GALA 2017 Amsterdam: My High Expectations

Roger Towers Smith

Roger Towers Smith

10. 4. 2017

After a week back in the office, I felt it's time to reflect on my experiences at my latest conference: GALA 2017 Amsterdam. It was an emotional ride, but it filled with me faith and optimism, both for the industry and the amazing people that occupy it.

Starting things off with a “bang”

I guess you know you’re doing something right when airport security stops you at the X-ray machine on your way to a conference on suspicion of carrying explosives, only to pull out your stack of your new business cards. In hindsight, maybe responding to their apology with “Well, they ARE the bomb!” might not have been the best approach. Oh well... live and learn, right?

While such an experience might have put some travelers on edge, I actually welcomed the laugh. It was also going to make a great story at my first-ever GALA conference.

With a few industry conferences now under my belt, I was already looking forward to reconnecting with familiar faces. What I didn’t expect was how well my stance on the future of language services was going to mesh with a large portion of this year’s conference. In a nutshell: The human element is an irreplaceable part of the industry, and positioning it at the heart of what we do, whether internally or with our clients, is to everyone’s advantage.


Tech vs. Touch: finding the balance

Thimo De Jong set the tone for the conference with his upbeat keynote on technology's role in our daily lives, including what it can (and cannot) be expected to replace in the future. He underlined society’s current desire to find a balance between life and work, as well as what he referred to as a “digital balance”, or avoiding becoming too dependent on technology.

He explained “zero tech hours”, an approach in which companies worldwide encourage employees to put aside their electronics and engage their work (and life) in a low-tech manner. In a similar spirit, other companies deny their employees access to company email accounts after 7pm. All of these initiatives are in response to the idea that we have become overly fascinated with technology to a point bordering, if not already equating to, addiction.

*Photos by Oleksandr Bondarenko

His presentation juxtaposed technology with an analogue engagement of the world around us: commodification vs. experience. As we search for ways to automate just about every mundane part of our lives (standing in the checkout line with that 24-pack of toilet roll), he argued that not only is there still a fascination with (and demand for) personal experience in certain sectors (think custom suits and fashion ala LAMODA), but such experiences will come to be seen as a luxury.

Whether we rely on data from behavioral algorithms like Crystal to deliver it, or more traditional methods like a good ol’ face-to-face sitdown, the fact remains that the customer of the near future will inevitably associate the quality of a service with the level of personalized experience they receive.


Quality relationships and knowledge - words to live by

Sent to GALA to represent ZELENKA and our needs, I found it interesting to observe many of my counterparts focusing on an issue we have been addressing for a while—namely how to grow in the “right way”. This issue and others like it seem to be pressing the industry as a whole right now, as GALA dedicated an entire track to discussing them.

In addition to sessions that focused on developing HR strategies and healthy growth, I made it to two other presentations: one about mergers and acquisitions and another on maintaining interest during a sales pitch.

The M&A discussion sought to address the question of if such an approach can replace a salesforce. My overall feeling on the topic is that while an acquisition may overcome an initial slump in sales, a successful long game effectively draws on the knowledge and relationships of both the incoming personnel, as well as those that were there in the first place.

The Pitch Perfect presentation provided some new numbers that I had never heard before. For instance, we are capable of hearing and processing 450 words per minute, while our mouths, by comparison, are only capable of relating only 120. So how do we appease the other 75% percent of a listener’s attention span that we aren’t engaging while talking to them. The advice is relatively simple: keep it short, and sprinkle your information with entertainment.


All the friendly faces

At the risk of sounding cliche, there is still one thing that has me constantly looking forward to every upcoming conference: the people. Really. The opportunity get all my favorite people from the industry around the same table and talk shop, family life, sports, or just share our preferences for beer. That was no different this time around, and a hearty thank you to everyone I rubbed elbows with up in Amsterdam. Your time makes the trip worth it for me.


If I classified “people power” as this year’s theme for GALA, it would certainly be in line with what I feel was the wildest (and most powerful) part of the conference: TRIM, TINT OR TATTOO FOR TWB. It was all part of our effort to raise money for the industry’s leading non-profit, Translators without Borders. For me, this was certainly my most revealing moment so far in the industry: I said goodbye to a friend that had been with me through thick and thin for 16 years—my glorious beard!

While others agreed to dye their hair, get beautiful henna tattoos, or even have their legs waxed by other attendees (not a quiet experience), a few brave souls joined me in pledging their chin sweaters to raising money for a cause that resonates within all of us.

Many thanks to Andrew Hickson and his generous colleagues at EURO-COM for putting the fundraiser together! You took the edge off of what would have otherwise been an emotionally scarring experience. I just received word that total donations from the event now total over 4,500 Dollars and they aren’t finished yet!

If you haven’t donated yet, the fundraiser is still under way. So take a few minutes to read about what TWB is accomplishing around the world and contribute to their amazing work. You can find more information on TRIM, TINT OR TATTOO FOR TWB's website.


Until next time…

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