‘People sometimes treat us like robots. They expect us to translate everything on the spot, without any preparation. We have much less input from body language and usually have no time to briefly meet the speakers beforehand. This makes it harder to grasp and transfer the essence. They thank us during the closing, but do not invite us to the debriefing with the organising team, which we would attend onsite. In those cases, I am not fond of interpreting online.’ 

Why make an effort?

If you prepare your interpreters well, their translations will be more accurate. This allows participants who do not speak English to participate, and you can make use of their brainpower and perspectives to produce sound solutions.

Online interpreting is not just about correctly translating what speakers say. Kindness and good preparation create a relaxed atmosphere, which leads to your participants and moderator having a strong presence in the meeting. The stronger the presence, the stronger the engagement and interaction. People will then leave the meeting energised for the follow-up activities.

The basics of online interpreting

For meetings longer than an hour or with more than three participants who require translation in breakout rooms, it is recommended to use more than one interpreter. If you expect interventions in English and French and also have Spanish-speaking participants in the room, you need trilingual interpreters. They translate from two source languages into a target language.

This way, you retain your participants attention to the meeting and prevent interpreters from having to switch from channel to channel, losing their focus in the meantime.

Tip 1: E-Meet them for a handshake with the chairperson and briefing on content

Make sure the moderator and interpreters have spoken to each other prior to the meeting.

Interpreters will then be able to get used to the intonation of the chairperson and can convey the essence better when they are acquainted. The chairperson will also feel more at ease when the interpreters arrive on the day of the meeting.

Also make sure that the interpreters receive a briefing in person on the content of the meeting. In our experience, they are not used to this and therefore often ask for PowerPoints to prepare. The risk of this is that your workshop will take on the character of a webinar, in which you only send information and you do not let your participants develop new insights together. It is better to brief your interpreters with your annotated agenda, or to not introduce or lengthen PowerPoints for the sake of interpretation.

Tip 2: Translation chat prompts

The tech host needs clear instructions for the background actions that are required with regard to the interpreters. Provide this by developing your annotated agenda into a script. Practice if needed. The script includes the phrases that the tech host places in the chat. You can have the prompts in the chat translated by the interpreters. As a result, they are already familiar with the flow of the meeting.

Tip 3: Find out beforehand who will need translation

Make sure you know how many participants want to use interpreters. They will receive a code like FR for their name in the meeting so that the tech host places them in breakout rooms with an interpreter. If you have their mobile number, the interpreter can create a WhatsApp or Signal group in advance as a backup.

Tip 4: Guide your participants to the interpreting channels

At the opening, have your chairman or an interpreter explain in the relevant language how participants have access to the interpreter channel. Include instructions for this in the chat or on a slide. This is not only important for the participants who do not speak English, but for if anyone in, for example, Bahasa wants to share a perspective. The rest should also know that simultaneous translation is available in the English channel. Or you can get an interpreter to the main room who will not translate simultaneously for the large group, but consecutively.

The result

We did the latter in a session on crisis management. An American scientist mentioned that we had been talking mainly about applying a certain work process in the context of natural disasters, and she wondered how it would work when local organizations faced armed conflict. A French-speaking participant from Niger then talked about the daily reality in his environment. He made it clear to everyone that the distinction between natural disasters and armed conflict is not that clear cut, but that the work process would apply to any crisis. During the closing, he wrote in the chat: ‘J’ai aimé la traduction.’

We can take care of your online workshops, with or without interpretation. Brainy Bunch has a team of experienced facilitators, technical support experts, speaker coaches and interpreters. Please, contact us for a chat about the possibilities. 

If you want to experience how to lead participatory online meetings, then you are most welcome to join the workshop that Brainy Bunch organises for newsletter subscribers on Wednesday 19 October 2022. You can now register for the workshop.

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Jobien Hekking

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