Every event is special. No two conferences are exactly the same. But, for even the most experienced conference interpreters, there are occasions where they are asked to apply their skills in settings that are definitely not run of the mill. This is how I get ready for such events.
Only provide interpreting where you know you can excel
Before we even look at preparation, I need to make sure that one thing is clearly understood. While, at the beginning of our careers, wemight find ourselves outside their comfort zone, interpreters should never take on work unless they are trained for it and are sure they can deliver. So, in my particular case, I leave medical and court interpreting to the specialists and check topics and contexts carefully before accepting an assignment. It does you no good to turn up and do a poor job.
Even with that proviso in place, there are times when you end up using familiar skills in slightly less familiar environments. I have interpreted in muddy fields, on factory tours, in a power plant and on tour buses and for cartoon pandas and theatrical performers. Each time, those extra little quirks and changes in location or interpreting mode have meant a shift in preparation.
Same interpreting skills, different environment
While in the booth, it’s all about concentration management and delivery skills, outside of the booth, you need to rely on situation management. Suddenly, you are a lot more visible and your interpreting is just as much a part of the conversation or the tour as anything else.
My next assignment is very much in that vein. It has whispered interpreting, consecutive interpreting during an extended QA session and an artsy feel. Suddenly, performance and attitude will mean as much as accuracy and terminology.
So how do you prepare for special events?
If there is a single secret to preparing for special events, it is to try to tap in to the ideal experience of the event. What will send people home happy? What will make the organisers glad they invested? Why is the event even taking place in the first place?
While every event will require terminology preparation, watching videos of speakers, reading the agenda and such like, for some, it is just as necessary to try to understand what the organisers want people to feel during and after the event. Cultural events often aim for an impact on people’s hearts as well as their heads. Product launches often aim to leave people amazed enough to pull out their wallets.
Understanding that experience and practising interpreting in a way that is still accurate but it tuned to that situation is vital. This means not just interpreting videos of the speakers in ways that get information across but taking time to work through ways to get across their tone and enthusiasm and the atmosphere they create. Product presentations might need you to express enthusiasm and attention-to-detail, emotive speeches might require you to carry some of that emotion across suitably too.
So for this next assignment, one of the biggest but most rewarding challenges will be to put myself in the shoes of both the speakers and the organisers and find a way of speaking and interpreting that will fit in seamlessly with the event itself. After all, as soon as you bring an interpreter into a performance or any kind, they become performers themselves. Once you understand that, preparation becomes something you do with your whole body and not just your mind and mouth.
So you have been persuaded by the elegant style, medieval mystery and classy charms of Scotland’s capital. Don’t be fooled by its small size. Edinburgh and the central belt are hotbeds of talent, including the translators and conference interpreters you will need to make your event a rousing success.
Much more than the Edinburgh Festival
Edinburgh is world-famous for many things: the castle, the architecture, and the Festivals, to name a few. Millions of tourists flock there every year and with hotels and venues to suit most budgets, it is an ideal location for events from huge conferences to weddings, from management retreats and AGMs to press conferences and product launches.
A good Edinburgh Destination Management Company will give you the lowdown on Edinburgh’s better known locations and best kept secrets and locals can also give you great tips on when to hold your event. For example, while you might be tempted to hold your conference in August, to give your delegates the chance to rub shoulders with Festival and Fringe stars, you are likely to find the city incredibly crowded and any travel plans will need to be made with a lot of room for manoeuvre.
What is often hidden about Edinburgh is the incredible level of innovation and expertise available in the city and its environs. For a relatively small city, it has four universities as well as numerous colleges. Why does this matter if you are coming to Edinburgh for an event? Those universities produce graduates in some of the key areas you need for your event to work, creating an enviable talent pool for you to choose from.
Why hire local?
This talent pool is not the only reason why it pays to hire local when meeting in Edinburgh. In these days of ever tightening budgets, travel is one of those costs that keeps being “rationalised”. Given that Edinburgh’s main bus company have adopted a set of fixed fares, the travel for those who live in the city will always be known in advance.
Of course, reducing travel expenses is simply part of the bonus of hiring locals. Less travel time also translates to less CO2 emissions and a more environmentally-friendly event. Add into that local knowledge that gets built up among those who regularly work events in the same city and you get a very cost-effective, high ROI way of hiring.
For International Events, Edinburgh has it covered
The Edinburgh talent pool really comes to the fore when it comes to international events. One of Edinburgh’s universities, Heriot-Watt University has its leafy campus on the west edge of the city and hosts one of Europe’s leading degree programmes for translation and interpreting. While many Heriot-Watt graduates head off to work in Brussels, Paris or even New York, a good number stay in the city or nearby, giving you access to expert conference interpreters and translators for your event.
When it comes to AV, there is a great company just over the Forth Bridge called AV Department, who can deal with everything from complex audience response systems to simple mic, amp and speaker setups. Between them and the local Heriot-Watt graduates, you can be sure that all your simultaneous translation needs (which the professional call ‘simultaneous interpreting’) will be covered, no matter how big and complex the event.
