How To Give A Speech When You Are Not The One Doing The Speaking

Speakers need to plan carefully when they are working with an interpreter
Speakers need to plan carefully when they are working with an interpreter Image Credit: michael_swan

The world in which we live is getting smaller and smaller each day. What this means for speakers is that we may get called on to give a speech to an international audience at any time. If this happens to you, then you are going to have to realize that not everyone in your audience is going to be able to speak or understand the language that you give your speech in. However, because of the importance of public speaking they may still be interested in what you have to say. What this means is that an interpreter may be called in to translate what you say, as you say it, into another language. If you find yourself in this situation, then you are going to have to know how to work with an interpreter.

Getting Your Message Across

It’s the dream of each one of us – we’ve been invited to speak at an international event. We pack our bags, prepare an amazing talk and board our plane. We arrive at the venue ready to give the best presentation of our career. Oh oh – there’s just one problem. It turns out that the people in your audience don’t speak your language! In today’s globally connected world, international conferences are a more common occurrence than ever before. Chances are if you’re presenting at an event that attracts attendees from other countries – or even if your speech is being streamed over the Web – some people will need a translation to understand the information that you will be sharing. What this means is that you are going to need an interpreter. You need to know what the best way to work with an interpreter that you can overcome the language barriers and connect with your audience.

Always Ask For Information Before You Go To Your Event

Whenever you are asked to give a speech, you should confirm with the event organizer all of the important details such as the number of attendees, the setup of the room and what equipment will be available to you. When you are speaking at an international event, you’ll need to ask several additional questions. You’ll want to find out where the majority of attendees will come from. If most of the people speak your language, you might not need an interpreter. Do find out what languages attendees are most likely to speak. Many countries have citizens who speak multiple languages, so make sure that you find out which languages these individuals speak. By learning such information in advance, you can customize your talk accordingly. If the organizers indicate that some or all of your audience do not speak the language in which you plan to present, ask if they will provide you with an interpreter. If so, it means more people will be able to understand you. It also means you will need to prepare to deliver your presentation in a very different way.

Take Time To Script Your Presentation for Use By An Interpreter

Many of us like to script our slides. We don’t do this with the purpose of actually sticking with the script, but as a way to work out exactly what we plan on saying. However, when you are working with an interpreter, a script can serve an additional purpose. A script is a source of information. It will allow the interpreter to become familiar with what you’ll be talking about before you give your speech. This is especially important if you plan to cover topics involving technical terminology. Often, an interpreter will sit down with your script and review any unfamiliar words and phrases, looking them up to find the perfect rendition in the target language.

Make Sure To Budget Time for Interpretation

Before you give a speech to an international audience, always ask the event organizer if a simultaneous interpreter will be available during the event. In this case the interpreter will speak while you are speaking. This can be accomplished by having the interpreter listen through headphones while enclosed in a soundproofed both. If the interpreter will be translating your words while you speak, the amount of time you will need for your talk will be roughly the same as if you were delivering it on your own, in your native language. However, during your speech you will need to slow your pace, because some languages require more words than others to say the same thing.

Choose Your Words Carefully

As you develop your speech’s script, try to avoid words with double meanings. You need to understand that these words could easily be misunderstood by the interpreter, who will be listening and speaking at the same time – which increases the chances of hearing something incorrectly. Take the time to read your script aloud. Are you struggling with any words? Does your speech include any words that sound the same, like to, too and two? Be sure to train your ear to recognize these words as you practice your speech aloud, and delete them, if possible. Try to break any long sentences into shorter ones. Consider occasionally phrasing sentences as questions, because this way, even if you have an interpreter with a dry monotone, their intonation will change due to the natural dynamic of asking a question. If during your speech you cite a lot of numbers include these numbers on slides, allowing the interpreter to look at the numbers on the slide, instead of having to rely on notes.

Spend Time With Your Interpreter In Advance

Prior to the day that you’ll be giving your speech contact the organizer to find out how to get your script to the interpreter. Many presenters wait until the day of their speech to provide notes to the interpreter. We need to understand that by that time, it’s usually too late for your interpreter to study up on your content. The more advance notice you can give the interpreter, the more familiar they will be with your topic, and therefore the better your talk will be. If you have slides, provide copies to your interpreter. This will help them interpret both the content of the slides and your words. If you will be presenting to an audience in which most attendees speak another language, consider obtaining translations of the slides, and displaying the translations. If you do this, then you’ll have to remember to be able to follow along and recall what the slides said in the source language prior to translation

Carefully Pace Your Delivery

This may be the hardest thing for most of us to do. When the day of your speech arrives, the most important thing you can do for your interpreter is to slow down your speaking. Most of us actually speed up our talking when speaking before an audience, usually because we are excited. We need to remember to relax. It’s fine for us to occasionally pause or even take a drink of water to enable our interpreter to catch up with us. Our interpreter might need a break at that point, too. If you meet the interpreter before your speech, you might ask them to signal to you when they want you to slow down. Some conference setups allow the interpreter to press a button, which will act like a stoplight, to relay instructions to the speaker. If the light is green, then you know that the interpreter is signaling you to keep speaking. If the light is yellow, you should slow down. If the light is red, halt and take a deep breath or a sip of water to give the interpreter a chance to catch up.

Be Sure To Ask for Feedback

As speakers we always want to be getting better. This means that before you speak, you need to ask your interpreter to provide feedback after your talk. You are looking for information on what you did well and what you could have done better. Understand that you might be surprised by what you hear. Perhaps your voice did not carry well, or maybe you spoke too loudly into the microphone. Getting feedback will make your next experience with an interpreter that much more successful!

What All Of This Means For You

When we get asked to give a speech, there is a very good chance that we will be speaking to a mixed audience. Not everyone in our audience may understand our language. As speakers, we really want everyone in our audience to be able to experience the benefits of public speaking and both hear and understand our speech. What this means for us is that we are going to need some help. What we are going to need is an interpreter who can translate our speech into another language as we give our speech. How should we work with an interpreter in order to give a successful speech?

Prior to showing up to give our speech, we should always have a talk with the event organizer. We’ll want to know who will be in the audience and what languages they speak. If we’ll be working with an interpreter, then we are going to need to have a script for our speech that we can share with them. When an interpreter is delivering your speech, you need to budget time to allow the translations to happen. Not all words translate smoothly and so as the speaker you should review your speech and remove any difficult words. If possible, meet with your interpreter before your speech and review what you’ll be saying. Make sure that you pace your speech so that your interpreter can keep up with you. Be sure to ask for feedback from your interpreter so that you’ll know what changes to make so that your next speech will be even better.

Giving a speech to an audience who may not speak or understand your language is a real challenge for any speaker. The good news is that it can be done – we just need to work with an interpreter to make it happen. If we find ourselves working with an interpreter, then we need to make sure that we adjust our speaking style to work with them. The interpreter is there to make us look good, we need to allow them to do that!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How much time should you spend with your translator before your give your speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As speakers, we all know that in order to be successful, we need to find a way to create a connection with our audience. We have to be able to do this for every speech that we give. It may not be an easy thing for us to do. However, the good news is that there are many different ways for us to go about doing this. If we can find a way that works for us, then we’ll have a real chance to make a connection with our audience and get them to pay attention to our speech.