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Donald Trump, Uber and the Rediscovery of Responsibility

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: September 22, 2017

Two stories have dominated my newsfeed over the past few days. In the first, Iranian interpreter, Nima Chitzas defended his choice to omit some content from a speech delivered by President Donald Trump at the United Nations. In the second, Transport for London has failed to renew Uber’s license to operate in the city.

As different as the two stories might be, they have one theme in common: responsibility.

In the first case, the interpreter’s justification of his decision is as interesting as the decision itself. His argument was that he could not relay content that he felt was untruthful and “against Iran”. In his mind, his responsibility to the “truth” outweighed any professional code of conduct that requires complete and impartial interpreting.

In the second case, as much as people are criticising the decision not to renew Uber’s license to operate, the grounds named by Transport for London in their decision seem to show that, for them, it was simply a matter of upholding existing licensing laws. From their point of view, any company that doesn’t play by the rules, doesn’t get to play the game. Being responsible in that case simply meant respecting the systems and regulations already in place, no matter how much of a disruptor you might want to be.

Whether we agree with either of those decisions, they remind us that every decision has consequences. Even the default “say everything” position upheld by many interpreters has consequences. Sometimes giving an unfiltered view of what was said can have direct and immediate consequences. We need only read a few accounts of the fate of warzone interpreters to learn that.

At other times, interpreters may have to stand up and defend their choice to do anything apart from presenting a close version of what the speaker said. No matter what we might think of Mr Chitzas, he stood up and took responsibility for his actions. We may not agree with his actions but by offering a justification, at least we can now understand the reasoning behind them.

Similarly, the Uber decision seems to be nothing more than the latest in series of long-running battles between those who want to disrupt industries by relying on increasingly casual and flexible labour and those who see this as a removal of workers’ rights. The very point of labour and employment law is to make sure that companies treat their staff responsibly. This responsibility is needed more than ever in the growing “gig economy.”

But what does this mean for businesses like event managers and interpreters?

No matter which sector we are in, we can never forget that technology does not erase the need for responsibility; it heightens it. We can disrupt all we like but we have to disrupt while respecting those already in the industry and while treating our colleagues, competitors and suppliers as valued partners.

This means that we need to understand the effects our actions have on others, whether positive or negative. It means being sympathetic to those who might lose out. It means being prepared to defend our decisions.  Our words, our decisions, and our business practices will inevitably make a difference to someone. Are we ready to carry that responsibility?

 

 

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!

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!

The Intellectual Dishonesty of “Only”

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: December 7, 2016

Content Marketing is not the only kind of marketing left. Only £10 per month is still £120 per year. There is not “only” one way to work with interpreters.

Whenever someone wants to minimise a downside or blind you to alternatives, they will use “only”. The truth is, there are always many options and many routes. Nothing is ever as simple as it looks.

There are several ways to organise events and all of them will give different results. There are several ways to hire interpreters – each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Anyone who tries to tell you that their way is the only way that works is not telling the full story.

Instead of looking for the only way or the price that is only the same as a cappuccino, strip off the qualifiers and read again. The truth is often uncomfortable but it should never be ignored.

Think off-centre

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: December 2, 2016

What is the biggest problem your business faces right now? Do you need more new clients? Do you need to improve your market position or reduce costs?

Most business problems have typical solutions. Buy in temporary expertise, pay for advertising, create a campaign.

But sometimes the very fact that everyone is trying the same things reduces your chances of success. If everyone pushing for a slice of the agency market or the wedding pie, making your mark will be a hard slog.

Yet, when we really think hard and process our experiences, new and untested strategies can appear. Where are your competitors not marketing that might still offer a lucrative source of work for you? What communities are you part of where your skills may be in demand? What additional products or services can you offer that are unique to you?

Thinking off-centre means deliberately looking for creative strategies and revealing questions that will open new doors for your business. If you are in the middle of a competitive market and there is pressure to squeeze margins or suppliers, it might just be what your business needs.

Why Community Counts

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 9, 2016

Millions of people are waking up to election results they did not expect and did not want. Others are waking bleary-eyed in disbelief that the result they wanted but seemed out of reach is here. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there is change in the air and it will take courage and creativity to navigate it. But it will also take community.

 

Beyond “Community” as a Buzzword

 

For the past few years, social media has turned the word “community” into a buzzword. We have gaming communities, interpreting communities, communities of practice, the events community and more besides. In the face of technology that could lead to us living in individual shacks, communicating with nothing but smartphones and Wi-Fi, there is a desperate cry for meaningful, in-person relationships.

