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How to Fail at Pitching

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 20, 2017

I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reception that came when I wrote my Comprehensive Guide for Pitching. It was originally aimed at pitching to magazines but the guidelines (which have subsequently also appeared in the ATA Chronicle) apply just as well to writing pitches for guest blog posts or even asking for work.

 

That brings me to today’s post. Recently, I have begun receiving more pitches asking for a guest post on this blog as well as companies trying to sell me their products and services. Sadly, however, most of them have not been of a high standard. Since it seems that several of my colleagues are experiencing the same thing, I thought I would put together a hit list of ways to ensure that your pitch fails.

 

  1. Don’t bother checking the contribution history

 

Does it really matter that the blog or publication only ever has posts from the same people or that everyone comes from the same company? It’s not as if they will have made a deliberate decision as to whose voice they want to publish, right? Obviously, if they have made a decision as to what to cover, offering them something completely different will rarely result in acceptance. In fact, they are more likely to see you as a time waster.

 

The same goes if you are trying to sell a product. If the person running the website only ever talks about conference interpreting equipment and building interpreting teams, attempts to sell them Desktop Publishing services or expensive Translation Management Systems are unlikely to succeed.

 

  1. Forget the hook

 

All that stuff about reading previous issues and doing research sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it. Maybe you should just lob a generic pitch on a subject that has been covered a million times. It will be fine, won’t it? Guess again.

 

  1. Don’t proofread

 

Should we expect someone calling themselves a professional writer to send pitches that are grammatically sound and don’t contain any spelling errors? Or should you just hope that the no editor or site owner is not going to judge your writing skills based on your pitch? I will leave that to you to decide.

 

  1. Leave out all the stuff about targeting your pitches

 

Maybe I am the only person in the entire world who ever wonders, “why on earth am I getting this email?” It does surprise me to receive a pitch for a post on computer assisted translation tools supposedly aimed at a blog that deals with interpreting and events management. Trying to work out where a post will fit is the sort of challenge that busy people will tend to pass up.

 

  1. Start with a bunch of qualifications and history

 

We all know that the one thing editors and bloggers absolutely love reading on a Friday afternoon is the history of how long your company has been running and how many degrees your founders have. They fall over themselves to read about all the different services you offer, especially when a sum total of none of them are actually relevant to your pitch. In fact, the longer it takes them to actually figure out what on earth you are trying to tell them, the happier they are. That might just have been sarcastic.

 

  1. Use a generic salutation

 

We are in the 21st century so surely no one actually wants you to bother finding out their name or address them personally. “Dear Linguist” has that impersonal feeling that makes us all warm and fuzzy inside. And of course “hi” with no name will always be a classic. Even better, go all formal with “Dear Sir/Madam”, especially if you have sent them a message via the contact form on the website that actually tells you their name! There is no quicker way to get rejected than failing to even write a personalised salutation.

 

  1. Completely ignore guidelines and forms

 

Websites are designed with forms for a reason. Shove your email in the topic line, drop a call to action in the email box and do whatever you like with the rest of it. It will really make you stand out from the crowd in ways you cannot even begin to imagine, none of them good.

And please, if there are pitching guidelines on things like length and style, do adhere to them. If you don’t, you might as well give up before you even start.

 

 

Yes, I admit, this post has been rather heavy-handed in places. I have no doubt that those sending requests for blog posts or trying to sell their services are doing so for all the right reasons. But, since pitching essentially boils down to asking someone you have never met to do you a huge favour, it really does make sense to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. Whether it seems fair or not, they will expect you to have done the research and targeting necessary to make your pitch relevant, professional and compelling. After all, it’s exactly what they will expect from your contribution and services too.

Over-hyped, Under-thought and nowhere near ready: Machine Interpreting

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 12, 2017

A few months ago, I was flying to an important meeting and I was flicking through the in-flight magazine (for pitching purposes, you see). As I did that I spotted a short paragraph touting the latest technological development: an in-ear device that promised to translate flawlessly from one language to another. It looks like from now own event managers can dispense with us interpreters for good and just load up on a supply of tiny devices to make sure everyone has a great event, no matter which language they speak.

 

Obviously that isn’t going to happen.

 

Despite the wonderful headlines in the press and the incredible claims made by marketing departments, the chances of machine interpreting ear-pieces doing anything more than replacing phrasebooks is miniscule.

 

Why?