However big your event and however many languages you will need, Edinburgh has exactly the people you need to deliver great results every time. And with its vast array of talent across all the right disciplines, you can hire local experts in every area and watch your event really fly.
Want to talk direct to an Edinburgh-based consultant interpreter to get started organising your event? Drop me an email.
Millions of people are waking up to election results they did not expect and did not want. Others are waking bleary-eyed in disbelief that the result they wanted but seemed out of reach is here. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there is change in the air and it will take courage and creativity to navigate it. But it will also take community.
Beyond “Community” as a Buzzword
For the past few years, social media has turned the word “community” into a buzzword. We have gaming communities, interpreting communities, communities of practice, the events community and more besides. In the face of technology that could lead to us living in individual shacks, communicating with nothing but smartphones and Wi-Fi, there is a desperate cry for meaningful, in-person relationships.
That is why community is such a hot topic right now. In the face of isolation, xenophobia, breakdowns in understanding and mistrust, there is something refreshing about being in the same room as a fellow human being. When we get to the point that we can be real and communicate without soundbites or tweets, we begin to realise that we are all still humans, from the newest president to the poorest worker.
The Price of Community is Vulnerability
But the price of community is vulnerability and vulnerability is not something our technologies are built to handle. Steven Furtick reminds us that we can often compare our real-life to the highlight reels that people project onto social media. Online, there is always a message to get across. In-person, there is just us.
The kinds of communities we need cut across the traditional racial or class or political barriers. Perhaps the reason why recent political decisions in the UK and US alike have come as such a surprise is that our technologies and platforms, from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn and Snapchat, encourage us to congregate in groups of the like-minded. In that environment, we only really hear the voices of people like us. In these echo chambers, we become convince that the whole world thinks like us. And then we get a short, sharp shock when it doesn’t work that way.
Diversity in Community
Some of the most valuable communities are those where people come from different walks of life, hold different political and ideological views but still choose to walk together. I have been on boards of directors where there were disagreements but strong decisions were made. I have been in churches where people who originated from different countries and continents broke bread and laughed together.
If you have got this far and wonder why this is on a business blog, I have a simple answer. If we want our meetings to succeed, we need to build communities not just teams. If we want conferences to have a lasting impact, they need to help kick-start or maintain diverse communities. What if you managed to create an event that knocked-down the echo chambers, the class distinctions and the political fear and brought people together to learn from those who speak a wide variety of languages?
We are communicators. It’s our job to create messages that people are as compelling in the target language as they are in the source language. That might just mean that we need to adopt terminology that makes us uncomfortable, rather than insisting on correctness, especially if we want clients to be able to find us.
Who buys “Translation Equipment” anyway?
I am a late convert to search engine optimisation. When I started as an interpreter, it was still common to hear people suggest that, aslong as you signed on with the right agencies or secretariats, clients would come flocking. Few people believe that now. Increasingly, people want to arrange entire conferences online and the easier you are to find, the more likely it is that you will be the person they call.
But the more you dig into search engine keywords, the more you realise that there are data trends that make us uncomfortable. Check google keywords related to “conference interpreting”, for example, and you will find that there is considerable traffic every month to searches for “translation equipment” (pyjamas, CAT tools and coffee, perhaps?), and real demand for “simultaneous translators” and “conference translation”.
I know few interpreters who could seriously write about any of those without a wince and the need to apologise profusely for using such strange collocations. We would all want to write posts explaining why those aren’t the right terms and that you should instead talk about “conference interpreting,” “conference interpreting equipment” and “simultaneous interpreting”.
But how far will that really get us? Who would click on a rant, instead of a simple explanation and a visible point of sale?
Interpreters should be Expert Communicators
The application is clear. Since we pride ourselves on being communication experts, we need to pay attention to how our potential clients are actually talking about our services. As much as we might like to correct some misconceptions and even write long screeds about the difference between “conference interpreting” and “conference interpretation”, none of that will get us any closer to more work.
Of course, there is a lot of value in helping clients understand our profession better but we must never be guilty of attempting to do so with a superior or condescending tone. In the era of social marketing and targeted blogging, the interpreters who succeed will be those who approach clients with their needs and goals in mind.
Selling Conference Interpreting, Marketing Conference Translation
All this means taking strategic decisions on our websites and blogs. As much as it might pain us, we need to pay as much attention to how our clients are currently searching for our services as we do to our own terminology use. Might it be possible to write an entire blog post on buying “conference translation” with nothing more than a tiny reference to the industry standard term? In fact, might it even be possible to be brave enough to not offer a correction at all?
Yes, I know, taking such steps might well unleash a torrent of disapproving reactions from fellow professionals but it may well be worth it. I have rarely seen interpreters pay for interpreting. If creating the odd post with errant terminology will increase the effectiveness of my marketing and increase the number of assignments I get, I would say that is a fair trade-off.
After all, client education is most effective once you have already built up credibility and forged relationships. Forging those relationships in the first place might just mean learning to translate our existing knowledge and skills into words our clients habitually use.
