Ugh. "Language Assistants." What an ungainly phrase. But I haven't come up with a better umbrella term that encompasses the following professionals you might work with while presenting on a webinar or webcast:
- Simultaneous interpreters - These folks listen to what you say, instantly translate it into another language, and recite it to your target audience with minimal lag time, in an unbroken stream of narration. (Think UN representatives listening to their earpieces.)
- Real-time captioners - These people listen to what you say and type it into a closed captioning system so the text appears beneath your visuals, allowing audiences with hearing difficulties to follow along as you speak.
If you have never thought about these jobs, stop and imagine the intense mental processing, training, and practice needed to get good at them. Closed captioning isn't just a matter of being a fast typist. It's more akin to being a court reporter, with specialized input devices that use phonetics rather than individually-spelled alphabetic characters to form words.
Simultaneous interpreting requires not just familiarity with both the input and output languages, but the ability to understand and relate concepts that might be hidden behind local idioms, phrasing choices, or tone of voice.
As a presenter, you need to inform, educate, persuade, or motivate your listeners. That can be hard enough in your native language. When your message goes through another party before reaching your listeners, the task is even more difficult. Should you find yourself working with an interpreter or captioner, you need to make an extra effort to prepare for success.
I put together the following set of best practices that can help you maximize the chance of having your presentation come through smoothly and as intended for audiences listening or reading via the services of a language assistant. My sincere thanks go out to Professor Barry S. Olsen for his help in reviewing and improving my list. Professor Olsen is one of the top names in the interpreting field, working for governments, international organizations, and television while also teaching professional development courses for interpreters.
1) Give yourself an earlier deadline than usual for crafting your presentation and locking it down. The later you leave things, the less time you have for taking care of the rest of these best practices!
2) Rehearse. Rehearse again. Rehearse once more. Sure, that's standard advice for ANY good presentation. But most presenters ignore this step or try to shorten the amount of time they spend on it. Don't take the shortcut. Practice your entire speech, out loud, from start to end. Figure out where you are having trouble finding exactly the right words. Know how you will transition from one point to the next. The more smoothly and confidently you speak during your live presentation, the easier it is for your language assistant to follow your train of thought and craft a clear and concise version of it for the secondary audience.
3) Write down a list of keywords, abbreviations, technical terms, and specialized jargon that you may incorporate into your talk. Watch for the things you use so much that they are second-nature to you and your peers. Those are the terms you will tend to say very quickly. You and your audience may both know what "IAEC" means in your industry… But the language assistant doesn't! If you slur that abbreviation and make it hard to understand, they may not be able to communicate the right set of letters to your secondary audience.
4) Write down the name and professional title of each person who may speak (or whom you may reference by name). Names are notoriously difficult to work with on the fly, as they have no linguistic context.
5) Send your slides to the language assistant ahead of time. They can review and know what kind of context they'll be working with.
6) Invite your language assistant to your rehearsal session so they can hear how you speak and how you use your terminology and professional jargon.
7) Try to write out your opening introductory comments ahead of time if possible and share the script with your language assistants. It lets them come up to speed on your speaking style and ease into the flow of freeform work.
8) Make sure you have good, clear source audio. I'm amazed at how many people present over weak wi-fi networks using low quality microphones. The language professionals are applying all their brain power to listening and converting your speech. You don’t want them to waste time trying to figure out what they missed in a dropout or burst of static.
9) Let your language assistants know where your speakers are from. When selecting a professional, try to find one that is familiar not just with the proper source language, but with the regional accents, idioms, and dialects they will hear from your speakers. There are big differences between Spanish as spoken in Barcelona and Mexico City. Portuguese is different in Portugal and Brazil. Matching the right professional to your speakers helps create better secondary delivery.
10) In multi-speaker presentations, identify each person as they begin speaking and be careful about jumping in and interrupting or talking over others. Use more of a turn-based approach. This applies to Q&A sessions as well. Let the question finish and get communicated to the audience before jumping on it to answer.
11) You don’t have to speak unnaturally slowly, but incorporate more pauses between conceptual items – especially after you make an important point or at the end of a slide before moving to the next. This gives the audience time to catch up with the converted language stream before you move on.
12) Thank them! Interpreters and captioners are people. They appreciate recognition of their efforts for supporting you and helping expand your reach to people you couldn't otherwise communicate with.
13) Get feedback afterwards. Ask them what they found difficult to understand and how you can help make your next session easier and smoother.
If those suggestions seem like too much work, try thinking about it in terms of good old ROI… You're paying these people anyway. Why not get the absolute best from them that you can? A little investment in terms of preparation and delivery practice can pay off for you in terms of increased comprehension, engagement, and satisfaction from audiences you couldn't otherwise reach. That should be reason enough to try to optimize the experience.