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Avoid these 3 Mistakes When Running International Events

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: May 17, 2017

If you are new to managing international events, they can often be daunting. Imagine taking all the work you do for a national conference or company team building event and trebling it … and then adding in international flights, wide differences in expectations, and invisible cultural norms that you might not be aware of.

With all that complexity before you even start, it can be tempting to look for any shortcuts you can find, especially when it comes to the relatively easy-looking job of selecting suppliers. Yet this is often where things go horribly wrong. Here are my top three mistakes that event managers can make when managing an international event for the first time.

  1. Pushing price or location over quality

We all know the story: the client has a strict budget and wants to reduce “frivolous” expenses like travel costs so they pressure you into hiring local and cheap.

Now, to be fair, I have already written here that, in some cities, there is a real virtue in hiring local. If your event happens to be in a graphic design hub or if your conference is being hosted in a boom town for hospitality staff, by all means stay local. But none of this can ever come at the cost of quality.

On one project, I decided against using my preferred specialist AV supplier and instead worked with the end client to get quotes from two local suppliers. I would soon regret that when I saw the equipment they provided! I would regret it even more when the interpreters and audience had to fight through two days of sound quality issues.

It is never worth sacrificing quality for cost. Excellent quality might cost more upfront but cheap costs more to fix when it inevitably goes wrong.

  1. Only Designing for One Audience

Of course, every event includes different groups with their own requirements and needs but when it comes to international events, complexity increases dramatically. Let’s contrast a couple of examples to see how this plays out.

For an internal company briefing, professional conference organisers need to take into account the company’s personality and style and the types of venues and food that attendees are used to. It is very likely that most of the attendees will have been at a similar event before and will be able to guess a lot of the agenda before they even receive it. As an event manager, your job is simply to make sure that the event works for a single audience: those who already understand internal norms and procedures and are familiar with how the company works.

Run the same event but invite delegates from seven countries, speaking three languages and the situation changes dramatically. They will come with different expectations as to how the meeting will run and may  wish to have information in their language before they arrive. Unless you have a plan to manage that or an expert on hand, the event could turn sour very quickly.

When you manage an international event, you have to make sure it works for every audience in the room.

  1. Doing it all yourself

I have found that each stage of my business growth has meant finding another set of experts to learn from. The same is true when you move from arranging monolingual, national events to managing international events.

Your new best friends will be country experts and consultant interpreters. Country experts are an invaluable source of knowledge of cultural norms and expectations; consultant interpreters build teams and make informed decisions to ensure that communication works no matter which language someone speaks. And, if you ask them nicely, some consultant interpreters will do the same for written communications like brochures and email campaigns.

Wherever you are on your event management journey, working with specialists such as consultant interpreters will help you create events that deliver more value for your clients.

Choose quality over price, design for every audience and work with specialists: three choices with one outcome: incredible international events.

Make it Work

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: April 14, 2017

Recently, one of my very first clients came back to me after a break of several years. The work was as tricky and as interesting as ever but now I had a lot more confidence in my own abilities.

 

With one translation – a CV – I asked permission to omit sections that would be legally uncomfortable for both the end client and anyone reading the CV. They were also entirely unnecessary and irrelevant for the job. What did my client say?

 

“Of course, please take out the unnecessary parts to make it work.”

 

Make it work. That’s what our clients really need us to do. Making it work means being more than a walking or typing dictionary. It means knowing more than where to find the French for “spinneret” or the Spanish for “left-handed wedge sprocket”. It means caring about and knowing about the end result. It means understanding the processes that the document or meeting will be part of and making sure that your document of meeting will work for that purpose.

 

This is why accuracy matters – because without the right kind of accuracy, nothing will work.

 

This is why partnership and transparency is a much more useful set of concepts than “neutrality” or even “impartiality”. Interpreters and translators are always intimately linked with the work they produce. Our skills and personality and expertise shine through and we absolutely should care deeply that what we produce works for everyone involved. We are never truly neutral. We are always involved.

