10 things to consider when speaking with simultaneous interpretation

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  1. Especially for the hosts: Start off by asking if everyone can hear the translation and point out that there are headphones, because not all people notice it right away.
  2. When you’re speaking through an interpreter, it’s not one person holding a speech, but two. So if your speech is written, you need to submit your script to the conference organizers as soon as possible, so they can forward it to the interpreters. If you start holding a speech that no one is prepared for, the interpreter will have to stop because you’re too fast.
  3. If you submitted a script before the event, the interpreters will be sticking to that. If you add anything that’s not in your draft, you need to make a short pause or give the interpreters a sign.
  4. Free speeches are much easier to interpret live than written speeches and need less preparation. Don’t worry about breathing pauses, ems and errs – they’re great for all listeners, especially for the interpreters. There’s no such thing as too slow in public speaking. .
  5. If possible, the interpreters and the speakers should keep eye contact during the speech – and agree on hand signs. The alternative, especially if the interpreters are sitting in cabins, is that they ask their listeners to ask the speaker to slow down, which is not very elegant.
  6. Especially if you didn’t hand in your script before the speech, give the interpreters a short briefing before your talk about things you’d like them to highlight. Many speakers say bye and thanks to the interpreters, but if you say hi before your speech, it’s way better for you.
  7. Speak slowly and clearly – about 3 minutes per page at least. As if every sentence was a punch line and you’re waiting for an audience reaction – think TED talks. Do not mumble or rush through “boring parts” of the text – the interpreters have to interpret these too.
  8. Speak extra slowly and clearly when saying names of people and institutions, dates, numbers and figures. If the interpreters are working as a team, one of them might note down this data for the other.
  9. If your speech is longer than 30 minutes, you will probably have 2 interpreters. So they need a few seconds every 20-30 minutes to switch mics.
  10. Avoid colloquialisms and wordplay – punchlines don’t translate well. Funny stories are great though, because the joke is not in a few words but in the plot.

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