 

That is why community is such a hot topic right now. In the face of isolation, xenophobia, breakdowns in understanding and mistrust, there is something refreshing about being in the same room as a fellow human being. When we get to the point that we can be real and communicate without soundbites or tweets, we begin to realise that we are all still humans, from the newest president to the poorest worker.

 

The Price of Community is Vulnerability

 

But the price of community is vulnerability and vulnerability is not something our technologies are built to handle. Steven Furtick reminds us that we can often compare our real-life to the highlight reels that people project onto social media. Online, there is always a message to get across. In-person, there is just us.

 

The kinds of communities we need cut across the traditional racial or class or political barriers. Perhaps the reason why recent political decisions in the UK and US alike have come as such a surprise is that our technologies and platforms, from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn and Snapchat, encourage us to congregate in groups of the like-minded. In that environment, we only really hear the voices of people like us. In these echo chambers, we become convince that the whole world thinks like us. And then we get a short, sharp shock when it doesn’t work that way.

 

Diversity in Community

 

Some of the most valuable communities are those where people come from different walks of life, hold different political and ideological views but still choose to walk together.  I have been on boards of directors where there were disagreements but strong decisions were made. I have been in churches where people who originated from different countries and continents broke bread and laughed together.

 

If you have got this far and wonder why this is on a business blog, I have a simple answer. If we want our meetings to succeed, we need to build communities not just teams. If we want conferences to have a lasting impact, they need to help kick-start or maintain diverse communities. What if you managed to create an event that knocked-down the echo chambers, the class distinctions and the political fear and brought people together to learn from those who speak a wide variety of languages?

MyOpportunity and the Death of Mass Selling

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 25, 2016

If you are a regular LinkedIn user, you might have noticed an invite to connect your account to myOpportunity. The basic idea of this is that you can cut straight to the chase and contact prospective clients directly and, since they can see your LinkedIn profile right away, this should make it easy for them to size you up and do business with you. Sounds like a recipe for lots of qualified leads and more sales, right?

 

Well, it would be, if people didn’t default to old methods. In today’s world, where big data and personalisation are the new normal, old-style “mass mailings” just don’t work. They work even less on a platform that gives you access to everything you need to know about a prospect in a single click.

 

Instead of taking five minutes to craft a personalised pitch, the vast majority of the messages I get through opportunity are like this one (name removed to protect the guilty):

 

Hey, How are you?

Without leads you can’t close sales, and without closing sales you can’t win new customers. If your business needs warm sales leads, we can definitely help you out. Let me know your best contact. 

Best Regards,

 

Random Guy, Random Company

 

In the early days of emailing, this kind of approach would work fine but now, it simply puts people off. The writer obviously did zero research on the services I offer or the kinds of leads I would want. How does he even know he can generate leads in my target markets?

 

But this is more than a rant about MyOpportunity unexpectedly leading to another growth phase in business spam. As I have written before, I am learning marketing from everywhere right now, even airports. And MyOpportunity, or rather how some people misuse it, has taught me a simple lesson.

 

If you want to win new business, personalise.

 

Oh sure, I hear you say, I have the time to research every one of hundreds of potential clients. You might not but I am sure you can find the time to spend ten minutes researching high-value ones. If you knew a client would add 25% to your income, wouldn’t you put in the legwork to get to know them a bit first?

 

I am no marketing expert. I am a conference interpreter working in Edinburgh. But I can tell you from personal experience that the people who personalise their approach will get a better response from me and from their potential clients than those who just revert to blind mass mailing. So, the next time you are trying to land new business, pick a smaller number of potential clients and craft a personalised approach to each of them.

 

What do they seem to need right now? What benefits can you bring them? Why would they use your services? What have they done recently that you think is worth praising?

 

Start doing that little bit of research and you will have a far better chance of landing the work.

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?

The Problem with Productivity

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 22, 2016

What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:16 TM)

It’s 6.30am and I have just gotten two of my children out of bed and I look at my phone to check the time. Already, about ten of my local colleagues are apparently up, coffeed and have set to work setting the world to rights. How do they do it? Then there is the other colleague who travels the world, works on every single form of transport and has written more guides than you can shake a stick it.

 

We are all very productive. But apparently that isn’t enough.

 

Recently, there has been an arms race to be even more productive. People have told us 10 things that mega-successful people do before 6am (apparently sleep isn’t one of them). Twitter is full of time-saving ideas and tools. We download apps, buy fancy 4G internet dongles so we can work halfway up a Chilean mountain and even send emails from the bathroom.