 

Make it work. It’s not a theory or a philosophy; it’s the basic standard of all real professional translation and interpreting.

Whose World do you Live In?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: April 13, 2017

It is always tempting to stay around people like you. Interpreters like the comfort of being around other interpreters. Events managers like events for event managers.

 

But there is a limit on the amount of work that comes from there. People like you do the same work as you and so, unless they are routinely generating more than they can handle, they won’t be hiring you any time soon, at least not regularly enough to matter.

 

Your clients will likely not make an appearance at events for your sector. They will be behaving exactly the same way as you do – spending time with their people, occasionally popping their heads over the parapet to find a supplier of some specialist service.

 

So if you want to find clients, you need to be in their space, not yours. And the best thing about being in their space is that if you are surrounded by 1000 potential clients, it doesn’t matter if 950 aren’t interested in what you do. In fact, even 995 ‘no’ responses might be okay since the work from those 5 clients who say ‘yes’ will more than pay back any investment you made to get there.

 

And if you don’t want to go out and meet clients on their turf, don’t worry, I am sure your competitors will be there. Just don’t count on their success being much good to you.

Interpreters don’t need any more platforms

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 14, 2017

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At least twice a year, the world of interpreting is bombarded with another “solution provider” offering a game-changing idea that will revolutionise the industry… only to vanish in a puff of smoke. Why is the industry still dominated by the same few players? Why do the game-changers often turn out to be nothing more than a momentary distraction? 

The most common reason that new platforms make a big splash and then sink into obscurity is simply that, in many cases, the inventors either have little industry knowledge or try to solve a problem for which a good, but not perfect solution exists.

Take telephone interpreting. It would really take something special to knock the likes of Language Line off their perch, simply because the largest uses of that form of interpreting are markets where multi-year, exclusive supplier contracts rule the day. To win there, you need to be a technology provider, agency, quality manager and telecoms company all at once.

Then there is the rash of providers looking to provide human interpreting via an app, usually for ad hoc work. This is basically the telephone interpreting market but with less status and so recruiting interpreters means either paying professional rates to try to attract experts and running razor thin margins or going for “bilinguals” and sacrificing quality and hoping clients won’t notice.

It is pretty obvious then that “Interpreting via app” is not the cash cow that it looks like. Building another platform is a pretty risky way of trying to make money, especially since more and more interpreters are looking to win their own clients anyway.

Of course, there are a lot of new potential markets, such as webinar interpreting and remote interpreting for hospitals. However, in those cases, once again, just being a platform provider is not enough. Clients seem to want solution providers in those market to provide both the tech and the specialist interpreters to use it. And that is something you can only do if you already know the industry well.

So what should you try if you want to make money from the interpreting industry? By far the best course of action would be to tune into what the upper end of the market is doing, since the mid- and bulk-markets are already so competitive. Tech that improves interpreter workflows, such as automated term extraction, easier billing and payment management, slicker terminology apps and travel management will always be popular. There is also a need for specific CRM tools for the industry that link to client-specific term lists and ways of tracking practice. Add to that the need to service the needs of new tech-driven markets and there is enough space for a whole world of new providers.

There is huge potential for developers to create something of real value… just don’t make another over-hyped platform, OK?

4 Ways to Find Conference Interpreters for your Event

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: February 28, 2017

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Finding the right interpreter can be daunting. It doesn’t get much easier once you narrow things down from all interpreters to just conference interpreters either. But, thankfully, there are ways to simplify the process. Here are my top 4 tips.

 

  • Be really specific in what you are looking for.

 

Yes, it sounds obvious but it is actually incredibly frequent to see potential clients search for a “translator” when they need an “interpreter” or even look for “simultaneous translators” and wonder why they just seem to get big agencies.

 

Right from the outset, it helps to know that interpreters deal with spoken or signed languages and translators deal with written languages. Next up, it is useful to remember that different types of event require different types of interpreters.

 

Are you hosting or organising a multilingual conference or product launch? Track down a conference interpreter. Do you have a business meeting to hammer out a new contract? You will need a business interpreter or a business negotiation interpreter. Looking for someone to help with a court case? You will need a court interpreter.

