A great conference interpreter knows how to attentively listen and speak. That seems like a very simple sentence, but it is much harder to achieve then you might think.
Put someone from New Jersey, the Midwest, Compton, California, and Alpharetta, Georgia in the same room and watch them talk to each other. A few minutes might produce comedic gold! You will probably find that although they all speak English, communication will most likely be a real problem for them.
We are talking about regional expressions or slang different accents, and different culture. All these factors can result in great misunderstandings. Have you ever noticed that almost everyone on the radio, especially NPR all sound alike? That is because whether they are from California or Brooklyn, they speak in their radio voice. The voice designed to be understood by everyone nationwide.
Well guess what? To a very large degree, great conference interpreters are aware of the diversity of people for whom they interpret. They also learn to use their radio voice when speaking to a diverse crowd so that everyone can understand them.
My wife Emily has a Puerto Rican background. If she uses Puerto Rican expressions with a Mexican or Colombian crowd, I promise you there would be a lot of confusion. When conference interpreting, she uses her radio voice so that everyone understands her. When she is with Puerto Ricans, she quickly reverts. When she is with Mexicans, she uses Mexican expressions, and with Colombians she also alters her speech patterns. I find it amazing how often people ask her if she is from where they are from. That is a great compliment!
In addition to using their radio voice, great conference interpreters must be able to listen carefully and understand all the different accents and regional expressions of the speaker. If not, how will they understand and interpret what is being said?
Think all they do is talk? Watch the evening news (or listen to it on the radio) and repeat everything that is being said for 20 minutes. Like I said, it sounds easier than it is. It looks easier than it is. A great conference interpreter must be able to listen attentively to the source language and then generate speech in the target language.