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Do you need an interpreting agency?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 7, 2020

If you have an international event that is multilingual, you’re going to need to find interpreters – those funny people who sit in boxes and talk or work remotely. That means that your first stop should be an interpreting agency, right?

Interpreting Agencies: useful but not universal

The answer is, maybe. While it can be very tempting to simply contact the first conference interpreting agency that turns up on the Google Search results or pick whichever one seems to have the best name, that isn’t always helpful.

I have written before about the different ways to find interpreters and the differences between agencies and consultants but the most important differences boil down to this:

  • Unless the agency is run by interpreters, they won’t have a personal understanding of what it takes to deliver great interpreting

This can lead to them recruiting the first people who say yes to their emails, picking the cheapest equipment suppliers or simply prioritising margin over results. Sure, I doubt any agency would ever admit to doing that but certainly, you have to have suspicions about any agency that offers “instant quotes”, “5000 interpreters covering every language” or “lingusits available 24/7”.

Put simply, the people who know the best ways to get the best out of interpreting are …. (drumroll for suspense) interpreters. The very best agencies, unless they are run by interpreters, will be specialists in processes, protocols and recruiting, not necessarily in getting precisely the right interpreting you need. Interpreter-run agencies will necessarily know more about how to get the best out of interpreters and can offer a great half-way house.

  • Unless the agency actually attend the events they staff, they don’t know about the specific skills of each interpreter

That might not sound important but it really is. I have some conference interpreter colleagues who I would trust with my life in a technical meeting. I wouldn’t even ask them to do a sales meeting though. I know others who specialise in interpreting tours with verve and pizzazz but you wouldn’t want to let them near accounts.

When you work alongside interpreters, you get to know their skills and abilities. You simply don’t see that at the end of a phone.

  • Agencies excel in meetings where scale matters

Given their expertise in processes and the hundreds of CVs they receive, agencies tend to do great when you need thirty interpreters within 48 hours. They also tend to win contracts where people are buying interpreting in bulk, such as thousands of hours of court interpreting a month or interpreting in hundreds of languages. Consultant interpreters, due to their specialisation and reliance on networks, tend not to scale their teams as quickly. Give them time and they can still find you 20 medical interpreters to cover ten languages for a specialist medical conference. That’s something I have already done personally!

Choose Consultants when Partnership Matters

While interpreting agencies excel at scale, consultant interpreters excel at partnership. When the future of your business is on the line, you really need a consultant interpreter who can build a custom team. When the event going well is the difference between a contract being signed and your turnover taking a dive, you need someone who can work with you, just like consultants do.

If you are buying huge amounts of interpreting, you might need an agency. If your next event is about getting great results due to partnership with an expert, you need a consultant. If you need a consultant interpreter to build you a personalised, custom team of interpreters, drop me an email.

Confex and The Future of International Events

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: April 11, 2019

Back in February, I had the honour of attending International Confex in London. The amount of excellent contacts I made and a rather large project have meant that I have not managed to gather my thoughts until now. But here is what I learned about the future of international meetings.

Face-to-face is still king

Wherever you look online, there is some company trying to sell you the latest virtualisation tech or holographic whatsits or 3D immersive whojamaflips. Yes, there was tech on show at International Confex but the over-riding message from the plenaries and workshops was that having tech in the background is the in thing.

Surrounded by smartphones and digital assistants, it seems that the last thing delegates want is to go to a conference and be faced with more screens. Corporates are taking their staff on away days to the woods, organisers are being asked to make more space for networking and privacy concerns are limiting the use of data beacons.

Tech is all well and good but it has to be there for a specific reason – to enable face-to-face communication, not replace it. The future of meetings is human.

Diversity is the Future

How many times do you see a panel with four English-speaking, middle-aged white men on it? Delegates and buyers are beginning to get tired of that. There is more to the world than what you might learn at Eton.

Sadly, the plenary panel on Diversity in events at International Confex was not the best attended but that seemed to go against the grain of what event managers were hearing and trying to do.

Every sector needs to hear from people from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of experience. Might that mean that one day even some of the big events sector tradeshows become more small business friendly and don’t make renting an extortionate stand a requirement for speaking? We can only hope.

English-only is on the way out

Michael Newton of Cvent was my hero of the show. If you don’t know Cvent, they are a world-leading events management software company. In response to a question I posed in the diversity panel, he said thst Cvent are moving away from English-only events and that this seems to be a wider trend.

Whether this leads to more companies having local office events in local events, an increase in interpreted events or both, it is good news. For too long, the position of English as a lingua franca has led to poor communication, the stifling of certain opinions and laziness in event management.

Now that the doors seem to be swinging wide to welcome linguistic and cultural diversity, we can look forward to events that more more engaging, more immersive and more effective. The challenge now is to provide interpreting that enables that.

