The moving parts of good Conference Interpreting

The moving parts of good Conference Interpreting

When any type of performance goes well the audience tends to be immersed in the content, and they don’t think about the planning, practice, and arrangements that went into making it work. This is as true of multilingual conferences as it is of television news and professional stage productions.

Skrivanek manages multilingual conferences for major global clients like the United Nations. The U.N. has many branches/offices and the content of the various conferences for which we have provided interpreting range from basic women’s rights to water availability in isolated regions of the globe. U.N. conferences involve critical subjects and participants from numerous countries. Thoughtful planning of every single detail is imperative and at the conference all eyes will be on our choices and the performance of our interpreters. The best conference interpreting will run so smoothly that none of the participants will have cause to even think about the mechanics of the event that we work so hard on.

For every conference event, our project managers book interpreters with the right subject background, language mastery, and level of interpreting experience, along with availability. Then there are the logistical and technical aspects of the conference to arrange. At the conference site permanent or mobile soundproof booths must be set up and equipped for the interpreter of each language. Sound systems with microphones and headsets for every participant must work flawlessly, and booth lighting will be installed for the interpreters’ needs. Technology is also wired in for visual presentations. Project Manager oversight of the interpreters and all other logistics must be vigilant throughout the event.

The first simultaneous interpretation system was used in 1927 at the League of Nations’ International Labour Organization conference. Back then, interpreters read pre-translated text into the microphones, but today conference interpreters translate on-site or online in real time, sometimes switching between different modes of interpreting – simultaneous, consecutive, or relay.

  • Simultaneous interpreting is done while the speaker is talking, and the interpreter translates just a few words behind the speaker’s delivery. Fast paced and difficult, this form of interpreting is physically and intellectually draining. Teams of interpreters and regular breaks are required.
  • Consecutive interpreting allows the interpreter to listen, take notes, and then at a pause point they translate the speaker’s words.
  • Relay interpreting is needed less frequently. When there are numerous languages and some of the combinations are rare, there will be one interpreter who translates into a common language such as English, and additional interpreters interpret the English for the portions of the audience speaking other languages.

Before you host or work at a multilingual conference you might not realize how many details are involved. There are technology systems for recording, archiving, sign-in, voting, webcasting, cameras, teleconferencing, and many more. The interpreters and other professionals need to be on task and extremely high quality. The LSP capable of meeting such demands with highest quality is one with deep roots in the industry and years of experience with conference interpreting.

The language service industry has grown and become so much more complex since the early part of the 20th century when international conference interpreting was new. What is gained when an LSP can effectively facilitate a multilingual conference is that connections are made and voices are heard. Sometimes the cause is business networking and sometimes it’s justice for people who have not before had a chance to share their truths. We have experience with a wide variety of conference interpretation events and a passion for making them run so smoothly that no one thinks about the mechanics we handle. The world’s challenges require global conversations and it’s exciting to us at Skrivanek to be able to help make them happen.



J. V. McShulskis