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Category Archives: Skills

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.

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…

Preparing to Interpret at Special Events

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 21, 2016

Every event is special. No two conferences are exactly the same. But, for even the most experienced conference interpreters, there are occasions where they are asked to apply their skills in settings that are definitely not run of the mill. This is how I get ready for such events.

 

Only provide interpreting where you know you can excel

 

Before we even look at preparation, I need to make sure that one thing is clearly understood. While, at the beginning of our careers, wemight find ourselves outside their comfort zone, interpreters should never take on work unless they are trained for it and are sure they can deliver. So, in my particular case, I leave medical and court interpreting to the specialists and check topics and contexts carefully before accepting an assignment. It does you no good to turn up and do a poor job.

 

Even with that proviso in place, there are times when you end up using familiar skills in slightly less familiar environments. I have interpreted in muddy fields, on factory tours, in a power plant and on tour buses and for cartoon pandas and theatrical performers. Each time, those extra little quirks and changes in location or interpreting mode have meant a shift in preparation.

 

Same interpreting skills, different environment

 

While in the booth, it’s all about concentration management and delivery skills, outside of the booth, you need to rely on situation management. Suddenly, you are a lot more visible and your interpreting is just as much a part of the conversation or the tour as anything else.

 

My next assignment is very much in that vein. It has whispered interpreting, consecutive interpreting during an extended QA session and an artsy feel. Suddenly, performance and attitude will mean as much as accuracy and terminology.

 

So how do you prepare for special events?

 

If there is a single secret to preparing for special events, it is to try to tap in to the ideal experience of the event. What will send people home happy? What will make the organisers glad they invested? Why is the event even taking place in the first place?

 

While every event will require terminology preparation, watching videos of speakers, reading the agenda and such like, for some, it is just as necessary to try to understand what the organisers want people to feel during and after the event. Cultural events often aim for an impact on people’s hearts as well as their heads. Product launches often aim to leave people amazed enough to pull out their wallets.

 

Understanding that experience and practising interpreting in a way that is still accurate but it tuned to that situation is vital. This means not just interpreting videos of the speakers in ways that get information across but taking time to work through ways to get across their tone and enthusiasm and the atmosphere they create. Product presentations might need you to express enthusiasm and attention-to-detail, emotive speeches might require you to carry some of that emotion across suitably too.

 

So for this next assignment, one of the biggest but most rewarding challenges will be to put myself in the shoes of both the speakers and the organisers and find a way of speaking and interpreting that will fit in seamlessly with the event itself. After all, as soon as you bring an interpreter into a performance or any kind, they become performers themselves. Once you understand that, preparation becomes something you do with your whole body and not just your mind and mouth.

Why Marketing is Not Enough

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 5, 2016

We all get it. Marketing is important. Unless people know what you do, they will never pay you to do it. It also helps if you can find something that makes you unique, or close to unique, in the eyes of someone who might buy your services.

 

We can take that as read. But what about the other end of the transaction? Once you have attracted people and they are ready to part with cash, how do you handle the situation? How do you not just make sure that you are delivering the right product but doing it in the right way?

 

Andrew Morris is a bit of a living legend amongst some translators. He argues that, on top of the quality of the final product, the reason why his customers come back to him is the “emotional experience” they have. In fact, he sees quality as 25% of the reason for them coming back. No, he doesn’t make them cry or laugh all the time. He simply makes their life easier and is sensitive to their needs.

 

That seems simple but it is where many businesses fail. Take today, for example. I was trying to order some custom business cards from a well-known online printer. They made the design stage really easy and even saved my work periodically. Lovely.

 

Then I came to order. I literally had my debit card on the couch next to me. And then I spotted their delivery options.

 

I absolutely needed the order to come by Friday morning (because I am off to the NGTV conference in Utrecht on Friday afternoon). None of their options allowed me to do that. No next day delivery. No morning guarantee. I even phoned them.

 

“Sorry, we don’t offer next day delivery and we can’t tell you when your package will arrive on the day it comes.”

 

Helpful, indeed. So what did I do?

 

I went straight to another retailer and placed an even bigger order with them. Sure, they didn’t make design quite as easy or flexible but they had a morning delivery option and so, despite the extra £20 on the price, I took them up on the offer.

 

The lesson is simple. Delivering great service and understanding the needs of your customers are absolutely irreplaceable skills. You can market all you like but if you can’t deliver the goods or services how and when your clients need them, you might as well give up now.

Could you boost your skills with the 30/3 Challenge?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 26, 2016

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Imagine how good you could become as an interpreter or events professional if you dedicated time to developing your craft, even when you aren’t working. Could just a little time each week lead to dramatic improvements?

 

If that interests you, keep reading.

 

This week, I had a very special project. It was as high-level as you can get and my entire shift was my work webcast live. No room for mistakes. No do overs. To add to the pressure, another booth of interpreters was taking relay from me too!

 

In preparation, I had spent some quality time listening to the speaker and practising interpreting. I had found that, because of his comparatively slow speed and detailed thinking, my output was a little choppy for my taste. So, following the thinking of the great Elisabet Tiselius and her ideas on deliberate practice, I decided to target improvement on just the delivery aspect of my interpreting. Specifically, I wanted to sound smoother and pause less.

 

After just one targeted session, I noticed a marked improvement, which lasted right through the job itself. Just one quick session with a known target improvement my performance markedly.

 

Now, having seen the results for myself, I am completely committed to deliberate practice. But what does that mean anyway?

 

Deliberate practice happens when you practise a skill outside of work, with a specific target or area that you want to improve, preferably with a coach or mentor. For me this week, my target was to improve the smoothness of my output when dealing with slow speakers and I recorded myself to check my progress.

 

For an events professional it might be people management or improving the clarity of your emails. For an interpreter, it might be your consecutive note taking or your summarising skills or your intonation.

 

The trick is to have a target and to hold yourself accountable. It’s even better when you work with someone else who can monitor you. But for now, I want to set the bar deliberately low, just to get us started.

 

Here is where your part comes in. I would like to challenge all interpreters and events professionals to join me in the 30/3 challenge – for a minimum of 3 days per week do a minimum of 30 minutes deliberate practice on a skill that is core to your job. So, no working on marketing or networking or the skills that get you clients. Concentrate on the skills that you are paid to deliver.

 

Focus on just one area of one skill at a time. So, don’t just say “I will work on my delivery skills” say “I want to have a smoother output with more natural intonation.” Don’t just say, “I want to manage people better”, say “I want to manage a project with volunteers to improve my motivation skills.”

 

To add that all-important accountability, I want you to drop a comment to say that you are in. If you are an interpreter and you are on Facebook, join the Community of Practice group and add your current target to the thread.

 

Together, we can all improve our performance. Who’s with me?