When Should You Start Talking to Interpreters?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: February 19, 2019

You have a lot to get done. The hotel needs booked. The catering needs confirmed. There are flight arrival times to check, staff duties to roster, presentations to finalise. The list is endless. Some things can wait, right?

Like interpreting. You know there are some people coming to sit in boxes and “translate” but it’s no big deal, right? I mean, if they couldn’t understand what is going to be said, they aren’t good interpreters, right?

So it makes no difference whether we send over the papers today or wait until the coffee company rings back and the hotel confirm the meal choices.

Hold on.

What’s the worst thing that could go wrong here, apart from the roof caving in or the hotel turning into a giant heap of dust before your guests even arrive?

If the food is undercooked, it can be sent back to the kitchen. If the hotel take a few days extra to confirm bookings, it’ll be a pain but you’ll manage. But if your guests, who have flown halfway across Europe arrive and feel it was all a giant waste of time and money, that really would be a problem.

Your reputation hinges on this event being just right. That’s why you hired great speakers and chose a lovely venue and decided long ago on the theme.

If anyone is going to learn, be persuaded, buy, change their behaviour or even just go home with a smile, the quality of the presentations they hear really, really matters. And if what they hear and experience really matters, interpreting isn’t an afterthought; it’s a foundational part of the whole event.

Hmm. Maybe now would be a good time to send the interpreters all those presentations and perhaps even call them to check if they have any other questions or even suggestions. You’d be surprised what they notice from those grey boxes at the back.

Go on. It’ll only take ten minutes. The place settings can wait. Get the best out of your interpreters and your event will really, really fly.

And if you need a hand putting together the information your interpreters will really need, try this free brief. If you would like more in-depth advice, send me an email so we can chat about it.

What Makes an Event International?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 26, 2017

International events are all the rage again. It seems that, if you want to attract savvy visitors, just being “national” won’t cut it. No matter how niche your event and how backwater your venue, if you slap “international” in the name, you will get immediate kudos and an uptick in visitors.

 

But what actually is an international event?

 

At its most basic, we could argue that as soon as someone from another country attends your event, it has instantly become international. But that is obviously silly. With air travel still relatively cheap and most European borders still open, having an “international guest” could simply mean that Joe Bloggs popped over on the ferry from Calais to come to your show because he had nothing better to do. Hardly something worth boasting about.

 

Well, maybe international means that a company or organisation from another country has come to visit. That’s better but still misses the point.

 

Having a sponsor from Belgium or a group coming from Japan isn’t really the same as the event itself being international. If your content, presentation and décor looks exactly like it did in the days when you were the “West Kilbride Fair for [whatever]” then the presence of a handful of international guests hasn’t really made a difference. In fact, they are pretty likely to go home wishing they never bought their air tickets in the first place!

 

What makes international events distinctive?

 

A truly international event is distinctive not so much in terms of the presence of some people from outside your country but in terms of the outlook of the event itself. It’s one thing to manage to persuade ten people from Spain to pop across for two days; it’s quite another to have a show that has a lasting impact on your visitors, no matter where they came from.

 

To do that takes much more than hanging the odd welcome sign in a different language or giving a passing acknowledgement that someone came to your event from outside the M25. International events that really work do two things right.

 

International Events Celebrate Cultural Diversity

 

Why does the Frankfurt Book Fair draw crowds year after year? Why do small, targeted European association events often produce better results than hulking faceless shows?

 

In both cases, cultural diversity is not just acknowledged; it is celebrated.  In our data-rich societies, answers to information questions are always at our fingertips. The strength of in-person events is in experience, not just information! And for people from a variety of cultures to have a great experiences, their unique contribution must be honoured and celebrated.

 

The very best international events encourage speakers and delegates to express their own cultural perspective and engage with those of others. Rather than slamming down a requirement to dress the same, speak English and sound like you just popped over on the tube, international events that make a difference create a space for people to experience different cultures and learn from them, which leads to the next key.

 

International Events Promote Linguistic Diversity

 

Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming. Yes, it is pretty obvious. There really is no point in claiming the title of an “international event” if the only language you want to see or hear is English. In doing that, you hand over the privilege, power and control to native English-speakers and those who can pass for them.

 

Yes, English is an international language but even the most skilled second-language English-speaker will express themselves best in their native language. And, since we now know that nearly 60% of them will rarely or never buy in anything but their native language (source: Common Sense Advisory), making content and talks available in several languages will create a sales and results boost too.

 

If you are still wondering whether it is really worth the effort to promote linguistic diversity at your next event, just ask yourself which is experience would be better for you: being at an event where everything is happening in a language you learned in High School or being at the same event but hearing and seeing your language there.

 

It’s obvious isn’t it.

 

The Takeaway

 

The point of all this is simple. Yes, “international events” are in vogue but getting them right takes more than the name itself. A great international event that has an impact needs the services of translators and conference interpreters. If you would like to know how to put together the right package for your next truly international event, drop me an email.