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Guidelines for Presenters & Speakers

Guidelines for Presenters & Speakers(Copyright 1998 William H. Wood)

Simultaneous Interpretation is a magic trick. You, the presenter, are in collaboration with your interpreter to create an illusion - the illusion that you are speaking to every listener in the room in his or her own language, all at the same time!

As you know, to create and maintain an illusion, everything must be perfect. The mechanics of the illusion must be seamless to assure success. Theater does not tolerate imperfection. Your interpreter is your collaborator. Your interpreter is very bright, highly skilled, probably has one or more post-graduate degrees as well as intensive training, and many years of experience dedicated solely to this grand illusion.


What is your role in this collaboration?

  1. Your primary job is to be clear. Interpreters interpret concepts, not words or phrases. Therefore your interpreter must understand what you are saying, or a "shower of words" will result -the words may be there, but they won't tie together and they won't make sense. If your interpreter understands you, your audience will understand you.

  2. Timing. Timing is everything in theater, and you control the timing. Many languages require 50% to 100% more words than English to express the same concept. Give your interpreter time to say it! Pause for emphasis - your interpreter will make good use of it.

  3. Avoid jokes. Humor is highly cultural. Jokes are precarious at best and disastrous at worst.

  4. Speak into the microphone. You are an artist and the microphone and sound system are your instruments. Your interpreter is concentrating intensely on everything you say, and must hear you perfectly in order to do justice to what you are saying.

  5. Reading papers. It is best to talk to your audience, perhaps referring as needed to notes or slide bullets. Many professional storytellers like to pick out an audience member, and "talk" to that person. If yours is a formal presentation, speechwriters have the special skill necessary to put the spoken word in written form for a teleprompter. Because the written word has a much higher information density than the spoken word, it is essential that your interpreter be given a copy of anything from which you are reading. Likewise it is important that the interpreter have copies of graphics or slides with high density, numbers, and/or small print.

  6. Numbers. Numbers can be excruciating for presenters as well as interpreters and audience, and are often difficult to interpret. Say them slowly and avoid strings of numbers that run together. Give your listeners a break.

If you manage this illusion properly your audience will applaud roundly, perhaps even unaware of the magic of simultaneous, and your interpreter will rest with the satisfaction of a job well done! (top)