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Could Your Meeting Get Lost in Translation?

Here’s how to make sure your language-interpretation services keep up with the global audiences tuning into your events.

With all the turmoil that the Covid pandemic has wreaked upon association meetings and events, there’s actually one promising opportunity that has come from the ordeal. The ramping up of virtual meetings allows associations to tap into a worldwide audience, most of whom could never attend the in-person event even in years when travel is not restricted.

However, a global audience requires content in different languages. The good news is that the technology tools for simultaneous translation conducted by live interpreters who are not necessarily on site have improved in the past year just like other virtual-event applications. This has made the experience for both the translators and the audience an increasingly smooth one. Remote translation applications such as Kudo, Interprefy, Interactio, Voiceboxer, and others are designed as widgets that integrate with virtual-event platforms, where attendees simply select their preferred language for a given session. 

Nevertheless, meeting planners must understand the changes that have come to the task of providing translation services in an environment where presenters, translators, and attendees aren’t in the same location.

“There are now a few possible combinations to achieve the right setup for each meeting,” says Liam Joy, enterprise account executive for Kudo. “Even if some attendees and some presenters are in a physical meeting space, you don’t actually need to have the interpreters there too.” 

AM0521translation2.jpegTranslators work in pairs for up to six hours per day, and generally alternate their duties after every 20 minutes of content; one will actively translate while the other rests but still follows along. They can be together in the same room somewhere other than the meeting site—Joy says that setup is preferable—or, if necessary, in separate remote locations but in constant contact. Also, “session presenters who are being translated can be at the meeting site or in a remote location, and attendees who attend in person can use headsets with a language selector to receive audio from remote interpreters just like the virtual audience.”

As for time lag between what a speaker says and what attendees hear in their own language, the translation apps have gotten the delay down to about one-quarter of a second for virtual audiences, according to Annett Polaszewski-Plath, CEO of Interprefy. One interesting emerging trend: “Although delivering interpreted content via audio is the best way to keep attendees to stay engaged, we do expect on-screen captioning to become more popular for attendees who have hearing difficulty” or who simply prefer that format.


Preparing All Parties for Translation
Especially when interpreters are remote, planners must make sure they are briefed ahead of time on the subject matter in general and on the speaker’s script in particular in order to be prepared to translate on the spot. Of course, prerecorded sessions can be translated ahead of time, but if there is a Q&A session following a prerecorded presentation, a live interpreter or an artificial-intelligence option—also available through many translation applications—could be used. However, Joy says that “AI is not at the level it needs to be just yet to translate entire business sessions” that involve industry jargon or that feature presenters with heavy accents.

On the flip side, preparing session speakers to make translators’ jobs easier is also important. First, speakers should rehearse enough to be able to speak slowly and clearly without conscious effort, and also minimize acronyms or jargon in their content. For panel-discussion participants, planners should stress that interrupting or talking over each other makes it more difficult for translators to do their job and for the audience to follow along. 

Further, Meghan Palm Mayer, CMP, HMCC, chief experience designer for Meetings and Events Group in Chicago, advises planners to provide background to interpreters on each speaker’s style. “Compared to someone who uses a lecture style, a high-energy speaker might pair better with certain interpreters.”

As for technology affecting the quality of translation, “one aspect that’s often overlooked is ensuring that remote presenters are using decent microphones to be understood clearly,” says Plath. “Simultaneous interpreting is probably one of the most cognitively challenging jobs in the world, and poor source-audio quality or background noise adds a real challenge to the interpreter’s task.”

“There is extra pressure on remote interpreters who do not have the speaker in front of them, and we find too many cases where presenters are not using high-quality audio,” says Joy from Kudo. “If they're using a laptop’s built-in microphone or a small wireless setup, it might not be good enough” for translators to do their job effectively.

Given that using remote translators reduces the meeting host’s costs for travel and housing for an event, planners could invest in higher-quality audio devices for both remote and in-person presenters, and perhaps hire additional interpreters to translate more of the event's content or to present the content in additional languages. If doing these things means that remote attendees from around the world are satisfied enough to attend next year’s meeting too, then it could be a wise investment.

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