 

Firstly, there is nothing fundamentally new in the technology used in such devices. Machine translation of some sort or another has been around since the 1940s and is still producing results that range from the plausible to the ridiculous. Remember when google translate turned Russia into Mordor? Remember all those websites displaying mangled English because of poor use of machine translation?

 

Without going into the fine detail of where machine translation actually stands right now (you can read that in this article), basically, unless you are willing to spend months training it and are okay restricting your language to controlled phrases, the results of machine translation will be a bit dodgy.

 

When it comes to magical translation ear-pieces, machine translation is twinned with voice recognition – the technology that is still giving us frustrating helplines, semi-useful virtual assistants and the fury of everyone who doesn’t have a “standard accent”. Sure, voice recognition technology is advancing all the time but it still works best when you use a noise-cancelling microphone and speak super-clearly – not quite the thing for crowded cafés or busy conferences.

 

The second reason why translation headsets are not a cure-all is that interpreting is about far more than just matching a word or phrase in one language with a word or phrase in another. Language is a strange beast and in all communication, people use idioms, metaphors, similes, sarcasm, irony, understatement, and implications and are tuned to social cues, intentions, body language, atmosphere and intonation. At the moment, and for as much of the future as we can predict, computers will struggle to handle even one of those things.

 

Human interpreters have to be expert people readers as well as having enviable language knowledge. Ask the CEO for whom an interpreter helped sort out a cultural and terminological misunderstanding that threatened to lose the company a deal with several million pounds. Ask the doctor who worked with an interpreter to be culturally-aware enough to give a patient the right treatment. Ask the speaker whose interpreter prevented him from making a big, but accidental cultural mistake.

 

When human interpreters work, they don’t simply function as walking dictionaries. They take what is said in one language, try to understand its meaning, tone, and purpose and then recreate it in another language in a way that will work in that specific context.

 

The only way that machines could ever do that would be if meetings and events were just about stuffing information into people’s heads and human beings always said exactly what they meant in a completely neutral way. With the current emphasis on the importance of delegate experience and our newfound awareness that people are more than just robots, it makes sense that we would realise that their communication deserves to be handled by experts, not machines.

 

So the next time someone tries to persuade you that you should let machines take over the interpreting at your event, just remember: for information processing, use a computer; for experience and expertise, work with humans.

5 Tips to Rock Your First International Event

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 3, 2017

Running international events is not easy, especially when you are new to the job. So, as someone who is often brought in as an interpreter to help make sure that the French-speaking audience love it as much as their English-speaking counterparts, here are my top 5 tips from the booth to you.

 

  1. Details matter

 

Yes, we all love nice rooms and a posh-looking programme but it is easy to spend so much time on the big things that the small but crucial details get left out. Little things, like the amount of water available, making sure everyone knows where the toilets are, keeping to time and having on-site staff who are competent and happy, make a huge difference. Just ask the people bursting for the loo while dealing with grumpy staff and they will tell you!

 

  1. Over-communicate

 

The post on keeping short lines of communication with suppliers is still one of the most popular on this blog. And it bears repeating. Given that every single international event will be a team effort, every member of the team needs to know what is going on and their part in it. What might seem like an irrelevant piece of information for you (the doors are opening fifteen minutes later than planned, two speeches are being swapped, an additional guest is coming) can make a big difference to any suppliers who are there. Better to give too much info than not enough.

 

  1. Treat Questions as Your Best Friend

 

In the same vein, while you will undoubtedly be busy in the run-up to the event, when someone in your team asks you a question, it is always worth treating it like a golden nugget, rather than an annoyance. Not only does answering their questions help them do their job more effectively but it can also save you precious time and money too. Queries such as “what are the goals of this event?”, “when can we get access to the room?”, and “what equipment will be onsite?” are absolutely fundamental to delivering a great event.

 

  1. Prioritise Purchases that Make a Difference

 

Ah budget constraints, the bane of many events! While it is absolutely true that every event has to be financially viable, it will always be worth asking about the consequences of different kinds of cost savings. Almost no one will notice it if you shell out on brand name water instead of standard stuff, if you put it all in clear bottles (is there actually any difference?) but they will notice if the PA system is rocky or if you have gone for cheap and unqualified interpreters and sub-standard conference interpreting equipment. A good rule-of-thumb is to prioritise purchases according to their importance in achieving the goals of your event. Few events really need the agenda printed out in gold-leaf anyway!

