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The Million Pound Reason You Should Still Choose Human Interpreters

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 3, 2018

Imagine the scene:

 

It has been a long negotiation. The British company are keen to widen their client base and have managed to secure a meeting with an unbelievably big French buyer. The French buyer wants to secure a more robust supply chain and he knows that this company will deliver.

 

Both companies want a good result. Right now you wouldn’t know that.

 

Right now, they are locked in a corridor-stomping, wall-pointing, chart-explaining disagreement. And it’s not even over something complex. They have already sorted out packaging and delivery, size and spec. But right now they are arguing over quality statistics.

 

And right now, you are about to witness the turning point of the whole meeting, One interpreter, one word, one sudden realisation of what the real issue is.

 

“The interpreter believes there has been a misunderstanding.”

 

Those weren’t the exact words I used but the meaning is the same. Within less than five minutes, the disagreement was resolved (you will have to wait for my next book to read exactly how). Within less than two hours, clearance was given for a test order, which would be the last hurdle between the British company and a contract worth several million pounds.

 

The truth is, the success of most meetings depends on more than accurate interpreting. For meetings to work, you need interpreters who are sensitive to context, able to spot and resolve cultural miscues and shifts in nuance and professionals who are brave enough to make intelligent decisions.

 

One day, we might have apps that can deliver perfectly accurate interpreting. Between some languages and in some subjects, machine translation is already delivering acceptable results for written texts using controlled language. But what stands between you and the sale is rarely “accurate interpreting.” What you need to succeed is excellent interpreting.

 

And, for the foreseeable future you will need humans for that.

 

If your company is heading for a conference or meeting that just has to be right, I can build you an interpreting team that delivers when it matters most. Drop me an email to set up a free, no obligation skype meeting.

What Nelson Mandela can Teach Business Owners

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: September 27, 2017

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 
― Nelson Mandela

One of the most inspiring figures in history, Nelson Mandela’s legacy is simply incredible. Everyone knows about his  work in fighting apartheid and leading South Africa. Yet, as inspiring as he is, one of his pithiest quotes is often forgotten.

In a world driven by information and communication, it is striking how many companies still have the attitude that everyone speaks English, so professional translation and interpreting are pointless. The bare facts show them to be wrong.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for languages has shown that, in the United Kingdom alone, companies miss out on £48 billion worth of contracts each year due to a lack of language skills. Research from Common Sense Advisory has found that 75% of consumers prefer to buy in their native language and nearly 60% of consumers will never or only rarely buy from English-only websites.

And, no, machine translation is not enough to bridge the gap. We only need to peruse the numerous examples of poor machine translation found around the web (supreme court beef, anyone?) to see why professionals are still needed. When it comes to interpreting, the results are even more striking, as can be seen from this video of a so-called “translation earpiece” in action.

Human professionals will always deliver a better job. Only last year, I helped a company land a seven figure contract by smoothing out a cultural misunderstanding during an interpreting assignment. Machines won’t do that. At best, they just tell you what the person said.

Interpreting makes a difference. You will always be more convincing when working with a professional than you will be without them. If you are looking for your business to reach international markets and persuade buyers who don’t speak your language, it’s time we talked. Drop me an email to see the difference professional interpreter can make to you.

Interpreting is Expensive … But the Alternatives Cost More

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 8, 2017

It’s always a surprise when event managers receive the response to their Request for a Quote for interpreting at an event. Even the simplest simultaneous interpreting setup seems to cost thousands of pounds. Is it really worth it?

 

There is no getting away from the fact that interpreting is expensive. And while the traditional justification has been to write long posts on how hard interpreting is (and it is hard) or to talk about the training interpreters have to take to be able to deliver at a high level (lots), that doesn’t mean a lot to you. No matter how good interpreting is, if it has no value for your company, it won’t be worth it.

 

One common response to the cost of interpreting is simply to decide to do everything in English. In some cases, that might seem like a very good short-term decision, especially as English is a global language. But what works in the short-term is often ruinous in the longer-term. Statistics from the House of Lords showed that companies in the UK lose out on £50 billion worth of contracts each year due to a lack of language skills.

 

English-only meetings and events might be cheap to set up but by displaying a lack of cultural awareness and language abilities, you will be putting customers off rather than winning them over. Conversely, when potential customers see that you care enough to have professional communications in their first language, they are more likely to see you as trustworthy and be more comfortable parting with their cash.

 

Choosing to do business in only one language leads to inevitable communication struggles. Every conference interpreter can tell stories of speakers who really should have used the interpreters that were available. For me, one of the most striking stories happened at a specialist construction event. Two Italian businesses had the opportunity to showcase their work. The first team presented in broken English, even though there were Italian to English interpreters available. The team from the second company noticed the train wreck that ensued and decided to speak in their best, most powerful Italian, which was then interpreted into English and then into French, Dutch and Spanish.

 

The difference was most noticeable after the break, just by looking at the number of visitors to the booths rented by each of the two companies. The first team, who used broken English, found themselves alone and bored while their competitors, who realised the power of interpreting, found themselves swamped with interest.

 

If there is a single best advertisement for the ROI of interpreting, it came last year, when I was interpreting for a British technical manufacturer, hoping to woo a French buyer into placing a large order. The entire meeting and the entire contract turned on a misunderstanding of a single word. The only person who realised what was going on and was able explain the problem to speakers of both languages? The interpreter.

 

One interpreter, one troublesome word, one large contract gained by the end of the two days. That was definitely money well spent. Interpreters, if recruited correctly, briefed properly and provided with the right setup will always be worth far more than you will pay them. Their work is the difference between an international meeting that changes the future of your company for the better and one that turns into a frustrating waste of time. Choose wisely.

 

And if you would like someone to help you choose interpreting that will deliver great value for money at your events, drop me an email.

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.

The Ultimate Interpreter Brief

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 12, 2017

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

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.