 

We are producing a lot but what kind of people are we producing? Actually, let’s be more honest, what kind of people are we becoming?

 

As part of the Being a Successful Interpreter courses, I run an interactive session on Your Career and Your Life. One of the main messages of that session is that the two things are not the same. Your career is not your life.

 

But ask any interpreter or events professional and they might have difficulty telling the two apart. Ask them about their hobbies and they will tell you something career-related. “I read Conference News” or “I learn more languages” or “I blog on [something career-related].”

 

Since we all love the daily stresses of our jobs, we can often mistake doing professional stuff that we enjoy for actually relaxing. As much as I love blogging and writing, for the sake of my own mental health (not to mention my family), I have to class them as “work”. As much as I love learning about new fields, that is not the same as giving my brain some downtime.

 

There is a reason why every major religion in the world mandates that people take one day a week and stop anything that could be classed as work. Our bodies were not built to be running at 100% effort, 7 days a week. And, that is all the more true when you have jobs that are as stressful as ours.

 

The secret of achieving is not in how much you produce but in how sustainably you work. One of the most powerful questions I ask in my courses is this: “Being honest with yourself, how sustainable is your current rhythm and volume of work?”

 

How would you answer?

 

Sure, for some people, there is a need to ramp up. If you do one job a month worth £50, you won’t be able to pay your bills after a while. But most events professionals and interpreters I have met live on the other end. They are like me, when I eventually dragged myself to the physio with dodgy knees.

 

“Mr Downie,” he said. “Your problem is your job.”

 

I had been spending too long at my desk, too long stressing and fretting and not enough time exercising, enjoying the company of my friends and family and breathing outdoors.

 

There really is no point in producing like a wild thing for a year, only to land up in hospital by Christmas. Amidst all the voices pushing us to do more and create more, we need to listen to the voices calling us to think more and rest more.

 

Perhaps the hardest challenge for us all is not to get up earlier or douse ourselves in ice water but to rest. How about we all take on the Sabbath challenge? For one whole day every week, do no work at all. Rest, read good books, go for a walk, meet friends, watch a sunset, play with children, do anything that is nothing to do with work and doesn’t require an internet connection. Try it and see just how much better you perform.

The Danger of Single Example Learning

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 17, 2016

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At most events I have been to, I have observed the same pattern. The speakers who get the best reaction from the audience are the ones who speak from their own experience and tell great stories. As a professional speaker myself, I know that this is completely normal and there is a lot to be said for this approach. As a researcher and events professional, however, part of me wonders whether we might be setting ourselves up for a fall.

 

To understand the danger of learning from the experience of one person, we need to understand a very basic research concept. If you want to research a phenomenon, there are two broad approaches. The first is to look really deeply into one particular example.

 

The advantage of this approach is that you can draw a wealth of information and can uncover insights that would simply not be visible any other way. A really good example is that of a researcher friend of mine, Jiqing Dong, who looked at communication inside a single interpreting agency. The depth of her analysis is incredible and it offers some amazing food for thought.

 

The disadvantage of going deep is that you can never be sure that you have found something that is valid in any other situation. Sure, you might discover the secrets behind this single event drawing crowds of thousands but how do you know that those same secrets will work for you or anyone else?

 

An alternative approach is to look at several examples on a more superficial level. The classic example of this is a survey. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t want ten minutes of your time to get responses on your social media habits, political affiliation, response to a website redesign or something else.

 

The advantage of going wide is precisely that, if you have done your work properly, your results will tell you something about general trends and principles that apply to a large number of cases. Researchers can and do generalise on the basis of representative surveys, which allows us to know things like the fact that the whole discussion over “what Millenials want” is a load of nonsense, as any generational differences we perceive are simply continuations of existing trends.

 

The disadvantage is, of course, that in drawing from many examples, you have to limit the amount of information you get about any one example and often, you also have to limit the range of responses. You might learn, for example, that your twitter posts get more clicks if they go out between 6 and 7pm but you won’t know what people were doing at that point or their emotional reaction to the post.

 

All this is a rather long way of saying that, if we fixate on the insights of one person and on their experience, we can fall into the trap of trying to extrapolate from their experience to our situation when the two are not at all linked. Sure, there might be a corporate conference company turning over £150 million per year but their techniques might not apply to a sole trader wedding planner.

 

Stories of “how I did it” are fun to hear and read but they might not actually give you anything more relevant to your work than a case of the warm fuzzies. Much better to gather a number of case studies of people in similar context from you and learn from a multitude of counsel. While no two examples are the same, the more we look for patterns and trends, the more we gain relevant insights into our own work