3 Steps to Making a Successful Multi-Lingual Virtual Event

November 14, 2020

With the covid-19 pandemic situation rampaged around the world, for the safety and health of ourselves, more and more people have chosen to work from home and plan to move more meetings and events from onsite to online. With speakers and attendees from different parts of the world joining in a virtual meeting, cross-cultural and cross-language communication would be crucial to the success of such events, on top of reliable virtual meeting platforms.

First and foremost, always choose the right interpreters you would like to work with. Technologies are more or less similar and will soon be commoditized, however, human interpreters are still needed for multi-lingual communication at any business or professional meeting. Tech-savviness has also become a necessity for the “right” interpreters.

Second, all major virtual meeting platforms in the market have experienced a surge in demands during this crisis period, with more people working from home and having regular virtual meetings and webinars. This is indeed a great stress test on the infrastructure, security, accessibility and reliability of these platforms.

My advice for clients and event organizers on choosing a successful virtual meeting platform would be…

  • to consider the largest platforms with long history and brand reputation in the industry, such as Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, ON24, BlueJeans, etc.

Infrastructure wise, they have the widest coverage in the world, most reliable servers, and more professional online technical support team comparing with start-up video conferencing companies.

  • Then, focus on the functionalities you need from a general virtual meeting platform.

Basic and interactive functions such as waiting room, chat box, live polls, Q&A, event host management also key considerations for a good virtual event. It would be best to have the interactivity integrated in the videoconference platforms, other than operating them from two or more different portals or apps.

Third, after filtering through the first two steps, you are left with not many choices, and the next step would be to select a platform with simultaneous interpreting function. Simplicity to use is paramount for event organizers, speakers, audience and simultaneous interpreters in a virtual meeting, so we can put less attention to operating the platform or interface but more on what we do the best.

If you have chosen to use Zoom as your primary videoconferencing platform, integrated simultaneous interpretation functions (up to 8 language channels) are available, without incurring any extra cost should you have a paid account (pro account + webinar add-on, enterprise or education account).

However, if you cannot choose Zoom but any other main stream videoconference platforms as your primary virtual meeting venue which doesn’t include built-in simultaneous interpretation functions, don’t fret as we do have other options to help you adding in the simultaneous interpretation. There are two options here for you to consider:

1) The most cost-effective way is to stay with the platform you have chosen and create different virtual rooms (bridges) for different languages. Relay interpretation is feasible, without the limitation of the number of languages.

Interpreters and non-English (assuming English is the primary language of communication in this meeting)speaking panelists need to be trained on how to carry out the meeting on two different bridges (same app), on two different devices. For browser-based videoconference platforms, it is possible to use one device with two browser tabs/windows to carry out the speaking or interpretation, but the operation is slightly more complicated than using two devices, and thus can only be advised for use by IT-savvy interpreters only.

2) If you don’t mind paying extra money, you can choose any purpose-built remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) platforms in an add-on approach (no video streaming) to your chosen videoconference platform.

For non-English (assuming English is the primary language of communication in this meeting) speaking panelists and audience, two devices (and two different apps) are needed throughout the whole meeting. This alternative is much more expensive and more complicated to operate for panelists and audience, and so event organizers need to use with caution.

For RSI platforms which offer video streaming of the main platform (mirroring), two devices are not necessary for audience (as they are not using a different platform from the main virtual event), however, the traffic has been permanently moved to the RSI platforms, with no interaction possible between the audience and the speakers/panelists on the same platform. This is not advisable as the cost of streaming video on the RSI platforms are going to be extremely high (as extra cost), and there are no possible interactions, as well as higher failure rate due to weak infrastructure provided by the startup RSI platforms.

List of action items for your speakers/panelists to follow:

  1. Use a headset with built-in microphone connected by USB to your computer. The built-in microphone on your computer or tablet is too far from your mouth and picks up background noise and the echo of your own voice in a room. A headset with microphone stays at the right distance from your mouth and moves with your head so you're always speaking into it properly.
  2. Use a hard-wired Internet connection. That means a cable from computer to modem. Wi-Fi and mobile telephones just don’t offer the speed, quality or stability of connection required. Turn off the router the night before the webinar to clear the memory and restart on the event day
  3. Be alone in a quiet room. (No partners, no kids, no animals!). Close the doors and windows. Don't be outside! Turn appliances, music, TVs off. Avoid rooms with hard surfaces where your voice will bounce on it and create echoes. Rooms with bookshelves would be helpful to reduce the sound echoing or using headset with microphone so the microphone is close to your mouth.
  4. Speak slowly for interpreters. The sound collected by our microphone has been compressed during the internet transmission and thus what others hear from their devices would be slightly different from the high quality sound you hear yourself talking (which is why virtual meetings are much more exhausting than face-to-face meetings). That adds up to the difficulty of interpreters’ job. Do pace down and speak slowly, and do not read out any written scripts/speeches in a fast manner.

List of items for event organizers to follow (in major videoconference platforms):

  1. Technical test and demo with simultaneous interpretation functions on the chosen platform prior to the virtual meeting;
  2. While the host of meeting is managing the waiting room admission, and general coordination, assign a co-host to manage the cameras and microphones of all attendees through the whole meeting, a co-host for managing and monitoring the Q&A and chatbox, a co-host for recording if necessary and another one or a few co-host (standby technician online) to monitor the interpreting channels. These are the minimum requirements on support personnel to ensure a successful virtual event.
  3. Training and test with simultaneous interpreters at least two days prior to the virtual meeting;
  4. Training and test with speakers/panelists at least one day prior to the virtual meeting;
  5. Standard technical and sound test with interpreters 45-60 mins prior to the meeting, and standard sound test with speakers/panelists 15-20 mins prior to the meeting.

For more details on how to choose the right virtual event platform for your multi-lingual virtual event, please feel free to contact me here, for a 45-minutes non-obligatory (pro-bono) technical consultancy session.

I would be happy to assist our clients and event organizer partners impacted during this period by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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If you want me to provide you Interpretation/Translation service in English to Chinese (Mandarin) and vice versa, or a quotation for conference interpreting services of any languages, simply contact me by phone or email.

Dr. Bernard Song