 

The more specific you are, the better your chances of finding the right interpreter from the outset. While some interpreters cover more than one field, you will always be better finding someone who has experience in the type of event you are running.

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Doing Great Marketing? Then #BackItUp

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: February 17, 2017

If your marketing budget is greater than your CPD budget, you have a problem

As is probably clear from all the posts on working with a CRM, pitching and writing for clients, I have been on a marketing binge so far this year and it is really paying off. I have caught the attention of new clients and have projects in various stages of being booked in. But it’s not enough to have great marketing; you have to #BackItUp with exceptional delivery.

 

By #BackItUp, I don’t mean having copies of your data stored in lots of places, as good an idea as that is. I mean that every hour spent on marketing needs to be supported by an hour spent on improving practice, especially since no one grows accidentally.

 

You can sell yourself as a premium provider all you like but if you deliver services that are more akin to the stuff you might buy out of someone’s car boot on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, you will hit a problem. The most powerful form of marketing is still recommendations and people will soon know whether you are as good as you claim to be.

 

Why do we think that some companies have massive rates of client turnover? If their marketing is good but they aren’t paying enough to work with great people, clients soon find out and look elsewhere. Whether you are an event interpreter, equipment supplier or events management company, if your marketing budget is greater than your CPD budget, you have a problem.

 

Since I am a French to English and English to French and conference interpreter based in Edinburgh, I absolutely have to be pushing my language and interpreting skills on a regular basis. That means keeping up-to-date with the latest research, practising specific areas of my performance, keeping my French honed and even listening back to myself.

 

So what do you do to #BackItUp? We can all learn from each other and get great new ideas for improving our practice. Why not share this post, alongside how you work on your skills and add the #BackItUp hashtag? Marketing is great but what we all need to #BackItUp.

4 Keys when Changing Event Interpreting Suppliers

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: February 2, 2017

If you have been organising international events for a while, you will know that there is a wide range of different event interpreting services, from big agencies, to individual interpreters. You will also know that getting the right interpreters for your conference is a vital part of making sure that the whole event works for every attendee. Here then are 4 issues you should bear in mind whenever you are changing interpreting suppliers or hiring one for the first time.

 

  1. Spot the warning signs of a bad supplier

Every interpreting agency and ever consultant interpreter will have their own standard ways of doing business but a number of these internal policies are simply there to guard their interests, rather than being there for your benefit.
A prime example is that some conference interpreting suppliers will ban you and the interpreters from speaking directly before the event starts. All good event managers knows that having short lines of communication is vital for the success of any event. It is therefore worth asking yourself whether it is really in your interests to have to go through a middle-person and rely on them relaying information accurately and completely, every time you have information to pass on.

 

Every interpreter in the business will have had occasions where they could not deliver the very best service because they were not given the right information at the right time. If your supplier is insisting on keeping the contact details of your interpreters secret and refuses to even tell you which interpreters they are using until the last minute, it is worth looking elsewhere.

 

A similar red flag should be raised if it seems that you find yourself dealing with someone different each time you talk to or email your supplier. You should have a single point of contact who manages the whole process.

 

One last, and more subtle red flag, should be raised if you come across a conference interpreting supplier who is happy to give you an instant quote for any job. Sure, it might seem that it makes your life easier and saves time but it tends to be a sign of a box-ticking approach to delivering service.

 

Your event is unique. You will have specialised content, a specific audience and your own set of KPIs to fulfil. For that reason, the interpreting delivered at your event will be unique too. It makes sense then that excellent suppliers will need a little time to build the right time and put together a price that is as unique as your event.

 

  1. Understand restrictions and eliminate those that are bad for you

Even the very best interpreting suppliers will likely have some restrictive clauses in any contracts they offer. It is common to see bans on contacting conference interpreters directly for a period of time, if you chose an agency to supply them for your event. It is also not unusual for event interpreting suppliers to ask for exclusivity deals and for conference interpreting equipment suppliers to work exclusively or semi-exclusively with a single booth manufacturer.

