By Melissa Harkin
Are you familiar with the expression “to work the room”? It means:
To interact enthusiastically with the attendees at an event by moving among them, greeting them, and engaging them in conversation.
To interact with one’s audience, take cues from its reactions, and adapt one’s performance or words to elicit the audience’s attention and enthusiasm.
When you apply this expression to translators and interpreters, the first “room” that comes to mind is those of the conferences we attend. However, rest assured, there’s more to it than just conference rooms.
Most in our profession have always worked from home, even pre-pandemic. That means our “room” is pretty empty. Rare are the colleagues who work in pairs with another translator in the same physical environment, or as part of a larger company in an office building. Nevertheless, our online presence is intensive. In the virtual world, we enter many different “rooms” and interact with dozens and dozens of people.
On any given day, thousands of translators and interpreters from different countries enter the same “room” online and exchange knowledge and information. That’s working the room! How you present yourself and communicate during those interactions is sure to have an impact on your career. Don’t believe me? Just last month, I referred seven different colleagues to clients. They are people I’ve met in person during the many conferences we have all attended, but also people with whom I interact online.
When it comes to my own social media profiles, I live by a “my wall, my rules” code. However, when entering other “rooms,” such as Facebook groups or WhatsApp groups, I try to steer away from polarizing issues, prefer to talk shop, and remain professional. And I see who else does the same.
Of course, every now and then, I, too, make a joke. Of course, I’m not perfect and have made mistakes in the past. But I try to watch and learn and only talk if I have something to add to a professional discussion without attacking people, getting mean, or losing focus.
The seven colleagues I recently referred to clients are people who have the same professional demeanor I try to live by and people who I would hire if I were the client. I want my clients to work with people I trust, people who are professionals and care about the job that needs to be done, are respectful, and deliver quality. Why? Because my referrals also reflect on me.
So next time you enter a “room,” try to keep in mind that, as professionals who mostly work remotely, we have to continually work the room and leave a good and professional impression behind.
Recently, a colleague told me she started a Graduate program in International Relations. She had to attend an online session in which, at some point, people discussed the work of interpreters in International Relations. Some of the attendees had a very misconstrued idea of what we do and the impact we have. She asked to have the floor, introduced herself, and gave an accurate and professional account of the work we do, the impact we have, and why we perform an essential job in the field of International Relations. She brilliantly worked the room and gave everyone a terrific elevator pitch.
Keep in mind that the world has changed tremendously over the past 12 months. Are you exploring the full potential of working your online rooms and having quality and professional interactions with colleagues and potential clients? Are you respectful? Are you professional?
In that sense, translators and interpreters ought to look at each other less as competitors and more as colleagues because it is possible, and crucial, to have a network we can count on that is supportive, exchanges knowledge, and understands the benefits of working together.
Melissa Harkin is a Brazilian-American translator working with Portuguese, Spanish, and English and specializing in journalistic, legal, energy, and sustainable development content. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, an MBA in Strategic Management, a Certificate in Translation and Subtitling, a Certificate in English for Journalism, a Certificate in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialization, and a Specialization in Effective Communication: Writing, Design, and Presentation. Between 1997 and 2011, Melissa worked part-time as a translator while dedicating herself to her original legal background. In January 2012, she decided to dedicate herself full-time to translations. In 2020, she joined the Military Review staff as an in-house Portuguese translator. She is a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and the Brazilian Translators Association (ABRATES), and served as the administrator for the New York Circle of Translators (NYCT) – a chapter of the ATA – in 2018. She served as our Divison’s blog editor in 2019/2020 and is currently our Division’s Assistant Administrator (2020/2021).