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Do Monolingual Tech Conferences Make Sense?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: April 9, 2018

Almost every consultant interpreter will have been told at some point that conferences in tech or medicine tend to be English-only. “Everyone speaks English and interpreting is expensive so we just have the entire conference in English” say some organisers. While it seems to make financial sense, is it a good long-term decision?

Let’s start with a story.

I was interpreting at a negotiation. A French company were trying to get investment in their newest sure-fire, profit-making product. At least one of the two senior managers could have managed in English and the investor had decent enough French, so why did they hire me?

The problem wasn’t so much in terminology, although there were terminological differences, but in culture. The investor came from a culture where the point of a meeting was to quickly dive into the financial detail, especially the profit margins and earnings forecasts. He expected that everyone would want to get straight down to the figures and returns.

The French company were into building relationship, talking history, vision, and extolling the virtues of their community engagement. They needed an interpreter not just because of linguistic differences but to help them navigate the cultural difference.

English-only events exist because there is an assumption that people all know the same terms and so they can communicate perfectly. If the majority of the terms are the same in every language, there is no room for miscommunication, right?

Wrong! Just ask the Italian construction industry experts who fouled up a presentation of their company’s best ever project in front of hundreds of other industry bods because they presented in (broken) English, instead of Italian. Ask the British manufacturing company who almost lost a deal because they defined a word differently to a visiting buyer.

Terminology is just one part of language and often, it is the least relevant part. While it is possible to take the idea too far, it is well-known that different languages have different views of the world. A US company might look at a widget and see three parts to it, a company in Germany might see six. In some cultures, it is absolutely vital to show due respect to your hosts with a flowing, artful thank you at the top of your presentation; in others, that marks you out as a time-waster.

English-only events create an illusion of understanding and implicitly exclude ideas and thinking that don’t fit easily into English-language norms. For that reason English-only tech events block more innovations than they promote. How can machine translation experts learn to create more flexible and useful systems if they work, present and test in largely monolingual environments? Why else would so many companies chase after the low-value market for “instant interpreting on the go“, if not because their founders rarely speak anything but English?

The business case for English-only events is becoming weaker as time goes on. We know that people buy more, are more easily persuaded and learn more if they read and hear in their native language. Could it be that they think better and innovate more in that language too? And if that is the case, could it be that interpreting, rather than being a big expense could be the smartest investment that a company can make?

 

If you are looking at making that investment, this free course is designed to help you get the most out of it. Want advice right away? Drop me an email.

Should suppliers pay to speak at tradeshows?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: February 26, 2018

In the past year I have been invited to speak at two different, but equally prestigious tradeshows. Both attract an audience of my ideal clients and both are free to attend. But my invite to speak came with a catch, the organisers would love to have me speak … if I were only to purchase a stand at the event.

Now, let’s put this in context. As one lovely salesperson at one of those events made clear to me, the “buy a stand to speak” rule mostly applies to suppliers, especially “niche” ones. If you are a buyer or have already made your name, the floor is yours. If your business is in making buyers’ lives more comfortable and more successful, come with cash in hand, please.

Honestly, it is understandable. The truth is that suppliers go to tradeshows with selling in mind and the Return on Investment at any of these shows should easily outstrip the initial investment. Notice the “should“.

There are never any guarantees. Personally, I have seen some sessions at tradeshows where the speaker has obviously done everything they could to attract an audience (and probably paid a big chunk of their annual marketing budget for a stand) only to end up speaking to about three people, one of whom thought this was another session and only stayed because they were British.

And of course, if you are a smaller supplier, the likelihood is that your time in the limelight (if speaking to three people and a few moths can be seen as the limelight) means that noone is there on your stand. What you gain on the possibility of landing new business through speaking, you are losing in opportunity cost.

While I understand the underlying mathematics and logic of linking buying a stand with speaking, the speaker and buyer in me is growing sceptical. As a speaker, I know for sure that a need to sell will kill any talk and, if you have paid significant sums to speak, it will be tough to erase the need to sell from your presentation. Few speakers manage it and so encouraging a “buy a stand to do a talk” model is probably not in the interests of any tradeshow audience, who are there to learn, not to get the hard sell.

As a buyer (and yes I have looked to buy from companies I have met a tradeshows), I really want to see education and selling treated separately. Yes, buyer education is part of the sales process but I personally walk away from any presentation where the two get confused.

If you learn something from someone, you may wish to buy from them. But there is a difference between going to a talk to learn and meeting them with the intent to buy.

I am sure that there are lots of success stories of business people laying out the cash to speak at tradeshows and seeing success. But I have yet to read one on the website of any show. I am sure that there are cases of the pay-to-speak system opening paths for speakers who wouldn’t normally have even gotten near the stage at a big show. But again, I have yet to read one. And I wonder how many excellent speakers it is actively putting off.

Instead, I have read several speakers write rather bluntly and disparagingly about the practice. I have come across stories of people deciding not to attend a show at all when they found out that paying for a stand was a route to getting a speaking slot. I know of one show which saw less footfall last year and can’t help wonder if their “buy a stand to speak” policy had something to do with it.

As a trained researcher, I have to go with the data and at the moment, I haven’t seen any data that shows me that “buy a stand to speak” is in the interests of speakers, their audience or the bottom-line. I would love to see such data. But for now, if I am invited to speak, I will reflexively check if I have to buy a stand. And if I have to buy a stand, I will simply walk away, knowing that there are other, less financially onerous ways to get excellent content to potential clients, especially with excellent organisations, such as Hashtag Events, showing that the practice is anything but universal.

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.

4 Ways to Find Conference Interpreters for your Event

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: February 28, 2017

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

 

  • Be really specific in what you are looking for.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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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.