 

None of these, on their own, are wrong but it pays to ask which ones are right for you. It may be worth asking, for instance, whether you should be able to hire interpreters directly if you liked them but weren’t pleased with how their services were managed. You also may wish to have a clause allowing you to request for a different interpreting team for future events or different equipment.

 

Remember, you are the buyer and it is up to you to decide which restrictions are worth allowing and which will get in the way of delivery.

 

  1. Understand the strengths of the three main event interpreting solutions

There are three ways to manage event interpreters. Either you locate and manage each interpreter yourself, or you call in a consultant to create and manage the team or you book through an agency. There are no wrong answers but each solution does have its pros and cons.

 

If you hire interpreters for your event directly, you get a short chain of communication and you grow to know your team really well. This is often the cheapest option too.  However, this comes at the cost of having to spend time finding interpreters and somehow checking that they are good enough and then doing the admin to pay them all!

 

Hiring a consultant gives you contact with someone whose job it is to build the team for you and who has most likely worked with most, if not all of the team before. Their prices are often cheaper than agencies. They become your single point of contact and so you still get to keep a short chain of communication, especially if, as usually happens, they are actually interpreting as well as consulting. The disadvantage is that they may not have the same coverage as an agency and so for complex jobs, an agency could be better. Their team might also be busy just at the time when you want them.

 

Of all the solutions, agencies are the best at doing large-scale jobs. Their advantage is usually found in their ability to find lots of interpreters covering lots of languages, in a short space of time. Working with an agency also means less admin and only one bill to pay for you. The price of this, however, is usually that their fees are higher and that your chain of communication is longer, increasing the risk that something will get lost along the way.

 

  1. Look for people happy to talk through your options and your situation

If all this seems confusing, it shouldn’t be. All you need is a guide who can walk through your decisions with you. Whether you chat to someone from an agency about their solutions and prices or to a consultant about your management process, it will help to have someone lead you through the process.

 

Since your situation and events are unique, it will help to find someone who is open to creating something unique for you. If you are looking at changing your interpreting provider, feel free to get in touch. I would love to guide you through the process.

 

 

Learning to Write for Clients – The Basics

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 30, 2017

[Note: this is a follow-up to my previous post on pitching]

From Pitch to Preparation

So, you have pitched and have been invited to write a piece for a trade magazine or even a newspaper. What do you do now?

 

Believe it or not, the first thing you should do is look at your pitch again. In that pitch, you should not only have written something that will convince a busy editor but you should also have left enough clues to yourself as to what and how you will write.

 

The best place to look is your three-sentence summary. In that tightly-packed paragraph, you should have left enough information for you to write a basic skeleton of your piece. This is exactly why I advise writing that paragraph according to the incredibly simple “context, problem, solution” structure.

 

Here is an example, adapted from two recent successful pitches:

 

Every business that wants to expand abroad needs interpreting. The problem is that it can be really hard to source excellent interpreters and even if they do find them, many business owners don’t know how to work with them effectively. For that reason, I would love to write a piece on how to source and work with interpreters to ensure that you always get a great return on investment.

 

That one paragraph gives the editor a great insight into how the final piece might look and, just as important, it gave me the outline of what I needed to cover and how. From that paragraph, I could jump straight into writing the pieces themselves, making sure that I wrote each one in ways that were especially attractive for that audience.

 

Remember your audience

This is where your research will pay off. For a piece I wrote for Flybe’s Flight Time magazine (using a slightly different pitch), my research told me that whatever I wrote about interpreting, I needed to drop in real-life (anonymised) stories and preferably some kind of numbered list. For Executive Secretary magazine, I knew I had to write it more like a step-by-step instruction manual with each decision explained.

 

With practice, you will realise that you can write articles covering very similar ground that look entirely different because they are aimed at different audiences. That is part of the skill of writing. While you should never duplicate content, you should have two or three key themes that you are known for that you can write about in a myriad of different ways. And that is why I would always advise practising somewhere safe first to gain experience of angling your content to different audiences.