 

  1. Enjoy the ride!

 

Few event managers enter the profession for a quiet life! The thrill of seeing it all come together is a vital part of the job. And savouring that thrill is both a privilege and a necessity. No matter what happens, enjoy the fact that you did something that few people can do well: you brought together a team of experts to ensure that visitors from more than one country had an experience that made a difference to them. That’s worth celebrating.

 

If you are organising your first international event, you will need interpreting suppliers you can rely on. If you would like someone to save you time by making sure you get the right team every time, drop me an email. And here is a completely free template for briefing your interpreters too.

Is Your NDA Working Against Your Business?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 29, 2017

Non-Disclosure Agreements: for many businesses, they are a fact of life. If you have IP to protect or confidential information to keep safe, it is likely that you have a template NDA stashed in a folder somewhere that you ask anyone working for you or with you to sign. But is your current NDA helping or hindering your business?

I am no lawyer, so I won’t even attempt to give a legal view but, having had to read and sign my fair share of those documents as an interpreter, I have seen some companies get it right and others mess up. Let’s talk about how to mess up an NDA.

No matter how amazing your business, as long as you aren’t MI5 or the NSA, you probably don’t want your NDA to insist that all translators or interpreters working with you must refer every single terminology issue back to you. If you trust them enough to ask them to work with you in the first place, it makes sense to trust them to do terminology and background research in a way that will not jeopardise the confidentiality of your sensitive information.

A more sensible approach, which is thankfully becoming more widespread, is to draw a line between commercially sensitive information (which should never be disclosed unless there is a legal imperative to do so) and general information. Someone checking with a colleague what the French for “left-handed spark plug” is unlikely to have a negative effect on your business. Someone telling your competitors how many you sold last year just might!

Similarly, event managers do need some leeway to tell their suppliers about the nature and purpose of an event. If your NDA says something like “no information which comes into the provider’s possession due to the assignment may be passed to any third parties”, you have just stopped them actually making the event work!

 It will always be vital to get a legal view on the strictness of your NDA but, at the same time, do ask your providers what levels of disclosure are reasonable and necessary for them to do their jobs. If you don’t do that, you may find them completely unable to deliver the service you are paying them for!

Why Chemistry Counts

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 21, 2017

Who would you rather refer work to: the over-achiever who deliberately isolates and insults everyone they meet or the person who does good work but is much easier to work with? Would you rather book the arrogant diva or the hard working and helpful supplier?
Eventually, no matter how good someone is at their job, if they have character issues or are just plain mean, they will discover a ceiling to their success. People like to work with people who are pleasant to work with.
We all have colleagues who are great at their jobs but poor at working with people. Eventually, people like that find themselves passed over for assignments and wondering what has gone wrong.
Whatever profession you are in, you are in the people business. That’s why chemistry counts and why it will always be worth the hard work to learn how to build and maintain relationships.

The Ultimate Interpreter Brief

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 12, 2017

If you organise or manage international events, this is for you.

To celebrate The Meetings Show 2017, I am pleased to offer the Ultimate Interpreter Brief, an absolutely free template, with no catches. It is entirely white label for you to add your company logo to and covers all the details needed by interpreters, agencies and consultant interpreters. On a single A4 Microsoft Word form, it holds the kind of information that would normally take days to finalise.

And it is yours for free.

But I can go even better than that.

I know that not all event managers and organisers are used to working with interpreters, so I have provided a completely free 10 minute tutorial on how to use the Ultimate Interpreter Brief, including some useful hints on best practice. And that is yours for free too!

If you would like any further information or to book me to provide interpreters for an upcoming event, click on this link.

Here are the links you will need.
The Ultimate Interpreter Brief template is here.

And this is the youtube tutorial:

Why I Only Offer On-site Interpreting

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: 

It is a trend that is both incredibly promising and incredibly controversial. Remote interpreting, where the interpreter can be located absolutely anywhere and yet still interpret for your event via a phone call or online platform, has become big business and is set to grow even more. So why would any consultant interpreter not jump at the opportunities it offers?

 

Don’t get me wrong. I can see the benefits of remote interpreting. With the growth in virtual meetings and the never-ending need for interpreters in dangerous situations, remote interpreting will enable business and save lives. I really do welcome its growth. But it also represents a trend that I have strategically chosen not to follow.

 

In modern, high-tech remote interpreting, interpreting is sold as a service that clients can dial into any time, with no particular commitment. That is great for some clients who might only ever need an interpreter for one conversation or who might want a bit of linguistic assistance here and there. It is not so good for those of us who are pushing for interpreting to be seen as a partnership.

