Professional Speaking: Working with an Interpreter

Patricia Fripp and Darren LaCroix speak to an audience from Slovakia who do not speak English!!! The EDGE program that is mentioned is our World Champions Edge Coaching Community.

Darren: The more professional speaking you do, the more opportunities will arise. One of them will be to address an audience who does not speak your language. Peter, an executive from Slovakia, found me on the Internet. He then became an EDGE member and invested in a $4,000 plane ticket to attend Lady and the Champs. While he was at Lady and the Champs he said, “I’m bringing my leadership team to America, and I want you and Patricia to work with them.”

Patricia: That was the first time we discovered, once it was a signed contract, that only one of the participants from Tampa would actually speak English. We were going to work with a Las Vegas-based interpreter.

Patricia Fripp and Darren LaCroix World Champions Edge
Patricia Fripp and Darren LaCroix World Champions Edge

Darren: And as you may surmise, there’s not a lot of call for Slovakian translation here in Las Vegas. There is a difference between an interpreter and a translator. Patricia, what’s the definition according to the dictionary?

Patricia: The dictionary tells us that “translate” is a verb and means to change from one language into another, change from one form or medium into another, and make sense of a language. To “interpret” is similar, yet different. The first definition is make sense of, assign a meaning to, give an explanation to.

                        When I was working with a large direct sales company, I had the opportunity to develop a relationship with professional interpreters. Naturally, as we encourage you to do, I sat them down and interviewed them. They said, “Patricia, we translate documents for our clients. However, the real skill comes when you are listening to the speakers and we interpret. What we do is act out the stories. That means word-for-word what the client says might not be what the international audience hears; however, it is the essence.” And, obviously, they said, “The more people give us the information in advance, the more they pause, which very few people know how to do, the better it is for us.”

Darren: And you don’t only translate from one language to another. Sometimes you may be working with an interpreter, who takes your words and interprets their meaning through sign language. I was fortunate enough to be invited to do a keynote speech for an organization for the hard of hearing. I love their acronym. It’s SHH, Society for the Hard of Hearing, and it goes on. But what was different for us as a presenter, we all have to understand is that we have to take our time, and we have to be even more present because we not only have to make sure we get our words to the interpreter or translator but that they have a chance to get their words or meaning into the minds of the audience before we continue.

                       When I was at this particular organization, there were actually three interpretations happening simultaneously. The first were the people who were reading my lips. They got the humor instantly. Next were the people who were reading the red-letter board. What was happening was someone was listening and typing, and the red letters, almost like a ticketer on CNN, were going across on the front of the stage. And then, finally, the interpreter standing next to me doing sign language. So it was very different. When I threw out a joke, delivered that joke, the people reading my lips would first laugh, “Ha-ha-ha,” then there was a pause, “Ha-ha-ha,” and then finally “Ha-ha-ha,” a third one. It was really freaky. But it was a wonderful experience. They loved it because they loved my energy and expressions. But it’s only because I took the time to stop and make sure I let everyone else catch up.

Patricia: My training in being able to speak with an international audience started when I was honored to be one of the presenters on the Bullet Proof Management series. The other speakers were Zig Ziglar, Nido Qubein, and a famous negotiation speaker, Jim Hennig. This series was sold in 58 countries. That meant we could not use the name of American authors without an explanation. So, for example, you wouldn’t say Tom Peters, you would say a best-selling American management author. You would not talk about Baskin-Robbins. You would say an American ice cream franchise. You don’t talk about sports. You don’t use jokes. You have to give content. And they trained me to say after every story, “And the point of that example is. And the point of that example is.” Which, with an American audience, you know they would appreciate the developed points.

The next training came when I was invited to speak in Taiwan for ten days, large public seminars, and then eight in-house corporate meetings. I asked Harvey Mackay and Brian Tracy their experience. They’d both been successful in the country. Brian Tracy said, “Do not let them simultaneously translate because it takes so long. Deliver it as a dance routine. In other words, you say a couple of lines; they interpret. You say a couple of lines. That means you have to know your material cold, word-for-word, and you have to be so focused you cannot forget what your last line was or the example will make zero sense.” Harvey Mackay said, “What I recommend you do is test all your material to a target audience.” I went early, worked with my interpreter Peter, the staff, and the professional staff translator, right-hand person for my client. We, in advance, sent my CDs, my handouts, and we rehearsed. Found out that everything would be interpreted. And, in fact, there was only one word in the ten days that threw him. And that was idiosyncrasies, which was not a word that I’d used in the rehearsals.

It is the speaker’s job to work with the interpreter to serve the client. Many American speakers think it’s very funny that they talk very fast and frustrate the interpreter. That is egotistical and does not serve the client. This really paid off having good teamwork when we went into company meetings. My interpreter partner knew what I was looking for. With one cosmetic company he said, “Patricia, they advertise on the television, and their slogan is, ‘Try it, it works.’” At the end of my seminar, I was reviewing my key points, and then I stepped forward and said, “Try it, it works.” And they were delighted. They stood up. They hugged, kissed, and delivered three bouquets of flowers to me, as well as the payment for the speech.

When we went to another company meeting, it was explained to me, “Look, Patricia, all these Chinese signs on the walls are obviously their core values,” and I wrote down in English, in the order that they were written, ‘Teamwork, Customer Service;’ very similar philosophies as we would have in America. I would point to the sign and say, “I see by your signs you have a commitment to teamwork.” And then I would deliver my content. I would then point back and say, “Your second core value is commitment to the customer.” It looked as if I was reading the signs. This is the value of understanding how to be respectful and appreciate the talent and the difficulty of the interpreter.

Darren: So there are two types of translations. One is simultaneous. One, what Patricia and I both did for Peter’s group, was almost like an echo. You say a phrase. They interpret it. You say a phrase. They translate it. So it’s back and forth, and you must pause long enough to make sure they deliver it. And it may be a much different length of time than what you did or chose to do.

Patricia: One final thought. You do not have to leave American shores to address an international audience. We, of course, were addressing a group who came to Las Vegas. Many of the in-house company meetings people might speak fairly good English; however, English is not their first language or their native tongue. That is why you need clear, concise language and specificity.

Darren: Preparation is crucial. You are now a two-person team rather than just a speaker. If the audience doesn’t walk away with your message, it may have been your lack of preparation and arming your translator or interpreter. When Patricia and I go into groups, quite often we’re asked for an outline, key phrases, terms that we use on a regular basis, maybe our jargon, that this person or audience may not be familiar with.

Hope that helps you if you speak overseas and to an international audience in the US. As a keynote speaker and executive speech coach these skills have really helped m.