Working With Interpreters: Advice for Event Managers

Interpreters are becoming increasingly necessary. With globalisation, glocalisation, social media, cheaper air travel and the growth of the EU, even the smallest corporate event has the potential to become a multicultural, multilingual, multi-everything affair. Yet few event managers have any direct experience of working with interpreters. For some, it would seem to be enough to simply lift the phone to the first likely-looking agency and hope that is the end of the matter. Job done, right?

Not quite. As with almost all areas of event planning, there are ways to get interpreting incredibly right … and ways to get it embarrassingly wrong. For every event where the delegates head home feeling inspired and valued, there is one where they spend their time angrily thumping their headsets, looking around bewildered and wishing for the exit.

You can’t afford for that to happen at your event!

To make sure that your event sends ALL of the delegates home with a spring in their step, here are five top tips to ensure that you get interpreting absolutely right:

  • Over-communicate

When good event managers sit down with their clients to work on a programme, they always start with the basics: Who is the event for? Why is it taking place? How will we know it has been successful? It is taken for granted that until you know this information, you simply can’t deliver the goods.

The same is true for interpreters. While it might seem that they are walking dictionaries, ready for anything, the kind of slick service you want is only achievable with excellent preparation. Not only that but the more they know about the event, the more they can tailor your services to your requirements. The kind of interpreting you want at a big sales event will be very different to what you expect at a board meeting. Seminars at technical exhibitions have very different requirements than interpreting at a press conference.

All this means that, if interpreters are to deliver the best value service, they need to have access to the best information. In short, no event ever crumbled because the interpreters knew too much!

  • Look for Value not Price

Every marketplace is competitive and events management is no exception. Yet smart professionals that there are only so many corners you can cut before the event falls to pieces and your reputation with it! Interpreting is one of those places where cheap is certainly not cheerful.

A good interpreter is highly qualified, super literate, have a wide range of general knowledge and be able to hold their own in complex environments. They will also have a commitment to continually improving, working in close partnership with their clients and will take real pride in their work. People like that are rare.

So, how do you know when you have the right interpreters or the right provider? I would suggest a few very simple tests.

  1. Always look for membership of a professional body. This not only sets your mind at ease but will demonstrate that they are really committed to their profession and their industry.
  2. Look for someone who asks useful questions. This demonstrates that they want to really understand the event, rather than just turning up, working half-heartedly and going home.
  3. Find someone who knows their limits. The best interpreters know that you can only perform well in the right environment. If you find people who are happy to work at cheap rates, with poor equipment and no other interpreter to support them, be very afraid! That is a sure sign that they really don’t care about the quality of service they will provide. Real professionals and good agencies, on the other hand, are all too happy to explain the most effective ways to work with interpreters and the reasons behind them. They might even be able to help you build the right team for your event.
  • Listen!

If you are planning a multicultural event, you need backup. You need people who know the cultures of your attendees and can give you insights on what will work and what won’t. Interpreters are a great source of that kind of information as they are multicultural by nature. While few will volunteer information unless asked (or unless you are heading for disaster), it is always worthwhile either checking ideas with them or the agency they work with. That distillery tour might go down really well with your North American attendees but cause offence to those from the Middle East. Your decision to leave titles off the conference badges might feel egalitarian to you but degrading to someone from outside your country.

In short, partnership will always produce better results than handing the entire thing off with no support and little information. The more you see and treat interpreters as fellow professionals, whose work is vital for the success of the event, the more successful the event will be.

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About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
This entry was posted in Interpreting. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Working With Interpreters: Advice for Event Managers

  1. Reblogged this on B2B Event Management and commented:
    Excellent advice in employing interpreter for your event.

  2. Thank you Jonathan for this more than useful advice to conference organizers.
    Bruno Chanteau
    Conference Interpreter
    Cabinet BCH

  3. Reblogged this on Who's who in events and commented:
    In addition, remember that not all languages are created equal! It can take considerably more time to say the same thing in Spanish or French than it does in English. To enable your interpreters to give your delegates the best possible experience you need to brief your speakers equally as well as you do the interpreters. Where possible ask speakers for a script, ask them to either speak slower or pause for longer between sentences. If you are using a teleprompt system – set the speed of delivery to also allow for this.

  4. giolester says:

    Wish I had seen this earlier! Would have linked my own piece to it, Jonathan. Great piece.

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