Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 28 2016

How One Convention Speaks Seven Languages

David McMillin

When more than 45,000 attendees came together in Seoul for the 2016 Rotary International Convention from May 28—June 1, the message was clear — literally. No matter where attendees called home or what language they spoke, Rotary International aimed to make sure they could be comfortable with simultaneous interpretation of seven languages: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese and Korean. Shannon Watson, CMP, CAE, Director, Meetings & Events at Rotary International, summed up the reasoning behind this robust offering in “How to Deliver Multilingual Events International Attendees Can’t Miss” at the PCMA Education Conference on Monday, June 27. “Rotary’s strategy is driven by inclusivity,” Watson said.” Our live content is interpreted, and all our printed collateral is translated so that we communicate with attendees in their native languages.”

That strategy dates back well before most organizations began discussing how to embrace a more global approach. In fact, Watson told the Education Conference audience that the organization began offering a limited amount of simultaneous interpretation in 1990. Today, the organization interprets all general session material and a majority of the convention’s breakout sessions.

How Does Simultaneous Interpretation Sound?

I had the opportunity to experience the ease of simultaneous interpretation during my time in St. Louis. Ben Hainsworth, Executive Director, K.I.T. Group GmbH, moderated the discussion between Watson and John Kendrick, Vice President and Managing Director, Conference Systems, Inc. Hainsworth asked questions in French while an interpreter in a booth in the room offered the questions in English, and the entire process happened thanks to radio frequencies broadcast on headphones provided by Kendrick’s company.

The experience was a first and gave me a sincere appreciation for the art of interpretation. Tucked away in a booth in the back corner of the room, the interpreter listened in one language while immediately speaking in another. For audience members who spoke French, they could turn to another channel to hear her interpret Watson’s and Kendrick’s comments from English.

Embracing Inclusivity And Interpretation

Rotary isn’t the only organization that should be prioritizing language inclusivity. Associations, societies and corporations alike need to make attendees feel comfortable when they’re on-site rather than forcing them to use another language. Sure, many of them may be comfortable with English as a second language, but Kendrick highlighted that we are all best at learning when using our native languages. That’s a critical point to remember for attendees who are traveling to participate in a conference.

“If you’re paying for people to go to a meeting, the last thing you want to do is only let them understand a portion of the content,” Kendrick said. “Because if attendees can’t understand what’s being said, then there really isn’t a meeting even taking place.”

Taking Your First Steps Toward Speaking Multiple Languages

Regardless of the size and professional scope of your organization, investigating interpretation services should be on your to-do list. Watson offered a few key tips for meeting professionals who want to communicate more effectively with their attendees.

  • Train your speakers. Panelists and presenters must slow down so that interpreters can keep up. Rather than talking at a typical native language pace, speakers will need to recognize that taking extra time will help the voices behind the booth.
  • Do your research. Watson said that Rotary uses web analytics and registration numbers to determine interpretation needs. As their audience has grown in certain parts of the world, they’ve added language services. What’s her tipping point to invest? When five percent of attendees are speaking the same language, she knows they need to offer simultaneous interpretation.
  • Every session isn’t created equal. Watson said that Rotary staffs interpreters for the convention based on topic relevance. If a breakout session is particularly important to one segment, there may only be one or two languages offered while general sessions typically involve all seven languages.

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