 

In my own research and practice, I have seen how powerful it can be when speakers, interpreters, audience members and event organisers work together closely. While instant, remote interpreting is good, I have seen even better, longer-lasting results from being in the room, reading the situation closely and understanding the needs, wants and motivations of all those involved – the kind of involvement that is impossible when you aren’t physically there.

 

While in the past, having interpreting at a meeting was a marker of prestige, we are now fast arriving at a fundamental division in the profession. On one side, there will be interpreting as a service: slotting in seamlessly where needed and available at a touch of a button without any commitment. On the other side, there will be interpreting as partnership: delivering not just accurate interpreting but interpreting that is keyed to each particular context, audience and goal. In the former, interpreting will be incidental, there because of a transient need. In the latter, interpreting will be there not just because of a need but to provide real, lasting, ongoing value.

 

I have decided that the core purpose of my business is to be the person clients can trust to bring together teams of experts who are as committed to the success of their events as they are. From where I sit, that simply isn’t possible with any kind of interpreting delivery platform, with their automated sorting and emphasis on speedy choice.

 

I sincerely wish the developers of remote interpreting every success but I won’t be joining them.

 

If your business could do with someone to build you an interpreting dream team that you can work with again and again, it’s time we talked. Drop me an email for a free, no obligation chat.

Pre-trade show tips to make your day more interesting

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 7, 2017

Next week, I will have the honour of attending The Meetings Show. This will be my third year there and, suffice to say, I am far more prepared than ever before. Here are my top 6 tips for getting the most out of any show as a supplier who isn’t yet in the position to have a stand.

  1. Approach the show as a networking and market intelligence feast

The first time I went to the show, I must admit, I was a bit disappointed. I gained zero guaranteed new clients, had to face my own fears continually and felt overwhelmed.

I made two main mistakes. The first was expecting cash results straightaway. That rarely happens. What does happen is that you meet lots of new people and gain contacts that you just would not have found on your own.

The second mistake was only staying on the show floor and completely skipping the seminar program. If you want to know what is really going on in an industry, pay close attention to what is being taught, by whom and why. That little bit of info will tell you a lot about growing sectors and looming challenges. If you can position yourself as someone who can help clients rise to those challenges, you will be in a very good position.

  1. Do something random

Last year, the hardest moment was a rather annoying discussion on Brexit where the pro-Brexiteers basically talked down their opposition.  That one discussion was what I thought was going to be the best moment. It wasn’t by a long shot. Instead, the best moment happened when I was looking for a scheduled seminar and bumped into the head of an association. That one conversation wiped away the memory of the horrible discussion and helped me to see a new direction for my business.

The same can be said about visiting stands where you don’t have an agenda. Some of my most surprising wins last year came when I went up to stands on a whim, got talking and realised that I could provide some excellent content for some magazines for PAs. Two articles in those magazines later and I landed a spot in Flybe’s Flight Time in-flight magazine. One random idea, lots of real benefits.

Oh and some of the stands had great sweeties too!

  1. Stay for a while

It surprised me how many people seemed to walk in, saunter round and then leave quickly. You really can’t enjoy a show properly until you have explored every nook and cranny and hung around aimlessly for a bit. It’s those moments when you seem lost that can lead to the best outcomes.

  1. Get a show guide

Yes, they can be tricky to spot but the show floor plan and seminar guide will be your best friend. I like to mark all the stands I definitely want to visit, along with routes to the toilets and food areas. Sometimes, I will also mark down anyone I missed whom I want to contact. You would be surprised how useful those little books can be.

  1. Bring a backpack

While the show bags are pretty tough, you will need something special to carry all the magazines, materials and giveaways you get. Having a good, neat backpack also allows you to carry your own water and a bit of extra food, as well as reading material for the journey each way.

  1. Chill out

You would be surprised at how hard I had to work at my first trade show to get over my own nervousness. I took it all way too seriously, as if I was going to ruin my career if I didn’t manage to chat to that one person from Wedgewood DMC (still looking for another chat with them, actually). Nowadays, I have learned to take the show as a welcome day out of my schedule and to be as naturally me as I can be. It’s surprising how much better that works!

Building Credibility in a New Market

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 6, 2017

Whatever kind of business you run, there will come a time when you need to take your credibility and expertise and apply them to a completely new market. How can you do that and what does it take?

