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Online simultaneous interpretation: step-by-step instructions for successful multilingual events

Virtual events are an excellent opportunity to connect an organization to its online communities. But what happens when the panelists and the guests speak different languages? In this article, we take you step-by-step through how we set up an online interpretation project.

Planning an event is a complex challenge and total success rests in attending to each detail. From the topic and the list of activities to the invitations and promotion, each task adds up so that the big day ends without any mishaps. And, if your brand is global and your community is multilingual, something very important is added to the list of tasks: having interpreters specialized in the event’s domain with experience in the platform on which it is going to be held. 

During the last few years, and especially during the last few months, our clients’ inquiries regarding online interpretation solutions have been increasing more and more. The health crisis accelerated every organization’s technological transformation, and virtual events were positioned as an excellent alternative form of promotion over their in-person equivalents. Both due to cost-savings and to their flexibility and possibility of maximizing their reach to global audiences, the advantages are in plain sight. To get the most out of the experience, an interpreter is essential.

An interpreter’s main job is to orally translate from one language into another, including sign language. The interpretation can be simultaneous or consecutive. In simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter immediately reproduces the message in the target language while the speaker continues to talk. In consecutive interpretation, the speaker must periodically make pauses during their speech so the interpreter can intervene. 

At Go Global, we think of interpretation for events as a strategic resource for corporate communication. We want our professionals to add value to the experience that the organization plans in order for them to connect with its communities. We achieve this by following a series of steps that allow us to integrate our interpreters into our clients’ multilingual events and ensure a maximum quality result. 

#1 Defining the project

The first step is to know the client’s goals, their expectations in detail, and the means through which they will implement them. Our Client Solutions department talks to the client about the issues that are part of the event’s planning, including the topic, the schedule, the number of participants, the languages they speak, and the digital platform on which the event will take place. A lot of our clients are currently on Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, GoToWebinar, and Webex. They find in these tools the solution they need to develop their online events. 

The objective of this first conversation is to understand the organizational dynamics, and, especially, to find the event’s general tone. Knowing what the event is about and the context in which the organization reaches out to its audiences is essential to select the most appropriate interpreters for the occasion. 

#2 Selecting the team

Once we match the client with the type of service that they need, we start the second step, which is the selection of the professionals that are best suited for the event. Our Human Resources department performs an analysis of our interpreter database in order to choose the most appropriate individuals by taking into consideration the language and area of expertise to be addressed. When the event requires remote interpretation, we prioritize professionals with great mastery of video conferencing platforms and that are equipped with first class headphones and microphones in order to ensure good quality sound. We also test their connectivity in order to ensure a problem-free performance. The team consists of the main staff and additional backup staff that is available in case anything happens to a member of the main team.

When Human Resources has confirmation of the entire team’s availability, the Operations department is in charge of organizing a shift schedule that ensures coverage of the entire event and can absorb the additional requests that usually arise as the event progresses. At this point, we meet with the entire team in a kick off call to formally launch the project, and bring together the client’s objectives and requirements. 

When the shifts are being assigned to the interpretation team members, the project managers take into consideration the fact that simultaneous interpretation is a complex and very demanding activity, even for the most experienced professionals. Listening to a person speaking in one language and translating the content in real time while preserving the tone and intention of the speaker and conveying the message into another cultural context takes a large cognitive toll. Thus, it is not recommended that the same interpreter participates in sessions that last more than an hour, but rather several professionals who rotate and take rest periods. Normally, for events that last a full day, interpreters work in pairs. 

#3 Knowing the content in depth

Just like how no orchestra director have their musicians get on stage without having given them their sheet music beforehand, interpreters must familiarize themselves with the topics that will be addressed during the event in order to do their job better. The third step is to coordinate with the client so that they will send details regarding the content of the talks and other activities in which the interpreters will have to participate so that they can become familiar with them. 

The first purpose of this is for the interpreters to know the topics, vocabulary, order of presentation of the speakers, and the visual aid materials that are going to be used. Interpreters must be able to resolve any concerns they may have beforehand in order to do a higher quality job. After all, the role of an interpreter is to be the voice of each panelist in another language, and in order to successfully take on this task, it is advisable to have the greatest amount of information possible. Ideally, the interpreter and the main speaker must have the same knowledge of the content of the event so that the interpreter can translate and communicate the message while preserving the original intention and, at the same time, transforming the message and adapting it to the culture of the target audience. 

The second purpose of enabling the interpreters to anticipate the material to be transformed is to ensure coherence and a standard of quality in the entire service. This prior study of the material is fundamental to unify criteria and generate a glossary, a terminological guide that provides guidance for the use of specific vocabulary by the entire team. 

#4 Testing the technology

The fourth step involves testing with the client. This serves both as a demonstration of the service that we are going to provide and a testing of the platform on which we are going to provide it. The project manager in charge of the project’s coordination, the interpreters, and the client meet on the platform on which the event will be held and perform tests so that the client can confirm the quality of the interpretation and mastery of the technology. 

At the end of this meeting, the interpretation team has already met each other and is familiar with the material with which they are going to work, the shift schedule has already been assembled, the client has already gotten a demonstration of the service, and the platform on which the interpretations will be performed has already been configured and tested. We are ready for the big day. 

#5 Constant monitoring

The fifth step occurs in parallel with the holding of the event. The focus is placed on coordinating the team’s work, providing them with support for any problem that may arise and continually monitoring their performance in accordance with what is expected. This step is highly recommended for any project and unavoidable in companies like our own that perform all processes under ISO 9001 quality certification standards. 

Our Operations department is in constant communication with the team of interpreters, and, usually, is registered as an event participant to make sure firsthand that the experience of the attendees is optimal. The Operations team’s permanent contact also ensures that, in the event that an additional demand is made by the client (for example, a request for interpretation at a private meeting or an unforeseen telephone conversation), it can be attended to immediately and without any problems.

#6 Evaluating, documenting, and improving

After the event has concluded, there is a sixth step, which is the evaluation of everything that was done. For this, we perform an internal analysis of the performance of each interpretation team member, we speak with the client to get their feedback, and we perform a satisfaction survey in accordance with ISO standards in order to identify opportunities for improvement. The results of these evaluations are incorporated into our management system and the interpreters’ files and are available to be considered in the next selection.

Final thoughts

A lot of organizations are exploiting the potential of online events to connect with their audiences at a global level. Having interpreters that are experienced in the event’s topic and know how to use the platform on which the event will be held ensures that the brand’s voice will resonate with each audience and language in a culturally appropriate fashion. 

There are certain steps that are necessary in order for the interpreters to be integrated into the event’s planning process without any problems: 

  • First, knowledge of the client’s objective in depth in order to provide the service that they need. 
  • Second, the selection of a suitable team with respect to both the language and the specialty. 
  • Third, the interpreters must be provided with the content with which they are going to work ahead of time so that they can familiarize themselves with it and standardize the criteria regarding vocabulary. 
  • Fourth, testing the team’s interaction with the technology in order to ensure that everything works accordingly. 
  • Fifth, the monitoring of the team’s performance during the event. The interpreters must be provided with constant support in order to anticipate and successfully resolve any problems. 
  • Sixth and last, the evaluation of performance, this involves asking feedback from the client, and documenting all the things learned in order to continue improving. Just like in all of our services, the key to success rests on teamwork and continuous quality improvement.