Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 

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About 30 percent of the audience at my speech in Sao Paulo today did not understand English and had to rely on the earphones that had been given out to them, and on the skills of the translator to get the message of my speech.

If you work as a global speaker, you are bound to get to have your speech being translated sooner or later. I think the record for me is 12 (!) different languages being translated at one conference. The translator booths took up a big part of the conference room.

In honor of all the times I have relied on a translator to get my message across, I thought I should make a post about working with translators.

So, what is the most important thing to remember when giving a speech that is being simultaneously translated?

To speak slowly?
To avoid difficult words?
To avoid too much text on your slides?

No.

The most important thing to not forget is to remember to go and meet up with your translator(s) before the speech!

You would be amazed how seldom speakers do that.

I recently spoke at a conference where I had been assigned an assistant who followed me around during the conference. I asked him to bring me to the translator booth that was hidden away on the fourth floor in this huge convention centre. After I had introduced myself to the translator, my assistant asked me why I did that.

I replied, “Did you see how I was the only speaker who made the effort to find the translator? Now, not only does the translator know more about my speech, what I am going to talk about, and what I find most important in my presentation. More importantly, which speaker do you think he will put in the most energy to make as good as possible?”

My assistant smiled and replied, “Yours?”

Correct.

A bad translator can ruin a speech. And a great translator can be so good that the audience forgets that they are listening to a translation. But doing a great translation in real time is an amazingly difficult thing to do. Try translating something out loud what you watch on TV for example, it’s HARD!

Having your translator put in a little bit of extra effort when translating your speech – because he or she likes you because you took the effort to go and say ‘hi’ – is going to be so valuable.

Translators do not just take the words you say and say them in another language – they transform your message – in real time – to communicate the essence of what you are trying to say. Or, like my translator in Sao Paulo today put it when I was introducing myself to her before my speech, “We translate the meaning of your words, that’s why it’s called ‘translation’.”

Lesson: Your translator is your best friend – so treat them like that, go and say ‘hi’ before the speech. It will pay back big time.

P.S. If you want to see a great example of the power of having an engaged translator, please watch this sign video of the sign language translator from the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest. Golden!

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