 

How to edit your first draft

Once you have written your first draft, taking your article summary and research as a guide, put it all away for at least an hour. Go grab a coffee and check Facebook or do accounts or something. You need to find anything that will take your mind off it.

 

When you are ready, come back to the piece and reread it, looking for three specific things.

 

  • Is it written in a professional way, without any glaring typos, meandering paragraphs, repetitive phrasings and non-sequiturs?
  • Is it balanced? Does it give the right weight to the areas you want to emphasise and concentrate on the key things your readers need to know to use what you have written?
  • Have you dropped in at least some keywords that are used by your clients regularly?

In terms of key words, it is important to differentiate between SEO keywords (which are important as they get you more website hits) and article keywords (which are important because they demonstrate that you use the same terminology as your clients. I would always err on the site of prioritising the latter. Always write for humans first and you will find yourself benefiting anyway.

 

The last piece of the jigsaw

Once you have done that whole checking process at least twice, it is time to write a very short bio, giving your name, job and website and send the piece off. And with that, your job is done. For now…

Online Venue Finding: A step too far?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 23, 2017

I am really excited to start a new series of guest posts. I have invited some colleagues from the events industry and language industries to tell me about the tools, apps and software that they couldn’t run their businesses without. But to kick-off the series, there is a warning. As the Managing Director of Clearwater Events, Stephen Morton-Prior knows a thing or two about saving time and keeping organised. In this post, however, he asks whether recent shifts in Venue Finding have gone too far.

Technology is always developing. I now have a lady called Alexa who can switch on and off my lights, change the temperature in my house when I ask and write my shopping list. I am a technology geek….. But with events, I do have a sceptical eye for technology.

 

Technology that helps improve customer experiences or helps us become more efficient is always a good thing. Our solutions are always technology rich but only when they provide value and positive experiences to our clients and delegates.

 

With that said, there is one area of technology that I find hard to fully embrace, and this is online venue finding tools.

 

I understand the need for online venue finding and in theory its genius. A database of thousands of properties that can be accessed with a simple click. RFP’s sent through to selected hotels quickly. And responses pre-populated into templates ready for client submission. What’s not to love about that?

 

There are many large agencies using these tools. Contentiously, you often get an ‘official’ and an ‘off the record response’. Officially, the tools are a procurement dream. Pre-negotiated rates can be loaded for venues and preferred venues and suppliers can be accessed. They provide data, reporting and a quick and simple solution for teams with multiple events to source. However, the systems are typically only as good as the users operating them and their success relies on compliance from all.

 

The off the record response is often rather different. With the systems only being as good as the users, there is an assumption that everyone has an understanding of what to do. There are many examples where enquiries have not been responded to or RFP’s sent to the wrong venues or wrong clients.

 

I can forgive all this. Training offers compliance. Where I struggle is the personal experience. I find the best rates and deals come from picking up the phone and talking. Building a relationship between the venue and the Event Manager is key in finding the right solution. What might not work on paper, might work once a conversation takes place.

 

Events are highly personal. And this experience starts with venue finding. Picking up the phone helps allows me to discuss out of the box solutions, negotiate and discuss the best way to deliver a client experience that goes above and beyond. Albeit a small event for 10 guests or a large conference for 500.

 

Of course, we use technology, the wonderful world wide web is a fabulous tool for sourcing new and exciting venues. My fear with online sourcing tools is that they are only as good as the information inputted and I wonder if the client comes away with the best venue for their event?

 

I think there is a need and a requirement for online venue finding, especially in procurement driven scenarios. But I would suggest combining these tools with my top tips:

 

  1. Do your research. Use your tool but, explore your options. Industry magazines, the web and recommendations will give you an edge.
  2. Remember that your competitors are likely to use the similar online tools with access to the same venues.
  3. When venues get multiple briefs for the same event, you don’t see the rates go down. You see a rate go up, locked in for all agencies.
  4. Ironically, the client might therefore select an agency based on their relationship (relationships are key).
  5. Build relationships. Online tools and email are easy but they don’t promote interaction. Pick up the phone and build a relationship.
  6. In a pitch with multiple agencies, try and find at least one unique option.
  7. A good relationship will lead to lower rates and an overall better option. It will allow you to access value adds and options perhaps not considered by competitors.
  8. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. It is expected. Be prepared to walk away and look for other venue options.

