Delivering multilingual content and engaging multilingual audiences at events

When planning events, do you take into consideration the languages that your attendees speak? When you host events in English, do you consider the possibility that attendees may not be native speakers? English is spoken by many people, but do we all speak it equally? We travel and conduct business internationally, but to what extent do we pay attention to the language proficiency of our delegates, and even trying to accommodate for a second or third language? 

Deciding to explore this topic further, I hosted the #eventprofstalk Twitter chat. We discussed how to deliver multilingual content and engage multilingual audiences at events. 

Determining the language(s) of your event

First things first, before deciding whether there is a need for multilingual content, we have to determine who our audience is. How can that be done? Either by asking our audience during the registration process or taking a decision based on where our event takes place. If it is held in Germany for example, and even being an international event, it is fair to expect that a high percentage of the audience will speak German. Johnny Martinez, Business Development Manager at Shocklogic, suggested that “Location obviously plays a big part. Especially at international events, you may need to accommodate for English speakers (the global language) and the local language”. If you want to go the extra mile, create a bilingual website and registration forms. 

Tapping into local knowledge and making events more engaging

There are advantages that come with delivering multilingual content at events. First and foremost is tapping into the local knowledge of experts. For two years I have lived in Germany, and because German is not widely spoken by international audiences, and there is a lot of content at international events in Germany delivered in German, I have noticed that simultaneous translation to English is provided during the main presentations. For local speakers who may not feel comfortable presenting in a foreign language, allowing them to present in their native language will eliminate this barrier. Offering content in more languages will attract a larger audience, both local and international, and will enhance the event experience for everyone attending by making the content more accessible. Becky Dempsey, Senior Project Manager at Primary, added that the advantage is “Putting your delegates on an even playing field and ensuring everyone can engage with your content in the same way.”

The challenges

With the benefits, there are also challenges that should be addressed in advance by organisers who want to deliver multilingual content at events. According to chat participants, Becky and Johnny, the three main issues are time, budget and staffing (professional interpreters). A way around providing interpreters could be using an app, such as Interprefy and Interactio App. Jonny noted that these apps can remotely translate event content, instead of having interpreters on-site, reducing travel and accommodating costs. 

Think beyond the spoken word 

There are also ways around breaking the language barrier and ensuring that everyone is involved. Visual content, gamification, creating crafts and other kinaesthetic activities will help bring the message across in a way that everyone can understand and engage with the topic. Language is also about culture and values, so if you offer your participants to engage in a team-building activity that highlights the local traditions, values, cuisine, music or alike, that can put everyone on a level playing field, people will find ways to learn and communicate with each other without the spoken word. 

A good tip for breaking the ice for delegates when on site is for local staff to have flag pins or stickers on their name badge with flags representing the languages they speak. Becky added that “It is not just event content it is the event experience too. I always try to have multi-lingual hosts and hostesses to support an event to aim for a positive event experience.” The same approach can be applied for attendees, to put a language sign on their name badge, and that can be a good way to start a conversation. Pauline Kwasniak, Founder and CEO of TurnedSee added that “Every event should use the power of globalism. They have multilingual staff at no extra cost these days. People from various countries live and work in our cities and companies. I remember years ago it was such a big deal to get multilingual staff. Now we have to promote and take advantage of the people’s skills. It’s just great.”

The importance of delivering multilingual events

To get further insight into the topic from a certified interpreter, I also asked Dr Jonathan Downie, Owner of Integrity Languages, who provide conference and business interpreting services, about the importance of delivering multilingual events. Jonathan shared that “A well-delivered multilingual event will always drive more value and ROI than a monolingual event, simply because you are meeting people in their first language. The trick is to make sure that the language side of the event is actually delivered well. Basic steps like pulling in the expertise of a consultant interpreter as early as possible to advise on cultural and technical issues, working with proven equipment suppliers and only ever using actual professionals (instead of the proverbial ‘Bob from accounts who does a bit of French’ or praying that mobile phone apps can do the job) can make a huge difference.” 

When organising multilingual events, event planners should think beyond the written word, but instead consider how to improve attendee experience and build a strong brand for the organisation. Jonathan added that “The more events planners realise that multilingual events are as much about experience as they are about “words”, the better the results you get. Good interpreting isn’t just accurate; it’s persuasive and empowering. Good translation isn’t just understandable; it sings. Providing excellent professional translation for written documents and interpreting for speeches and workshops, means a lot more than just allowing people to hear something in their first language. It speaks volumes about the kind of organisation running the event and their approach to their audience.” 

Interpreting therefore should not be left to chance, but rather be well thought through from the very beginning. Jonathan concluded that “That’s why a good consultant interpreter should be seen a bit like a specialist event planner – it’s just that their specialism is in delivering an event that works for every audience. This is why sorting out interpreting at the last minute, when all the decisions are already made, often creates as many problems as it solves, yet seeing interpreting and translation as foundational parts of event delivery leads to much better results and much calmer events planners.”

Having lived in five countries myself (Russia, Israel, Switzerland, the UK and now Germany), I pay close attention to languages and that is a topic which greatly interests me. Living in the UK for the past five years has made me aware that my English was not as good as I initially thought, and over the years I had to work on my language proficiency. I am sure that this situation is also the case for many international attendees who have different levels of spoken and written language. Being aware of this issue, and trying to accommodate for different levels of language proficiency, as well as for second or even third languages, can enhance the event experience for your delegates and build a stronger brand presence both locally and globally. 

Photo credit: Thomas Loris, MICE @ ITB Berlin 2018 

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