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Conference Translation and the Need to Speak Fluent Client

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 7, 2016

We are communicators. It’s our job to create messages that people are as compelling in the target language as they are in the source language. That might just mean that we need to adopt terminology that makes us uncomfortable, rather than insisting on correctness, especially if we want clients to be able to find us.


Who buys “Translation Equipment” anyway?


I am a late convert to search engine optimisation. When I started as an interpreter, it was still common to hear people suggest that, aslong as you signed on with the right agencies or secretariats, clients would come flocking. Few people believe that now. Increasingly, people want to arrange entire conferences online and the easier you are to find, the more likely it is that you will be the person they call.


But the more you dig into search engine keywords, the more you realise that there are data trends that make us uncomfortable. Check google keywords related to “conference interpreting”, for example, and you will find that there is considerable traffic every month to searches for “translation equipment” (pyjamas, CAT tools and coffee, perhaps?), and real demand for “simultaneous translators” and “conference translation”.


I know few interpreters who could seriously write about any of those without a wince and the need to apologise profusely for using such strange collocations. We would all want to write posts explaining why those aren’t the right terms and that you should instead talk about “conference interpreting,” “conference interpreting equipment” and “simultaneous interpreting”.


But how far will that really get us? Who would click on a rant, instead of a simple explanation and a visible point of sale?


Interpreters should be Expert Communicators


The application is clear. Since we pride ourselves on being communication experts, we need to pay attention to how our potential clients are actually talking about our services. As much as we might like to correct some misconceptions and even write long screeds about the difference between “conference interpreting” and “conference interpretation”, none of that will get us any closer to more work.


Of course, there is a lot of value in helping clients understand our profession better but we must never be guilty of attempting to do so with a superior or condescending tone. In the era of social marketing and targeted blogging, the interpreters who succeed will be those who approach clients with their needs and goals in mind.


Selling Conference Interpreting, Marketing Conference Translation


All this means taking strategic decisions on our websites and blogs. As much as it might pain us, we need to pay as much attention to how our clients are currently searching for our services as we do to our own terminology use. Might it be possible to write an entire blog post on buying “conference translation” with nothing more than a tiny reference to the industry standard term? In fact, might it even be possible to be brave enough to not offer a correction at all?


Yes, I know, taking such steps might well unleash a torrent of disapproving reactions from fellow professionals but it may well be worth it. I have rarely seen interpreters pay for interpreting. If creating the odd post with errant terminology will increase the effectiveness of my marketing and increase the number of assignments I get, I would say that is a fair trade-off.


After all, client education is most effective once you have already built up credibility and forged relationships. Forging those relationships in the first place might just mean learning to translate our existing knowledge and skills into words our clients habitually use.