October 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 2003 Current Issue
October 2003 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Peter J. Wright


How to provide a meeting with simultaneous interpretation

With a growing number of firms becoming global in breadth, planners are faced with a challenge: accommodating non-native English speakers.

Even if these attendees have a good grasp of the language, it’s possible that without interpreters, they might miss out on some of the finer points of a speaker’s message, a CEO’s address or a product description.

How to ensure all of your attendees grasp the information that’s being divulged? Offer them the benefit of simultaneous interpretation, a process in which an interpreter sits in a booth in the meeting room; the speaker’s words are transmitted to the interpreter via headphones and, at virtually the same time, the interpreter verbally translates the speech into the listeners’ native language via microphone. The listeners pick up the interpreter’s voice through headsets.

The best place to find professional, qualified and experienced interpreters is through an agency that specializes in hiring them for conferences. Planners also can look for them through two professional associations, the American Translators Association ( and the International Association of Conference Interpreters (

• Fees. Interpreters’ fees are calculated in half-day and day rates; the average daily rate is $750 to $800. Fee scales are based on subject matter (technical information is more difficult to interpret and, therefore, more costly) and language pairs (English-Uzbek interpreters are more rare and therefore more costly than their English-Spanish counterparts).

• Equipment. Most meeting venues have interpreting equipment available for rent. If not, it can be provided by independent A/V vendors. The average cost of equipment, including an interpreter’s booth, is $750 per day; headsets cost about $3 each.

To ensure a good interpretation experience for attendees and sponsors, consider the following points.

• Prime the interpreter. The most important thing planners can share with interpreters is reference material that could assist them in understanding the specifics of the subject matter to be presented. This should include specialized terminology, technical terms and advance copies of presentations.

• Hold a pre-con. Organize a briefing for the interpreter prior to the event, and include the scheduled speakers in this process. Doing so is extremely useful for clarifying specific points or concepts in a speech.

• Get it in writing. When film, slides or transparencies are part of the presentation, make sure the interpreter receives the script or a copy of the transparencies. Interpreter booths often are situated far away from a venue’s projection screen, so it is helpful if the interpreter has a copy of the projected text with which to work.

• Q&A. If speakers wish to take questions from the floor, make sure they are outfitted with receiver headsets so they can hear the questions as interpreted into English.

• The eyes have it. When possible, try to place the interpreter’s booth in direct sight line of the speaker. Body language is extremely important to the process, yet it is almost never taken into consideration by conference organizers. The interpreter will thank you for it.

• Keep it clear. Make sure speakers are not too close to the microphone; their words can become garbled and difficult to comprehend.

• Keep them wired. Have a mobile microphone handy in case speakers move away from their podium or seat. Without one, the interpreters cannot hear all if anything that is being said.

Peter J. Wright is the president of The Wright Translation, a New York City-based translation and interpreting service firm.

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