Three Traits Conference Interpreters Must Have


Conference interpreters must possess many traits, not the least of which is language knowledge.  Here are my top 3:

  1. Confidentiality
  2. Flexibility
  3. Quick thinking

Let me share with you a recent experience that illustrate the three qualities mentioned on the outset of this article.

It all started when one of our international clients requested us to provide conference interpreting at a local hotel for a small group of about 150 people. We reviewed all our equipment the day prior to the event in order to be sure all technology was working properly. Typically, we request subject matter ahead of time so that we might familiarize ourselves with the information that will be presented. In this case, we were asked to arrive a little early so that we might review it just before the conference.

The reason for this is that the company was about to make a big announcement that would be made public at that meeting. I immediately had the feeling some big news was about to go down. We wanted to ensure that the interpreting would happen smoothly so although our team was selected. I too attended to help out if any unexpected issues were to arise.

Most of the time, our events run as they should with no complications. Not this time. My conference interpreters were sitting down studiously reviewing the prepared speech. As I approached, my partner Emily said to me, “Jeff whatever you do, please do not make any faces of shock or surprise.” This is where confidentiality comes in. Confidentiality isn’t just keeping a secret by what you say or write, body language and facial expressions also communicate information. Therefore, a good conference interpreter will have a good poker face before big announcements.

The AIIC Code of Honor specifically states that members are bound by the strictest secrecy when at work and that they shall refrain from deriving any personal gain whatsoever from confidential information they may acquire in the exercise of their duties as conference interpreters.

Thorough preparation is extremely essential to guarantee successful interpretation at your event. Interpreters depend on the information you provide ahead of the event to familiarize themselves with the subject and material in order to perform their best on the day. This is why we follow strict ethical standards and confidentiality. Clients can trust us with their documentation – no matter how sensitive it is. Nevertheless, sometimes flexibility is required so in this case we needed to arrive extra early to properly review the information.

Quick thinking and flexibility was also needed for what happened next. Before the event, started the interpreter began to speak and announce that if anyone had receivers that didn’t work they could exchange it for another. I was standing at a table with extra receivers. At first one person came, then another, then another. All of a sudden I had given out about twenty-five receivers and was completely out! We still had about 8 people without equipment. The meeting was about to start. I had no time to play handy man with the equipment!

At that moment, we asked the 8 people to move to the very back of the room. One interpreter worked with the equipment while another stood behind the group of eight simultaneously interpreting everything the speaker was saying.

Even though we had tested everything, on rare occasions technical issues still arise. After the event was over our client was very happy that everything went off without a hitch. That would not have been the case were it not for maintaining confidentiality, being flexible and quick thinking in the face of complications.

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