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Tips on organising a conference

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in Language Connect

At Language Connect we are extremely well-versed in all the oddities that can arise when organising a multi-lingual conference.

And let’s face it, to clients who are unused to hiring interpreters, it’s all a bit daunting and becomes ever more confusing the more information we seem to ask them for.

We have compiled some handy hints for you, so when you source your conference interpreters, you’ll know what is entails.

  • The floor language: this means the language used by those people speaking at the conference. This is sometimes referred to as the active language. If there is more than one language being used by the speakers at the conference, then there will be more than one active language.
  • Active & passive Languages: the active language is the one, as stated above, that is used by the speakers at the conference. It is not necessarily the “main” language. However all other audience languages are known as passive languages. Still confused? Active: speakers, Passive: audience members. You will need to discern how many active languages you will need as this will determine the number of interpreters you will require.
  • Interpreters and ABC languages: now, to confuse you even further, the interpreters will come along and say: “Ah, but Swahili is my active language and English my passive….!”This means that interpreters classify their abilities according to their mother tongue, so for instance someone who is a Swahili mother tongue speaker will be called a Swahili Active as they interpret from and into Swahili. Their passive language will be whatever other language they don’t speak to mother tongue standard (say German). If they are bilingual, Swahili/English then they will have 2 active languages: Swahili and English.They will classify themselves as A (Swahili), B (German) or for bilingual interpreters; A (Swahili), B (English) & C (German) and so on.
  • Logistics and the right interpreters: Well, we all know how difficult organising more than 4 people to catch a train on time can be, so imagine that it’s 20 interpreters speaking 5 different languages….. Don’t panic, it’s not too difficult. If a conference is being held in London, but the floor language is Turkish, and the passive languages are English, Ukrainian, Polish, Chinese, Russian & Spanish, what do you do?Simple: you can organise things so that the interpreters can all work out of 2 common languages as it’s pretty unlikely that they will all be Turkish active Ukrainian, Polish or Spanish passive. But they all might have English and Spanish as passive languages so it’s not the nightmare it initially seems.
  • Layout: it’s always advisable to give your interpreting agency as much information as possible, and this will include room plans, so that it’s feasible to organise how you’re going to fit the 20 tables, 4 soundproof booths, technician’s bench, microphones, data projector, cables and plasma screen you’d planned on squeezing in to that lovely cosy Georgian panelled conference room on the top floor of that members club in Soho…
  • 3 Standard layouts for conference interpreting: these really are the ones which work best and which will make everyone, including you, happier in the long run.
    1. Theatre: speakers at the front (on dais or at table) with delegates in rows of chairs facing them
    2. Classroom: speakers at a front table with delegates in rows of chairs with their own tables facing the top table
    3. Boardroom: everyone seated around a table
  • Booth planning: positioning of interpreting booths is vital to the smooth running of the whole process. Wherever possible you should try to match all of the following:
    1. Allow interpreters direct eye contact with the speakers
    2. A discrete means of leaving their booths and the venue
    3. If you have more than one booth, group them together
    4. Don’t forget the technician and leave him room next to the booths for his bench
  • Communication & Information: conference interpreters can only do the job you expect from them if they have all the relevant information beforehand. They will need time to prepare and assimilate the information so don’t hand them 40 pages of briefing notes 30 minutes before they are due to begin interpreting.
    The standard information all interpreters should have beforehand would be:

    • The agenda
    • The list of delegates
    • The list of participating organisations
    • Any industry specific acronyms, abbreviations or preferred terminology
    • Any marketing or press related materials/handouts
    • Previous notes from any similar conference or minutes if it’s an AGM
    • The most important: the speaker’s presentation or notes
  • Finally: on the day, meet and greet your interpreter(s), along with the technician, and make sure everything is working OK, assign one or 2 members of staff to look after the interpreters, hand out and collect any equipment (make sure they understand how it works if they have to demonstrate it to a delegate), keep people fed, watered and happy. You see, easy.

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