I had been an interpreter for about five years before I realised the power of credibility. I had based my entire marketing strategy on the premise that if I contacted enough potential clients (almost all of them agencies), I would eventually get work. And that kind of worked. Except the flow of work was slow and the process was boring.

At some point, I had the idea that I might be able to apply the work I had been doing on research and on blogging research to my own business. So, I put together a very basic wordpress site and started writing there and then shortly after, I started writing articles for magazines in my industry too.

Slowly and after a few false starts, I started to build a reputation. At the first professional conference I attended abroad, someone said they recognised me from my blog. My CV got shunted to the top of the pile by a very busy agency because one of their project managers had seen me on twitter.

The effort of creating content began to be rewarded with the benefit of being invited to speak at conferences and universities across the UK and Europe and, of course, the publication of my first book. Add to that the opportunity to do work for some new clients and I could show that I was marketing something I could actually deliver.

About eighteen months ago, I realised it was time to start the process all over again. As much as it is still fun to be recognised at conferences in my own industry, that wasn’t sufficient to help me reach the event management clients I am looking for. To do that, I was going to have to build up a reputation in their industry too!

If you are looking at doing something similar for your potential clients, there are a few stages that you will go through.

In the early days, you will have a regular fight with imposter syndrome (who am I to talk to these people?), which won’t be helped by the pile of rejections that you will get.

But that’s okay. Rejections are part of the process. Keep pitching to conferences and magazines. Keep writing content. Keep reading the magazines your clients read. Eventually, something will work. Deliver with excellence and you can go to the next stage.

If you are smart, you will leverage any success you get for all its worth. Did you get an article in a client magazine? Mention it on your website and in every single proposal. Did you get invited to do a talk? Invite potential clients to come. Did you deliver an excellent project? Use that experience to get more.

Whatever level of success you attain, it will only grow if you make the most out of it. What you learn from one experience becomes the food for the next and the audience you meet today can often help you build one tomorrow.

One last point, in all of this, it is important to be able to give some worthwhile knowledge or expertise in the process and it is vital to always deliver even better than you promise. When I chat with event managers, I don’t try to tell them how to run events, but I do try to give away some useful ideas about working more effectively with interpreters or bringing translation and interpreting together at their events. True expertise is not the knowledge that you are great but the ability to help others achieve greatness.

Keep pushing doors and adding value. It’s the best thing you can do for your business.

And, if you are an event manager looking for someone to build teams to deliver high-impact multilingual events, let’s chat.

The Importance of Small Wins

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: May 29, 2017

How can you keep your morale high no matter what economic waters your business finds itself sailing in? How can you demonstrate your growth and expertise to potential clients without talking about the same assignments and achievements over and over again or worse, sounding like an arrogant blowhard?

 

The answer is simple.

 

In a word full of Instagram moments and paid ads, make sure you let yourself celebrate small wins.

 

Here’s a straightforward example. As you might have read, I have started getting articles placed in the magazines read by my clients, which is itself part of a wider marketing strategy. Now, I could get all upset that so far, this has only landed me one new client and one project or I could get really excited that it has already landed me one new client and one project.

 

More to the point, before I even got to writing for Flybe’s inflight magazine, I got some wins in places like Executive Secretary magazine, the blog of Conference News and on the Eventopedia website (three times). Again, with each article, I could have decided to focus on the big goal I wanted to hit or I could decide to make the most of the small win I already had and do an incredible job at that level.

 

Small wins are a vital part of doing business. Almost no one goes straight from graduation to being a superstar entrepreneur or a successful interpreter or event manager. That might sound discouraging … unless you realise that your route from where you are to the destination you want to reach will go through lots of small wins.

 

There are still some clients that I want to add to my portfolio but the truth is that the route to landing them will include celebrating and making the most of the small wins – the projects of various sizes for various clients that I get this week.

 

Your twitter and LinkedIn feeds are most likely filled to the brim with people doing big important things with big important people. If you can’t find ways to celebrate the project on your plate right now, you might find yourself battling with self-doubt and on the verge of giving up.

 

So here’s a solution I would like you to try. I am going to push this post as far and wide as I can and I want you to do the same. But with a twist. Each time you send this article to someone or post it on any social media platform, I want you to find one small win you can celebrate and tag it with #mysmallwin. Even better, make sure you celebrate with someone else too.

 

So what’s your small win? What little thing is going right today? What interesting project is on your desk right now? Have you had a response from a client you have been chasing? Share your small win with others and see how those small wins add up to big changes.

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