How I use Evernote and Streak to Keep My Marketing On-track

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 16, 2017

After my recent post on pitching and my glowing praise of Streak on LinkedIn, I thought I would do a post on two of my new favourite tools – tools which have so far helped me net some incredible promotional opportunities and which showed me where I was losing out in my business.

 

The first tool is well-known: Evernote is a note-taking, image-saving, web page-snipping, beautifully constructed beast. I use it for two things. The first, and most obvious is that, what with being a dad and travelling a lot, I sometimes draft things in different places and on different devices. With Evernote, I know I can, for example, store the title to my latest blog post in a special notebook called “Articles” and then go back to it wherever I am.

 

In addition, I have installed the Evernote web snipping addon for Chrome. To understand what this does, imagine a simple webpage bookmarker but on steroids. In Evernote, you can save the entire page and a link to it so you can review the page both online and offline. In the screenshot below, I am clipping a recent article from Conference News just to show you what everything looks like. The web clipper is the grey rectangle in the top-right.

 

Evernote web clipper screencap

 

In this particular case, I am saving it to a folder called “Business”, which is where I save a mixture of articles I want to read in future and information that I need to know. I will absolutely be using Evernote to store publicly available pre-reads for my next interpreting assignment.

 

One more nifty feature is that you can link Evernote to your email and set-up reminders. This is really handy if, like me, you store the web pages of client leads there and you want to remember to email them or call them later.

 

Evernote is amazing but its power is hugely multiplied when you install Streak as a plugin for Chrome and then follow its easy activation instructions for Gmail. I use Gmail to manage my work emails as it allows really simple syncing between all my Android devices and, when I am on the web version of Gmail, Streak is active.

 

This is a walkthrough of Streak (try to ignore the rather boring voice):

 

 

What I find really useful is that, when I open the CRM pipeline view, I can instantly see where I was with every lead and active client, including when I last contacted them. This has made it much easier for me to ensure I do follow-up and it has meant that contact details are all captured automatically.

 

Want an example of how these tools work together. Here’s a simple plan of how I got an article on interpreting in the in-flight magazine of a major airline. (I am using the same process for interpreting clients too).

 

  1. I grabbed the magazine and used Evernote on my phone to capture pictures of the front cover, editorial contacts and some relevant articles.
  2. I then drafted an email during the flight to the editor.
  3. As soon as I landed, I sent the email and created a Streak box for the email I had just sent by opening the email from my “Sent” box in Gmail and then clicking on the Streak shortcut icon at the top of the page.
  4. A couple of weeks later, I noticed that the editor hadn’t gotten back to me and dropped a reminder. At that point, I changed the marking of the box from “Lead” to “Contacted” in my CRM.
  5. Within a couple of days, she got back, we agreed on the piece (if it had taken more than a couple of emails, I would have moved the box from “Contacted” to “Negotiating”) and I sent it off. Once the piece was off, I marked the box “Sent Piece/Met in person”.
  6. Once I got confirmation that the piece had been accepted, I dropped a thank you email and marked it as “Closed – Won”.

 

I use that same system to track all my leads and am slowly adding my long-standing clients to Streak too. I make sure that I check my Streak CRM pipeline at least once a day, just to keep on top of everything. That simple view has helped me spot one potential client where I hadn’t sent paperwork, one where I was waiting on the confirmation of an assignment and more than one where I needed to send reminders.

 

To be honest, I am still finding new ways to combine these tools. For instance, I recently found out that Streak can tell me when my email has been read. And I can share Evernote notes with people. I am sure that I will be finding creative uses of these and all the other features I keep finding. What tools do you find useful?