(Originally Posted on February 06, 2015)
My name is Richard Brooks, I am the CEO of K International Translation Services, telephone-interpreting.com, and board member of the Association of Language Companies. It was my job this year to oversee and then facilitate the Language Industry Unconference. I was helped by Rob Santiago (Para-Plus Translations Inc), Cecilia Maldonado (SpeakLatam), Uli Dendy (Truelanguage) and Paul Tracy (Partners Interpreting). We started the planning 4 months ago and it was a great experience working with such brilliant people. It’s surprising how much work goes into an event which is officially without agenda or structure.
Our brief was simple. Create an executive retreat with the right mixture of networking, learning and fun. We wanted to build on the successes of the previous years and create a memorable few days for all of the attendees. The event is limited to owners of Language Companies, i.e. translation, interpreting, training that sort of thing. We all have very similar issues and opportunities and getting together with a group of peers to talk about them is when the magic happens.
This year we chose the location of Carmel by the Sea, California. It’s a small town (population around 4,000, which grows considerably in the summer as it’s a very popular tourist destination) with almost European charm. Walking around the cobbled streets and boutiques shops you could almost think you were in France, Italy or Spain (or Argentina!). It’s also a place very important to my industry as it’s close to the centre of the language industry in the States being only 10 minutes away from Monterey.
My own passion outside of family and work life is golf. Carmel is only a couple of miles from the Pebble Beach Resort, which if you don’t know is (perhaps) the best location for golf in the US. I was very fortunate to play Spyglass the day before the event (one of the reasons I came in a couple of days early) – was very happy with two birdies and 36 points – it lived up to expectations being one of the most beautiful courses I’ve played. It’s a week later and I’m still smiling about chipping in on the 10th hole – my caddy said I was one of the best short game players he’d seen on the course (maybe I could get my tour card after all, scary thing is that I’ll qualify for senior tour in 10 years time!).
The beach in Carmel is beautiful and only two blocks away from the hotel. Great place for a midnight walk or early morning run (jetlag does have some advantages). I found myself down there a couple of times down there using the time to think about what we’d gone over and trying to consolidate some strategic goals for 2015.
We stayed at La Playa Carmel. It’s a 100 year old luxury resort with its own private gardens and being close to the beach it was an awesome place for a retreat. We were not alone in thinking that because in 1983 Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple Mac in the room where we hosted the unconference at his own retreat for Apple Employees. One thing they don’t mention though is that that night his team went onto party so hard that they were banned from the hotel for 30 years.
What is an UNConference?
An Unconference is a participant driven meeting. There are no official agendas and it’s open for anyone to discuss or present anything that they want to. At a traditional conference you might have one person (or panel) presenting various topics thought out the day with a Q&A session at the end, at an Unconference you don’t.
It’s a chance to ‘geek out’ with likeminded professionals who are as passionate about your topic as you are. You often go off at tangents which lead you to having ideas for your business that you would never have had sat behind a desk (why do we work behind desks?). It’s a great format for an event and is often preferred by the attendees over traditional conferences.
Task Force Meetings
To help raise profile of some key issues in the language industry the association has formed task forces. Each one of these addresses a key issue. We hold these meetings on the day before the Unconference begins. I say this every time but I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work people put into this association though these task forces and time spent on the board. The ALC is a volunteer association but the work it does reaches way further than the membership.
My task force (no surprise) was the Unconference. We spent the time enjoying some facetime with the team and putting the finishing touches to next couple of days.
The task forces are a great way for anyone to get involved in the running of the association and the development of the language industry world-wide. If you do have any time to spare and/or a burning desire to work on something larger than your company I ask you to volunteer.
For the Unconference we needed to create an open environment where people could share their thoughts, opportunities, ideas, concerns, your whatevers.
Some weeks before the event we asked attendees what they wanted to discus. We collected this information and distilled it down to 8 main topics, those being;
- Company Valuation
- Employee and Management Training
- Strategic Planning
- Technology and Systems
- Government Affairs
- Social Media
- Sales and Marketing
- Personal Development
For two four hour sessions random groups of 8 people were each given four topics to discuss. We’d provided some prompt questions for the moderators (in case needed) and after the workshop asked for each group to feedback comments to the larger group. These topic heading were meant to be (and were) a catalyst for discussion which continued through the event in the afterhours social sessions and we hope continue virtually into 2015.
Other topics were discussed (naturally), this happens all over the resort. Being entrepreneurs we live and breathe our businesses so you could hear discussions about all sorts of topics over breakfast and into the small hours in the bar at night.
A surprise event this year… on the first afternoon we took the time to participate in a professionally organised scavenger hunt. This had us in small competitive groups doing strange tasks against the clock such as, forming human pyramids on the beach, doing handstands in front of art galleries, taking pictures with surf dudes and drinking group cocktails – all in the name of team building.
It was great. Brought me back to my student days and if there was any ice left to break it certainly smashed it.
Time for Social
The location was great. We had many superb restaurants within walking distance, it was easy to get a group of people together and head out for lunch/dinner. The town was small enough so we even bumped into other groups at night
Thursday night we booked for the majority of the group in at restaurant called Ocean Grill. We had a great time, we eat, we drank we were merry. It helped to gel the team the night before the work began.
I’m putting the finishing touches to some testimonial videos which I’ll post on my youtube channel and below in the next couple of days.
What did I get out of it?
I got a real kick seeing the thing we’d been working on for so long come to life and take its own form. Partly why this thing works so well with the ALC is that there is a lot of respect within the association amongst its members. I saw CEOs who run half billion dollar companies sharing their leadership challenges without prejudice with owners of companies with revenues of under a million dollars. We all have something to learn from one another.
My own personal take-aways from the event were:
- I had time to think/relax. Running a business is stressful (we all know that) and we need to take time out to relax, take stock of where we’re at and plan for the next few months/years. I have a solid strategy for my business and personal development and am now concentrating on putting this into action.
- The Networking. There were 70(ish) people at the event, all similar but all different. It’s a nice small group of people and three days gives you enough time to come away with an understanding of what each of them does and what opportunities there are for generating partnered income/value propositions.
- Time to Benchmark. What system do you use to manage your company? What are the pros and cons of it? What metrics do you use to run your business? This is information which you simply don’t get unless you have time to talk to people (often over a beer/cocktail)
- Visited a beautiful part of the United States. I played Spyglass, I ran each morning on Carmel beach, I drove the 17 mile road on the Pebble Beach Peninsular, I visited Big Sur, I drove highway 1 to San Francisco, I swam in the Pacific Ocean and still had time to attend a conference :).
Our sponsors were Kilgray
, and Niki’s Int’l Ltd
. I would like to extend thanks on behalf of the association to all three companies for helping us putting it together.
I would also like to thank The Association of Language Companies for having the foresight to create an event such as this 3 years ago and trusting me with the organisation and delivery of it. My task force was outstanding (love working with you guys) as was Beth and her team in the help and support they gave us right up to the start of the event. But most its down to the attendees, it’s their event, they all contributed and I couldn’t think of a nicer group of people to spend a few days with in the California sunshine in January.
Hope to see you all again next year.