Interpreting technology – the right equipment for every conference
Whether it’s a training course, a conference or a special occasion – planning an international conference with participants from different countries is often a mammoth task. Where should the event take place? What accommodation is available? What should be served for lunch and perhaps also for dinner? On top of that, you also have to organise the interpreters and the necessary technology.
In this article, we look at five scenarios you might find yourself in – and we tell you which types of interpreting, interpreters and interpreting technology are best suited to them. This will make planning the language component of your conference a breeze.
Scenario 1: A negotiation with few participants, or a speech
Is a short speech to staff scheduled? Or are business partners coming over for a contract negotiation? Consecutive or liaison interpreting is suitable for these scenarios. In this case, what is said is translated into the other language in short sections using a special note-taking technique. Since everything is recited twice, these types of interpreting are only suitable for shorter events.
Depending on the duration of the event, one or two interpreters per language are used here. They will both have the linguistic skills and the necessary industry-specific knowledge.
The interpreting technology for consecutive and liaison interpreting is quite straightforward: the interpreters only need a notepad and a pen. Otherwise, no technology is necessary – great, isn’t it?
Scenario 2: A conference with participants and interpreters on site
This is probably the classic international conference: a half-day, full-day or multi-day face-to-face event at a specific location where all participants and speakers from several countries come together. Since everything is closely coordinated, all guests should be able to follow what is happening in real time – no matter what language they speak.
Simultaneous interpreters are experts with specific technical and linguistic training. They work in a team and usually take turns every 20 to 30 minutes due to the high level of effort involved. Those who are not interpreting will support their colleagues and write down key points such as names, dates and numbers on a notepad between them.
All this happens in an interpreting booth. In some conference venues, these are already permanently installed if, for example, multilingual conferences are often held there. If not, mobile booths measuring 168 x 168 x 220 cm can be set up easily and quickly wherever there is space in the conference room.
A standard booth is equipped with a table, two lamps, two chairs, power sockets, sound insulation, a large window and a ventilation system. The interpreters will also bring their own laptop.
The centrepiece is on the table: the interpreting equipment, also called an interpreting console, together with two headsets and two microphones. These are available from various manufacturers, but they basically all work the same: the interpreter selects the channel of the language into which they are interpreting, and they listen to what is being said via another channel. This can either be from the speaker themselves or, in the case of relay interpreting, from another interpreting booth – more on this later. The system is also equipped with a throat-clearing button. When the interpreter presses it, the sound no longer reaches the listener. This is incredibly convenient if the interpreter has a short question for their partner, for example, or if they actually need to clear their throat.
All of the technology is provided by professional suppliers who are based on site, which ensures that nothing can go wrong.
Scenario 3: A conference with participants and interpreters in multiple locations
If all speakers and participants come to one place but do not stay in a conference room, the planning looks a little different again. After all, at conferences it is quite possible that the product just presented will now be examined, a small tour of the company will be given, or the new car will be taken for a test drive outside. Either way, everyone should be able to follow the proceedings, which is why simultaneous interpreters are used here as well.
For longer events, several interpreters are needed, as in scenario 2. Thanks to their specific qualifications and many years of experience, conference interpreters have excellent knowledge of all types of interpreting and techniques.
If you will be moving around a lot from room to room during an event, an interpreting booth is not really practical.
In such case, an audio guide system will come into play. Each member of the audience receives a receiver and headset, and the speakers and interpreters are also given a microphone. This is similar to a museum tour.
With regard to the channels, the setup is similar to the interpreting system in the cabin: you select the appropriate channel and you hear the language you want to hear via radio or infrared. This ensures maximum flexibility.
Scenario 4: An online conference without participants and on-site interpreters
From annual meetings to contract negotiations to product presentations – virtually anything is possible in this day and age. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, conferences are increasingly taking place online. As well as saving a lot of time and money, this also reduces CO2 emissions. It is therefore understandable that many companies are sticking to this new type of conference – whether for short or long events or ones with few or many participants.
Depending on the type and duration of the event, consecutive, liaison or simultaneous interpreters are used (one or more per language combination). If an event and an interpretation are carried out virtually, we speak of remote interpreting.
For consecutive and liaison interpreting, not much changes online: the interpreters work with their note-taking equipment, a pen and notepad, just like at a face-to-face event. For remote simultaneous interpreting, however, there are various technical options.
On the one hand, there are so-called remote hubs. These are made available by technology providers and are equipped with interpreting booths. In addition, the technicians are also at the venue and ensure that the entire interpretation is successful for everyone.
On the other hand, there are various cloud-based platforms. Here, rather than being in a hub, the interpreters are based at home like the participants and speakers. However, these platforms are not the same as the platforms for online meetings that we are all familiar with. While the latter can only connect several participants, simultaneous interpreting platforms have important functions such as different channels or features that make it easier for the interpreters to relay to their partners. In addition, relay interpretation is possible.
Apart from that, everything works in a similar way to a face-to-face event: the participants dial into the event with a tablet, laptop or computer, select the channel for their language and are then right in the middle of the action. And although everything takes place online, a technical support team is always on hand to offer help and advice.
Important: With interpreting platforms, you should make sure that there is sufficient data encryption; after all, everyone logs in with their name, and confidential content may be discussed. Some platforms are even ISO-certified, which confirms their high quality standards.
Scenario 5: Hybrid event with online and on-site participants
Is an event taking place in Zurich that will be attended in person by guests and interpreters from Switzerland while guests and interpreters from other countries are connected online? This is common practice nowadays. After all, the aspects of costs, time and climate protection again come into play here.
Whether from the interpreting hub, from home or on site – in terms of location and type of interpreting, the interpreters can be deployed according to the organiser’s exact wishes and requirements.
What sounds almost impossible (interpreters from different locations interpreting simultaneously for participants in different locations) is not a problem for experienced technology providers and professional simultaneous interpreting platforms. For hybrid events, just make sure that all the technology comes from a single source. Together with a professional provider, a customised solution can then be worked out that fits the hybrid event perfectly.
Relay interpreting – when several languages come into play
If participants and speakers from several countries take part in a conference, relay interpreting is often used. Let’s take a closer look at this with an example …
The languages required for a conference are German, English, Chinese, Korean and Finnish, and the speakers are from Switzerland, Korea and Finland.
Finding simultaneous interpreters who are proficient in all these languages and the specific terminology of the relevant industry could be difficult.
Interpreters will therefore work in teams in the respective languages plus a common language, such as English. The Korean team will interpret into English, and the other teams from English into their respective languages. For the speaker from Finland, the Finnish team interprets into English and so on.
As with simultaneous interpreting with only two languages, each language has its own channel (up to 32 channels are possible with professional systems). The team in charge of the English interpretation is therefore switched to the same channel for listening as the listeners of that language themselves.
Whether online or on site – professional technology providers and interpreting platforms are attuned to the special requirements of relay interpreting and master this technical feat with ease.
We hope that these scenarios have shed some light on the subject and have already made it easier for you to plan your event.
And whether your conference looks exactly like the one described here or takes on a completely different form – feel free to contact us. As a full-service provider, we have both the human and technical resources for any scenario and will be happy to advise and support you based on your exact requirements.