The rise of crowdsourcing and casual work platforms like Fiverr and Upwork has revolutionised outsourcing. Whereas before, hiring someone to perform a service might involve looking up people in the Yellow Pages, calling them and visiting their office, now just about any service can be bought in with a single click. On the same platform, you can hire cleaners and writers, taxidermists and designers. It seems to promise great benefits for clients but are there risks?
Smart Budgeting Takes Risk into Account
Imagine you needed medical treatment. Which would you prefer to do, pay a doctor who had spent years training and specialising or hire a guy on a platform who said he read a couple of books on physiology during his college days?
It’s a laughable question. There are some services where the risk is too great to do anything but call in a professional. We understand this almost without thinking but we almost always draw the lines in strange places.
Here’s a simple example. You might spend thousands of pounds (or euros) setting up your business website and then the same amount again getting a web shop set up. You wouldn’t dream of leaving your corporate image to a guy whose only experience was mucking around with WordPress one boozy Saturday.
Yet after all that investment, it is still common to see business people being advised to use google translate for web forms or hire random people from Fiverr and Upwork to produce versions of their website in other languages. We want to spend good money on the original version and yet skimp on the budget when we want to reach new markets.
Unprofessional Translators and Interpreters Put Your Business at Risk
If it sounds silly, it should. A bad translation can make a mockery of all the hard work you put in to your business in the first place. Would you want the newest offering from your restaurant to be translated as “Supreme Court Beef”? Would you want the delegates of your conference to be stumped when the interpreters give up and go home?
As Jay Soriano wrote, while the gig economy is indeed thriving on places like Fiverr, it would be naïve to expect the quality to be much higher than the price tag. For small, one-off jobs with low importance for your business, platforms like that will work a treat. When your reputation is on the line, it simply isn’t worth the risk.
The smart way to buy translation and interpreting
- Look for signs of accountability: professional memberships are a great place to start
- Look for signs of contribution and growth: a translator or interpreter who is doing great work will only sustain that level by continued training and giving back to their profession. It is easy to see when that is the case.
- Look for someone who asks intelligent questions: if someone offers you a quote without any clarifications, stay away!
- Look for interest: if the translator or interpreter seems to be treating your work as ‘just another assignment’, it is unlikely that they will be delivering great quality. For their work to be great, they have to have a great understanding of your work.
If you would like more detailed help, feel free to get in touch. I am always happy to point people in the right direction.
Great leaders often get frustrated by anything that looks like a restriction on the growth of their business. They push themselves and their staff to find solutions to anything that looks like it might cause their company to stagnate. But often, the most obvious growth barrier can be missed.
Languages: a barrier or a door
One of the toughest barriers faced by any company is a lack of language skills among their staff. People who don’t understand you can’t buy from you. For those who don’t understand your brochures or websites or sales people, you simply don’t exist.
How big is this problem? In the UK, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Languages recently estimated that the UK companies lose £48billion per year in lost contracts due to poor or non-existent language skills. In my own work, this year alone, I interpreted for one company who were on the verge of losing a multi-year multi-million-pound contract due to language issues. After two days of interpreting and explaining, they qualified for the contract.
But if languages present a potential barrier, they also present an incredible opportunity. Every language your company speaks literally adds millions of people and thousands of companies to your potential client list. Even the steepest investment can generate unheard of ROI, simply by creating new markets for your products and services.
Where Conference Interpreters Come In
While any company that wants to reach international markets will necessarily have to look at multilingual websites, translating marketing and regulatory materials, and making sure that everyone understands contracts, before all of that you will need to build up a presence and credibility in your target market. Put another way, you can have the greatest product and the fanciest website but if you don’t spend time meeting people in your market, learning about them and presenting what you can do, you are throwing money down the drain.
Where conference interpreters and indeed any interpreters help is that they allow you to communicate face-to-face with potential clients. From trade shows to product demos and from PR stunts to press conferences, interpreters create spaces where two or more groups of people can use the languages they prefer and yet still understand each other.
A classic real-world case happened when a large construction equipment manufacturer wanted to showcase their newest lines to an audience of industry press. In that case, six interpreters, covering three languages, ensured that the presentations were as persuasive in Russian, German, and French as they were in English. The result? Positive coverage in industry press and increased exposure as a result.
Interpreting and Brexit
If you are a UK company trying to make sense of Brexit, the power and potential of interpreting is exactly what you need. You surely don’t want one country to be the upper limit of your growth. Now is a great time to launch efforts to snag new markets, while the doors are still open and the opportunities are still there for the taking.
And if you are an EU company wondering whether the UK will still be worthwhile, the time is ripe for you too. If you get in now, before any barriers are erected, you stand the best chance of establishing a market and place that can continue to provide much needed additional profit to your company.
So what should you do now?
Ask your marketing team to size up one EU country (or the UK) as a potential market. Look at population size, incomes and the like and then begin to plan an event to appeal to this audience. Then, while you are still at the planning stage, get in touch with an experienced conference interpreter and ask them to build you an interpreting dream team, to give you advice, as well as make your event sing. It’s one investment that reaps dividends.
Ready to talk about the potential of interpreting to grow your business, let’s have a chat!