicit about the sections I wanted to highlight at any given time and Philippa had to work hard to ensure the correct slide was displayed. I only had her facial expressions to go on thoughout, so it helped that she looked so calm and in control. I was also very glad we were familar with each other’s content and had worked on our presentations together a couple of times.
It was hard for me to fully assess the impact of these issues on the audience. Of course, I’d love to think no-one noticed a thing, and that we made it all look easy and smooth and effortless. But actually, I imagine it must have been distracting and even at times confusing, which is obviously something we’d hope to avoid the next time 🙂 [Update: I’ve now had a thorough debrief with Philippa – very satisfying!].
From a presenter’s point of view, these were small hitches. They were easily managed because we had effectively planned for them in discussions and in a contingency document. But from a personal perspective it was frustrating to dial off and know there were hitches whose impact I was unable to assess for at least 24 hours, and that I might have been able to control had I been there in person. Ultimately, I think this was probably the most difficult part of presenting remotely – not the technical problems, or even the lack of audience rapport or feedback, but a discomfiting lack of control over the presentation experience overall.
What a buzz – I truly cannot wait to do it all over again!
Nick Rosenthal proposed the hashtag #iticonf as a way of tracking conference mentions on Twitter. I also ran searches on Jaiku and Plurk and found no mentions of the conference on either. This is unsurprising given the slightly different user profile for these tools, which do not include any ITI members as far as I am aware.
There were about 25 messages with the #iticonf hashtag prior to the actual conference itself, with a definite increase as the big day approached. Only one translator (@nickrosenthal) blogged live from the conference in terms of actually sharing info and impressions. Five other attendees posted general comments and reactions during the two day event, with varying frequencies. To date, there have been about five conference mentions and two re-tweets by non-participants though this may rise as more people come online this morning in the UK (re-tweets are an indicator of interest from the wider community).
Usernames of conference attendees who have used the #iticonf hashtag as of 18 May, noon Brisbane time, in order of message frequency (roughly):
And by non-attendees:
I ran a series of interviews with conference presenters in the lead-up to the weekend. Five questions were emailed to approximately 50 presenters via the ITI Office, and 11 presenters emailed me back with responses – a reasonable response rate all things considered. My stated goal was to run 15 interviews, but had decided that realistically I would be happy with 10.
Blog search engine Technorati revealed that five blogs published posts on the 2009 ITI Conference, in addition to this one. I’m certain there were more brief mentions of the conference that were not picked up. The blog posts were found at:
- Serena Dorey’s Marketing Translation
- Nick Rosenthal’s Oversetter
- Christine Schmit’s Polyglot Blog
- The Translator’s Scrapbook (author unknown)
- A press release by ITI Corporate member TTC Language Services pulled into a directory – now a dead link
A LinkedIn event was also created for the conference. I thought this was a great idea as it promoted the event in a wider arena, i.e. not just among translators. I was also pleased to abe able to indicate that I was presenting as I felt it added value to my LinkedIn profile overall.
I believe remote presenting is definitely a viable option for major international translation and interpreting (T&I) industry events such as this. There are some clear limitations and risks, but for the right presenter and with appropriate on-the-ground support, these limitations could be easily overcome to ensure a highly polished and most importantly, meaningful learning experience for attendees. Potential presenters are scattered all over the globe in our industry and it would be a shame for an event to limit itself to geographically-available speakers. Saying that, there is no doubt that presenting in person really is the ideal scenario for all concerned. After all, T&I professionals attend conferences for so much more than just the speakers.
It’s also been fascinating to do a quick and dirty overview of the coverage across multiple social media channels of such a major international event. As far as I know (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), there was no formalised plan for social media coverage of this particular conference so its organic nature makes it all the more interesting. However I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that T&I event organisers should force this coverage either: I believe there is value in allowing it to grow from the grassroots.
I am certain that we’ll see an increase in this kind of coverage at future T&I events, not least because I have seen it happen already in many other industries. What will be interesting is the impact it will have on attendees, presenters, and organisers: To what degree will this coverage be actively managed? Will speakers incorporate an increasingly busy backchannel into their presentations? What ever-inventive ways will attendees chose to broadcast their experiences of such events? Whatever way it goes, others have gone before us and we can learn from them while still making these tools our own.
* Thanks to Paul Appleyard for the picture – a great souvenir!