The Three P’s That Make a Good Conference
What makes a good conference? According to TAUS director Jaap van der Meer, the answer is: purpose, people and program.

What makes a good conference? If you ask me, the answer is: purpose, people and program. As simple as that. Let’s start with ‘purpose’: you have to have a good reason to make people travel from all over the world to a single location and have them spend a few days of their precious time together. As Eric Liu, General Manager of Alibaba Language Services, said in his keynote at the TAUS Annual Conference in Portland last week: it all starts with a mission - “Preparing for a future that is without language barriers”. The same goes for TAUS and the TAUS Annual Conference. Why do we have a conference - what is the purpose? Because we want to work together to help the world communicate better.

The second factor that makes for a good conference is ‘people’. If the right people participate, you can’t go wrong. At the TAUS Annual Conference in Portland this year we were very lucky to have such an exquisite group. Fifty percent of the 140 attendees were translation buyers from most of the large IT companies and some of the medical and automotive companies. The other half was composed of language service and technology providers and academics. All participants were senior level, decision makers or business owners. With such a group of participants in the room, the conversations are guaranteed to be at the right level. As Mark Davidson from Red Hat (a first-timer at TAUS) put it: “It is comforting to know our communication barriers are being deconstructed and dissolved by such a passionate and capable collaborative.”

The third and final asset to a good conference is ‘program’. A good program follows from purpose - debating and agreeing on issues that really matter in the context of what we need to achieve. At the TAUS Annual Conference in Portland we took the pulse of the latest and greatest in translation technology. For example, does Neural MT bring us really closer to a future without translators? We also tried really hard to better understand the international customer experience. Other topics of discussion were the benefits of sharing tools and best practices, and how we measure translation quality.

We’ve asked ourselves the hard yet relevant questions. For example, should we make or buy the technology we need? How many languages should we support and can we support with confidence? How far are we embracing the cloud as our ultimate platform for globalization? And how can we use the data we aggregate for machine learning? What to expect from speech-to-speech translation? Or, how do we bring together the best of two tired industries, translation and publishing, to create new opportunities for language workers?

If you like to find out more about the discussions at the latest TAUS Annual Conference in Portland, please go to the agenda here and click on the titles to see the slideshows. In a couple of weeks, TAUS will also publish the eBook Keynotes Winter 2016 with reports on all the sessions and debates in Portland. This is our way of making sure that we help push the industry agenda forward, and that we do not keep discussing the same things over and over again.

George Zhao, Ivan Smolnikov, Jaap van der Meer, Spence Green, Kenji Takaoka, Paula ShannonHighlight at the TAUS Annual Conference this year was the Game Changer Innovation Contest. Our host, Paula Shannon (Lionbridge), opened the contest with an inspiring anecdote on how the mountain bike was invented - simply by people who were not happy about the already existing bikes on the market. We should all be able to do something similar for the translation industry. In two days, 19 courageous people each spent six minutes on the stage to showcase their idea, technology or tool. After the audience votes there were two clear winners: Lilt (in the invader category) and Boffin (in the insider category). See more about this in our press release.

We have to admit: the TAUS events are also our own biggest source of inspiration. We have laid out our events plan for 2017, starting with a roundtable in Vienna on January 30. A unique event this coming year is the Summit on March 22-24 in Amsterdam, which is aimed at defining a Five Year Industry Roadmap for Innovation and Collaboration. In preparation of this Summit we invite everyone to submit ideas. See the program and the consultation request here.

For the TAUS events we follow three principles:

  1. We want to lead (not follow) the industry agenda with good content;
  2. We are focused on real deliverables, publishing results or executing with collaborative actions;
  3. We limit the size of our events to maintain quality and intimacy.

If after all the hard work time permits, we add a fourth ‘P’ to our recipe for a good conference, and that is ‘pleasure’. At the TAUS Annual Conference we have had the pleasure of hosting the TAUS Haus band. Isn’t it amazing that our industry hides so many talents? Catch a glimpse of what happens in the evening of a TAUS Annual Conference.


Jaap van der Meer founded TAUS in 2004. He is a language industry pioneer and visionary, who started his first translation company, INK, in The Netherlands in 1980. Jaap is a regular speaker at conferences and author of many articles about technologies, translation and globalization trends.

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