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Speaker at conference

If you’ve ever addressed an audience at a multilingual conference with on-site or remote interpretation, chances are you didn’t even notice that your carefully crafted speech was being translated into a different language in real time.

And that’s exactly how it should be: you (the speaker) talk through your PowerPoint, while we (your interpreters) work hard on the other end of the room to make sure the non-English speaking delegates understand what’s being said.

Now, good interpreters are normally well capable of handling whatever the speaker may throw at them – whether it’s technical jargon, mysterious acronyms or dodgy turns of phrase. However, it’s always good to be aware when interpreters are working behind the scenes at your event, no less because you may make their job a little easier and avoid any possible issues or misunderstandings.

Here are a few tips for being an even better speaker when working with professional interpreters.

 1) Share materials with the interpreters ahead of time

Interpreters are highly trained professionals, but they generally don’t have an in-depth working knowledge of your specialist field (that would just make things too easy, right?). This means that, to be able to translate your speech as accurately as possible, whether it’s about sustainable finance, smart manufacturing or machine learning, we must prepare in advance. That’s why sharing your presentation or any other useful material ahead of the event is invaluable for us to research the topic. Worried about confidentiality? Don’t be. Interpreters – especially those who are members of respected professional associations, like AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters) or ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting) – are bound by professional secrecy and would never share confidential information without the client’s explicit permission.

2) Speak naturally (and don’t forget to breathe)

Don’t bother trying to speak slower than your usual pace. Like noisy neighbours being told to turn the music down, we all know it won’t last for long, and that’s totally fine. Besides, speed itself isn’t really an issue. From our perspective, the problems start when the speaker churns out a high amount of information at a relentless pace, taking barely a second to breathe between sentences.

Most frequently this occurs when the speaker is reading out a statement instead of delivering it naturally. Interpreters work by identifying units of meaning that they then reformulate into the target language, and they rely on the speaker’s intonation and on the small pauses and repetitions that naturally occur in spontaneous speech.

If you are planning on following a written statement closely, don’t hesitate to provide it to your interpreters beforehand so they can come prepared. And don’t forget: a natural delivery will also help your English listeners digest your presentation more easily.

Bonus tip: If you’re using a PowerPoint presentation, don’t overcrowd your slides with whole paragraphs of text. Your audience will have a hard time following everything, while you’ll be tempted to read the words on the screen out loud instead of presenting naturally.

3) Be mindful of irony, and don’t go overboard with literary quotes

Thinking of kicking off your speech with an ice-breaking joke or an insightful Shakespeare quote to set the tone? You may want to think again.

Coming up with that perfect one-liner to get your audience’s attention was surely neither quick nor easy, and it likely required several minutes of contemplative thinking in front of your laptop, with a mug of tea close to hand. Your interpreters won’t have that luxury. They will certainly try their best to convey your message as faithfully as possible, but humour is one of those things that simply doesn’t translate well most of the time, and your foreign listeners may be left wondering why the other half of the room is laughing.

Literary quotes can be even tricker to render. The only way to translate them effectively is to look up the “official”, previously published translations, which takes time. If that’s strictly necessary to your presentation, make sure your interpreters are aware of it so they can research the quote beforehand.

4) Don’t neglect microphone etiquette

It may sound obvious, but remember to speak into the microphone at all times so the interpreters can hear you clearly. If you’re taking part in a panel discussion and you’re sharing your microphone with other speakers, wait until the microphone is available to you before answering a question. And it’s always a good idea to avoid talking over somebody else, however engaging the conversation can get.

Good microphone etiquette is even more important during remote meetings, but that’s for a different post.

5) Trust your interpreters

Don’t be tempted to switch to presenting in your second language because you want to make sure that your point has come across or that “everybody understands”. That’s why we’re there! It may be daunting to entrust somebody else with conveying your words, but switching to a different language mid-sentence, or perhaps while answering a question from a foreign delegate, can create confusion. Besides, no matter how excellent your French or Italian may be, I firmly believe that we’re all more comfortable when we can express ourselves in our mother tongue. And we’re there to help you do just that.


I’m an Italian translator and interpreter based in London, helping clients across the UK (and beyond) communicate effectively with their Italian stakeholders. My specialties include simultaneous interpreting at multilingual conferences and events, along with marketing and creative translation. Need help communicating in languages other than Italian? Let’s talk! I can put you in touch with the right people or, better yet, organise the entire interpreting provision for your event, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.

Make sure you check out Word Of Mouth Translations, the company I co-founded, for your wider-reaching language needs.

Bruno Musarra

One Comment

    April 5, 2024

    Wonderful words of wisdom, Bruno. They should be shared as widely as possible with meeting planners – to pass on to their speakers!


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