My last post looked at the many considerations you can face when planning a multilingual webinar. Vendors can struggle to make their technology platforms fully multilingual, and the complexities of customizing all associated content for different languages adds a lot of work for webinar administrators.
VoiceBoxer is a relatively young webinar technology platform that was created with the express intent of simplifying multilingual presentation. I spoke with cofounder and CEO Sergio Llorian, who told me that he comes from a background as an attorney and legal counsel, working for many years with a professional translation and interpretation services company. He saw a need for better and easier presentation to multilingual audiences, so he got together with a technical team and set about to create a conferencing system appropriate for the task. They are now in production with version 2 of their platform.
VoiceBoxer definitely emphasizes ease of use in operation. It eliminates many of the more sophisticated features found in other webinar applications in favor of a design that allows for "pick up and use" simplicity. The software runs in a web browser as a WebRTC application. That means no downloads or installs, but restricts presenters and attendees to browsers compatible with WebRTC. Sergio is enthusiastic about the video and audio quality they are able to provide for audience sizes of up to 2500.
Visual materials are accepted as PowerPoint files. The VoiceBoxer team uploads the slides to your conference room as a service -- there is no Do-It-Yourself provision. Slides are converted to static images for display… You cannot retain PowerPoint animations, builds, or transition effects. Navigation through the slides is strictly sequential. You move forward or backward one slide at a time. That all sounds very simplistic, but it allows for a feature that is completely unique in my experience: Synchronized alternate visuals.
You can translate your slides to other languages and save a slide deck for each language. The VoiceBoxer team uploads each deck and associates it with the corresponding language audio channel. Now when an attendee selects a language to listen to, they see the slides in that language as well. The simplicity of the slide navigation makes it easy for the software to coordinate the decks and move them forward and backward simultaneously.
Audio is provided through the browser as part of the WebRTC stream. Presenters speak into a computer microphone. Interpreters can listen on headphones and speak the translation into an alternate language channel that can be selected by attendees for listening. The software also allows for relay interpreting, where an interpreter listens to a translated channel as his/her source, rather than the speaker's "floor channel." This is sometimes necessary when there is not an interpreter available for the desired source-target language combination. VoiceBoxer also allows for two-way interpreting, where the interpreter can switch source and target to provide a translation back from a participant to the presenter.
There is currently no provision for translating typed chat, questions, or messages. Sergio said they are investigating the use of automated text translation, since it is hard for human text translators to keep up with typing translations into a chat stream, and the context of the written word lets people cope with and accept the small errors that automated translators inevitably produce.
VoiceBoxer does not yet include event registration (although that is on the roadmap), so they have not had to deal with the issues I raised about translating registration pages, input fields, and confirmations. At this time, all on-screen commands and prompts appear only in English.
It's worth mentioning another innovative aspect of VoiceBoxer, which is its pricing model. The most common vendor practice in our industry is to charge different amounts based on the maximum number of participants allowed in a web meeting. VoiceBoxer always allows you to include as many participants as you want (up to their 2500-person technical limit). They charge based on the number of "language hours" you consume. So a 60-minute event offered in three languages would be charged for 3 language hours. Customers who license the product for multilingual use are allowed to hold monolingual web meetings at no additional charge.
Sergio tells me their "sweet spot" so far has been with very large international organizations offering internal and external training as well as with Non-Governmental Organizations offering public outreach and education.
In my next post I will compare VoiceBoxer's approach with another vendor offering multilingual webinar support.