Should You Provide Live Translation at Conferences?

If you’ve ever been at a conference where they’ve offered live translation, chances are that you were pretty impressed with the dedication and attention to detail that showed, even if you didn’t take advantage of the translations yourself.

There are pros and cons to offering live translation, so there’s no easy answer to the question of whether to provide it. It’s one of those things where you’re going to have to decide what’s best for your particular circumstances, but we thought we’d help you out by sharing a few of our thoughts on this.

So let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of providing live translation at conferences.

What is Live Translation?

Live translation takes many forms, but the most common way you’ll see it done is when a conference offers simultaneous translation for international visitors. It’s particularly common when conferences are held in countries where English isn’t the first language, with two-way translation between English and the local language.

For example, we’ve been to a few digital marketing conferences in Italy where live translation was offered between English and Italian. In Miami and Texas, translation is often offered between English and Spanish.

There are obvious benefits to this. It’s more inclusive, making your content available to more visitors, and it also paves the way for you to have more diversity when it comes to choosing your speakers. For example, if you were putting on a conference in Paris, you could invite both French speakers and English speakers to come and talk in whichever language is easier for them.

So should you offer up live translation? Well, maybe.

Why You Shouldn’t Provide Live Translation at Conferences

There are a few downsides to providing live translation, the biggest of which is that it costs a lot of money. At the very least, you need to pay an interpreter’s wages, and if you’re hosting multiple talks in multiple different rooms then the cost will rise further.

It’s no secret that translation is difficult, but not many people realize that it’s also mentally draining. In fact, politicians typically have multiple translators who can swap in and out because if they translate for too long then they start to make mistakes. This means that you can’t just have just one translator working all day. You’ll need at least two for a full-day conference so that they can swap in and out.

Live translation also leads to some technical challenges. Most conferences offer headsets for visitors which allow them to tune into the translation, but the devices alone cost a lot of money to hire or buy, and then you also need someone to set up the audio technology and run that.

So if you’re looking to set up something simple, live translation probably won’t be for you. However, although it can sometimes cause more headaches than it’s worth, when you have the budget and you do get it right, it can make a big difference. That’s what we’ll look at now.

Why You Should Provide Live Translation at Conferences

Okay, now that we’ve covered the more pessimistic side of things, it’s time to put our optimist’s hat on. Here’s why you should provide live translation.

Perhaps the biggest reason is improved accessibility. In the same way that you’d provide easy access for people with wheelchairs, you should go out of your way to make international visitors feel welcome. It’s particularly important if you’re live streaming your event or holding a virtual conference, because then the geographical barriers are less of an issue and there may be more demand for another language.

There’s also the fact that it broadens your available list of speakers and allows you to tap into local talent, which can be particularly important if you’re covering the kinds of subject matter where local expertise is important. For example, if you’re holding a conference covering trade between the United States and Mexico, you’d be crazy not to provide Spanish/English and vice versa translation and to invite both Mexican and American speakers to share their viewpoints.

You should also bear in mind that even though English is typically considered to be the lingua franca of business, it can still be difficult to understand technical concepts when they’re not in your native language. Going back to that previous example, there’s a good chance that many of your Mexican speakers and visitors will also speak English. However, providing live translation gives them the option of switching to their native language if they’re struggling to keep up or if speakers are finding it hard to get their point across.

Should You Provide Live Translation at Conferences?

As we said at the start of this article, the answer to this question largely comes down to personal preference and your individual circumstances. Only you can decide whether live translation makes sense for you, and you’ll want to think about factors such as the demographic makeup of your visitors and how large your conference will be. Obviously, there’s no point offering live translation if there are only going to be fifty attendees and they all speak the same language.

One thing to bear in mind is that it can be easy to get carried away and to try to provide translation for multiple languages. That’s generally a bad idea because as well as causing your costs to skyrocket, it also offers diminishing returns. You’re generally better off focusing on just the one or two most popular secondary languages amongst your audience.

As a general rule, it’s best to err on the side of caution and refrain from providing live translation, as that will help keep your costs down. You’ll know when live translation is a good idea, if only because people will be asking you whether it’s going to be available. Listen to your attendees, listen to your speakers and make live translation an important part of your preparation as and when it seems to make sense to you.


Now that you’ve heard our thoughts, we want to hear from you. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments so that we can keep the discussion going.

In particular, we’d love to hear if you’ve offered live translation at your own events, so that you can let us know how it went. And in the meantime, be sure to follow us on your social networking sites of choice and to check back often for more. We’ll see you soon!

This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.




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