Is your CPD Strategic?

Our guest post this time is a second contribution from Dr Jonathan Downie. Jonathan is a conference interpreter, researcher, author and speaker on interpreting, trading under the name Integrity Languages. He regularly blogs and leads workshops on topics that bring together cutting edge research and down-to-earth practice. His first book, Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence, was published by Routledge in 2016 and is available from all good bookshops.

There are two words in the English language guaranteed to excite translators and interpreters. Those words are:

“Webinar sale.”

Just like our translating ancestors must have excitedly collected paper dictionaries, newspapers (remember them?) and snippets from books in other languages, some of us enjoy collecting webinars. It doesn’t matter if it is on oil engineering or the transcreation of manga, the feeling of having access to a new course is exciting – all the more so since webinars, and their sisters “MOOCs”, are so affordable.

But is it enough to just log hours watching webinars? Those associations who require their members to log CPD hours rarely require people to justify the outcomes of the hours they have spent. Sure, you went to a conference in Hawaii or a course in Alicante but did it do you any good? Apart from the nice, fresh tan, that is.

If CPD is to make a difference it has to be strategic. What do I mean by “strategic”? The answer is simple: strategic CPD is CPD that aims to take you from where you are now to where you want to be next. It’s when we start to think in those terms about our CPD that we see the most consistent growth but how can we get to that point?

How to Strategise Your CPD

If strategic CPD is the way to go, how do we decide what is strategic and what isn’t? While I don’t have all the answers, I have learned a lot by running several workshops on strategic CPD. Here are my top 3 tips on creating a CPD strategy and then putting it into action.

  • Start from where you are now

Have you ever used a GPS? I am an avid Google Maps user, mostly because my natural sense of direction is akin to that of a confused goldfish in a brand new tank. Nowadays, to cure my affliction, I have gotten used to unlocking my phone, dropping in my destination and letting the neat little map show me thmap-of-the-world-429784_1920e way.

Except it doesn’t always work perfectly. I was once in the Scottish town of Linlithgow and needed to get from the train station to a particular church. All was going well until I realised that the little blue ball that showed my location seemed to be veering far off-course. What was wrong?

After a few minutes of head-scratching and screen refreshing, I figured it out. I had left the station from the exit on platform 2, instead of the one on platform 1 and was going in exactly the opposite direction! D’oh!

Unless you know precisely where you are now, you have no hope of getting where you want to go. So the first step in any CPD plan is to honestly take account of the skills you have now, including your translation or interpreting techniques, your software knowledge, financial position and business skills. Most professionals I have met find that kind of thinking uncomfortable and tricky. The only solution I have found is to meet a fellow translator or interpreter whom you trust and get them to ask you the right questions. Once you have answers to those questions, you can move onto the next stage.

  • Think where you want to be next but not next year!

One of the biggest career mistakes I ever made was to be crystal clear on where I wanted to be in five years but avert my eyes from where I need to be next week. Don’t get me wrong, long-range plans for world domination are totally fine but short-range plans to, say, halve your debt or learn a new piece of software, are much more useful.

Whenever I do a workshop on CPD, I surprise people by asking them to find something that can be achieved or at least started within the next 72 hours. The reason for this is simply that it is easy to go to a workshop and then totally forget about what you learned. However, if you start putting one thing into practice quickly, you build momentum that makes things seem more achievable.

So, when you are creating your CPD plan, set goals and then work backwards from them, filling in what you would need to do to get to that point, until you can easily see what you need to do THIS WEEK to get things rolling. If you want to gain more clients, are there any networking events you can go to or book before the end of this week? Could you order new business cards or read articles about your target market? Find something constructive to do now and you are more likely to be where you want to be next year.

  • Don’t just think, write!

I am one of those people who has to use paper and a number of apps as a secure storage facility for all the stuff I am supposed to do or remember. It seems that, until I write something down, my chances of being able to act on it hover around 0%. Yet, as soon as I write something down, something amazing happens. Not only do I remember it but I seem to magically take on the responsibility for its result.

The same seems to work for CPD plans. When we just think about them, they are in danger of getting lost in the aether. Once we write them down, or even better, share them, they become more real.

Accountability is a truly wonderful thing. I honestly don’t think I would push myself to practice interpreting so much if I hadn’t publicly talked about my 30/3 Challenge. If I hadn’t talked so much about CPD in my book, I would be unlikely to be as fastidious about keeping on top of my own progress.

To get the greatest benefits from accountability, send your plan to a trusted colleague, preferably someone who knows you fairly well and is not given to flattery. Invite them to look at it and give you honest feedback. Ask them to drop you occasional emails to see how it is going. It might be even better if you could do the same for them.

The Last Ingredient

With accountability, honesty and planning in place, you have the foundations to use CPD effectively. There is one last ingredient and it is one that I wish was unnecessary. If my PhD and parenting have taught me anything it’s that learning is rarely, if ever consistent. Today we will feel like we are making huge strides; tomorrow, it will feel that we are stuck in quicksand. That is totally natural.

No one ever learns anything in straight line. Growth moments will always be interspersed with plateaus. Knowing that, the last ingredient to effective, strategic CPD is good old determination. It’s determination that gets you back to practice after skipping a few weeks. It’s determination that pushes you to do that course where everyone else is half your age. It’s determination that keeps you writing guest posts after you have just gotten your youngest child off to sleep.

The strategic nature of your CPD gets you on the right road, determination keeps you going. Remember my story about leaving the station from the wrong platform? I actually got to the church that night, after more confusion and getting lost three times, but it was worth it. That one evening was more meaningful than I could have ever imagined. Decide on the route and be determined to take it and you will be surprised at where you end up.



  1. […] Our guest post this time is a second contribution from Dr Jonathan Downie. Jonathan is a conference interpreter, researcher, author and speaker on interpreting, trading under the name Integrity Languages. He regularly blogs and leads workshops on topics that bring together cutting edge research and down-to-earth practice. His first book, Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding…  […]