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10 Tips: Preparing for Conference Interpreting Services

Corporate, Interpreting Annie Pagano on May 16, 2017 9:00:00 AM

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Large events such as conferences take extreme coordination and preparation to be successful. This can increase dramatically when conference interpreting services are needed to serve a multilingual audience.

To ensure a smooth and successful event, preparation for interpreter services should begin with ample time until the event otherwise you risk all your hard work and preparation not being accurately conveyed in multiple languages which can reflect poorly on your organizations ability to organize and run an event to non-English speakers.


Below are our top 10 tips for preparing for conference interpreting services. It is broken down into preparation steps before the event follow by tips for the day of the event. Planning events can be stressful, we are here to help alleviate some of that stress by supporting you and the multilingual audiences you serve.

Before The Event

Understand the difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpreting

Knowing the difference between the two modes of interpretation will greatly help you while planning for interpreter services. Some events will require just simultaneous interpreting while others may require both!

Consecutive interpreting is when the speaker pauses after several sentences or phrases, allowing the interpreter time to relay the message to the other party or audience. Consecutive interpreters are used for a variety of situations such as:

  • Workshops
  • Interviews
  • Consultations
  • General conversation

Simultaneous interpreting is when an interpreter relays information at the same time as a presenter is speaking with only about a 2 second delay. Audience members wear headsets and the interpreter is typically in the back of the room whispering the interpretation into a microphone. For this reason, simultaneous interpreting is also known as conference interpreting and is used for events such as:

  • Speeches
  • Presentations
  • Lectures
  • Community meetings
  • Business gatherings

Depending on the format of your conference/event, you may need just one form of interpretation. Many conferences contain a workshop portion for which having a group of interpreters to perform both simultaneous and consecutive interpreting duties is beneficial.

Understand the different types of interpreting equipment

If your event will require a simultaneous interpreter, you will need equipment. There are several different types of simultaneous interpreting equipment. They range from simple to complex depending on the nature of the event.

Whisper Equipment:

Whisper equipment is the most basic simultaneous interpreting equipment and consists of headsets with receivers and a headset + microphone with a transmitter. The interpreter typically sits away from the group and whispers what is being said into the microphone which is transmitted to the audience members’ headsets. The interpreter has no direct audio feed and must rely on hearing the group from inside the same room.

Ideal for: Meetings, training's, lectures, seminars with less than 15 attendees

*picture of headsets and transmitter*

Table Top Booth:

As the name suggests, this type of booth sits on top of a table – any type of sturdy table will do. The interpreter sits at the table with their upper body and interpreting equipment inside the booth.

Table top booths are not fully enclosed and are not completely soundproof. They are small, portable, and can be set up and operated by a single person.

Ideal for: small venues and venues where setup time may be a factor

*picture of a table top booth*

Full Interpreter Booth:

Full interpreter booths are the crème de la crème of conference interpreting equipment. They are standalone enclosures with a floor, four walls, a ceiling, a door, and its own ventilation system.

Full booths require 1-2 technicians to set up the booth itself and to hook up the audio feeds. One of the major benefits of the full booth is that it is completely soundproof ensuring that the interpreters don’t disturb audience members and the interpreters receive a direct audio feed from presenters so they also don’t have any interruptions. These booths fit two interpreters at a minimum.

Because of their size and technical set up, they require more lead time for delivery, set up, and break down.

Ideal for: large conferences and events

Schedule ahead of time!

Just as any other vendor or presenter involved in a large event, interpreters need to be scheduled as far in advance as possible. Just as keynote speakers need time to prepare a speech, interpreting agencies need time to confirm the best suited interpreter and schedule any equipment that is needed.

Simultaneous interpreters are in high demand and often book out far in advance so the sooner you start working with an agency, the more time they will have to find the most qualified interpreter. This will also give the interpreter plenty of time to prepare for the conference.

Scheduling interpreter services and securing equipment in advance will also avoid any rush delivery fees if the equipment isn't ordered on time.

Provide interpreters with conference materials ahead of time

Once you have an interpreter confirmed, be sure to provide the agency you are working with any and all available conference materials so the interpreter can properly prepare. This includes:

  • Agendas
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Handouts
  • Background information on the company/host/event
  • Speeches or outlines of speeches

Furthermore, once the conference materials are finalized, consider getting them translated for the non-English speaking audience members.

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Night Before The Event

Test all equipment to avoid technical difficulties

Depending on the interpreting equipment you choose to work with, you may or may not have a technician on site. Either way, it's a best practice to test all equipment the night before the event to ensure everything runs smoothly.

During The Event

Bring extra materials for the interpreters

It is a common courtesy to provide the interpreters with conference materials. This will help them to be their most effective and stay on top of the schedule.

Introduce yourself to the interpreters

While this may seem obvious, it warrants a mention to introduce yourself to the interpreters! Establishing rapport up front will help to alleviate any stressful situations that may arise. It will also make for a much more enjoyable working environment for all involved.

Avoid speaking too quickly & enunciate

Whether using consecutive or simultaneous interpreters, a best practice to working with interpreters is to speak at a normal pace, not too quickly, and do your best to enunciate all words so the interpreter clearly understands and accurately conveys the message. No need to alter your normal pattern of speech but it is important to keep in mind when working with an interpreter.

Avoid colloquialisms

Colloquialisms are words or phrases used in informal language and are similar to slang language. For example. the word "ain't" and the phrase "like a bat out of hell" are both colloquialisms. It's best to keep your language culturally neutral to the best of your ability when addressing a multicultural audience. Interpreters will do their best to interpret appropriately but it may delay time and come off as slightly confusing to the recipient.

Click here for more tips on working with interpreters

Always thank the interpreters

Again, while obvious, this one warrants mentioning. Recap the day with your interpreters and thank them for their work. If you really enjoyed working with them, be sure to make note of their name so you can request to work with them again in the future. The interpreters will appreciate your gratitude and feedback on their work.

As Alexandar Graham Bell once said, "before anything else, preparation is the key to success". Don't leave interpreter services to the last minute and risk the reputation of your event. Factor the cost and scheduling time of interpreters into your initial budget and your preparation will surely be rewarded with a successful event.