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10 Things to bear in mind when you organise a multilingual event

10 Things to bear in mind when you organise a multilingual event

Organising events is no small feat. It requires coordinating different activities and people and it is easy to feel lost or overwhelmed - if you’re doing it for the first time. Add a couple of languages to that mix and you can end up with a potentially explosive cocktail!

However, perhaps I can share some tips with you that will make the prospect of organising a multi-lingual conference a bit less intimidating. Who knows, this article may even get you excited about taking your planning and organisation skills to the next level… or language?

1. Languages

Think thoroughly about the number of languages you want to provide at your event. When you send out your invitations, clearly state what the floor language will be (i.e. the language that most presenters will speak) and what language(s) it will be translated into. If you want participants to attend and interact, they have to be able to speak the language within which they feel confident.

2. Venue selection

If you are working with simultaneous interpreters, bear in mind that the meeting room or conference hall has to be large enough to accommodate the interpreting booths they will be working from throughout the event. Some venues have these built-in, but often at hotels or historical venues you will have to hire booths from an audio-visual (AV) company or an interpreting agency. A booth roughly measures 2m x 2m x 2m and it should be installed at the back or side of the room, so that interpreters can see the screen on which presentations are projected. If in doubt, always check with the A-V company whether the room you have in mind is suitable.

3. Technical Equipment

Share your conference programme, the number of participants and the layout of the meeting room (U-shape, classroom etc.) with your A-V partner or interpreting agency, so that they get a clear idea of what is going to happen, when and where. This will allow them to provide you with the specific equipment that you need. If your programme includes workshops, guided tours, or conference calls, having just booths will not be enough. You will need additional portable equipment and extra cabling to enable the interpreters to do their job. Bear in mind that you may need to rent the meeting room the day before the conference starts, so that the A-V company has time within which to install all their equipment.

4. Interpreters

Where can you find qualified interpreters? Even if you can find them on the internet using Google, the easiest way by far is to hire them through an agency. Agencies usually have a database of interpreters for different language combinations and fields of expertise and they can put together an interpreting team for you. The advantage of this is that you only have to deal with one contact person for the interpretation, which will make your life a lot easier. Usually interpreting agencies can also include technical material in their offer, which makes things even simpler for you.

5. Hand-outs/conference material

In a multi-lingual setting, it is more important than ever to get your hand-outs ready well before the start of the conference. This will give you ample time to get them translated for participants who do not speak the main (floor) language. Your interpreting agency may also offer written translation services. If so, then you will not have an extra translation contact to deal with. The added advantage of this is that the agency can share all materials with the interpreters before the conference, so that they are better prepared for the topics and language to which they will be exposed.

6. Social Programme

If you are organising a social programme for your participants, do not forget that it should be multi-lingual. Doing a tour around the city? You could split participants up into language groups and hire guides who speak their specific language(s). Interpreters can be hired to work during these outings, but this is only an option for smaller groups.

7. Brief speakers

Most speakers do not like surprises. When you brief them, do not forget to mention that their audience is multilingual and that some participants will listen and speak through interpreters. Share some tips with them on how to work with interpreters, so that they can adjust their speed and speech to the multilingual setting. I have written a post about this - check it out here - and feel free to share it with your keynote speakers.

8. Sound check

Do an all-round final check before your conference is set to start. The equipment, the interpreters and the speakers should all be ready to go at this point. Take the time to check every piece of equipment: is the microphone on? Do interpreters hear the sound of that video you want to show? Is the telephone line for the conference call working? Can you hear the interpretation through the headset? Make a checklist as you are planning the event - and make sure that you have ticked off all the boxes before the event starts.

9. Be all eyes

When the conference is on, stay alert and keep your eyes on all participants, so that you can intervene immediately if there is a problem. Has someone dropped something? Is someone tapping their headset because they can’t get it to work? For larger conferences, work with hostesses or a meeting coordinator to help you watch your audience. Have the hostesses stand guard at strategic places and brief them properly before the conference, so that they know what to do in case of trouble. Stay in contact with them throughout the event.

10. Enjoy the ride

Even if you have got all the above points covered, something unexpected may still come up - or work out differently than you had planned. Or maybe, in spite of all your precautions, a speaker comes up with a “fun idea” that your equipment cannot support. Do not beat yourself up too much about it! You will become more proficient and proactive with every multi-lingual event you organise and, if you’re working with an experienced language partner, they will help you every step of the way, especially when last-minute trouble-shooting is required.

Did you find this article valuable - or do you have any suggestions to add? Or would you like to know more about Presence’s interpreting, translation or meeting organisation services?

Leave your comments below or let me know at Maaike.villavicencio@presencegroup.eu