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Preparing to Interpret at Special Events

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 21, 2016

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.

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