A few years back, I shared some opinions and best practices dealing with telephonic interpreting on this portal. These came from a world in which 'remote' was not yet a relevant alternative to on-site interpreting. Old school telephonic typically holds limited currency in the hands of a mature conference interpreter, yet it can be a way for newbies to gain experience and connections. Now that remote interpreting has arrived, I've come to believe in its ongoing value for select parts of the conference interpreting market. Here's one interpreter's comparison of best practices for telephonic and remote interpreting.
I'm talking here about just three areas...
Telephonic best practice: Have a rock-solid cancellation policy with your client/agent, because clients will likely cancel more often than for face-to-face events.
Cancellation policies are important in any contract situation. Yet, for telephonic projects, it's super easy for clients to cancel for reasons that don't work in face-to-face environments. For example, a client could easily cancel a meeting with a simple 'Sorry, something came up. We have to reschedule.' This leaves the interpreter all dressed up, and no party to go to.
Remote projects seem to sit in the middle ground in terms of ease of cancellation. Not cancelled as often as telephonic projects, but more often than face-to-face projects. For this reason, it's still important to establish norms regarding what happens where a project is cancelled, especially for tricky situations, like a cancellation just prior or even as a project begins.
Remote best practice: Maintain that rock-solid cancellation policy, but be willing to customize where justified. The win-win outcome must exist for all parties.
Next up: Visual Clues
Telephonic best practice: Because visual clues are limited, focus on designing clear and consistent intonation change in your voice as your spoken turns end.
I prefer when everyone can see each other (at least in CI settings), and discussed the interactional benefits of this here before. The idea is that shared viewability makes it easier for an interpreter to establish rapport and for all parties to know the best time/way to start speaking. Telephonic means that speaker transfer happens without the benefit of visual cues, so alternate cues, like intonation, become super important.
In the remote environment, an interpreter may have the option to be on video. I generally keep my video closed during meetings, except for just before and afterwards where possible. A short time on video seems to go a long way towards building rapport. Honestly, I don't pay much attention to how I might adjust my intonation during an event, as I'm fully oriented towards the act of interpreting. But supposing speaker transfer became an issue, this is one of the first things I'd focus on.
Remote best practice: Look for ways to develop rapport with meeting members, no matter in how seemingly small or short a manner. Monitor turn exchange and adapt accordingly by integrating deliberate strategy with prosodic elements.
And finally: Preparation
Telephonic best practice: Treat telephonic with the same, or better, care of preparation as you would in an on-site environment.
Calls tend to be focused on the business at hand, commonly sidelining social projects, like small talk. This makes for rather pointed and linear conversation. Preparation helps here, because the context around a topic may not be eased into, but rather rushed into - leaving the interpreter little room to access words and concepts hidden in the nether regions of memory.
The remote interpreting experience is quite different. For one, remote meetings are commonly scheduled over days or even weeks - just as happens with traditional conference interpreting work. Many meetings allow for small talk, especially as people log onto the meeting platform. As far as the pointed or linear nature of meetings, I've seen examples both tight and loose.
Remote best practice: The interpreter is best situated if prepared to go with the flow of things as they unfold and be sure to take advantage of any rapport building opportunities made available by the simplest of actions, like being present as others are logging on.
I found it interesting to go back and read my prior post on telephonic interpreting. Honestly, I'm surprised to find that I bothered to write up any thoughts on the subject. The mode never became a cash cow. Perhaps it's simply a relic of a time in which I was less confident in my position in the conference interpreting market. Remote, however, seems to be a mode with some staying power. For the time being, it seems worthy of careful consideration as it, and the services we provide, evolve towards a changed world.
Photo: Taken by Michael Grez. Copyright Intran Solutions LLC, 2021
A checklist for RSI projects.
Back in the days of weeks long on-site projects, I found that making sure I’ve got everything with me was really important. It helped make sure that I had enough of what’s needed, but also that I wouldn’t be lugging around more weight than necessary.
A few days before the flight leaves, I review the list to make sure all the clothes and supplies are ready. Come packing time, things are super easy when you just check-check-check your way down the list. No worrying about whether everything’s packed – It’s time to focus on the client!
The same can be said for RSI. Here’s a simple checklist that I use just before each session. It helps me feel confident that all my equipment is working and available. It helps my clients also, because now I can focus my attention solely on things that matter to them – the interpreting.
The checking starts a few hours prior to a session and deals with electronics.
So, that’s it. Once this is all done, I know that there won’t be any problems when I enter the session and focus on interacting with speakers.
Co-location. Noun: To be located jointly or together.
You know, like the good old days.
This past week, I had a chance to put co-location to test at my home in live RSI. It is awesome, but also took some setting up. And setup means getting over a few hurdles… Coming to terms with remote interpreting, choosing equipment for an at-home hub, and setting up the equipment for that hub.
Now, we're ready to put co-location in practice at home.
Putting the co-location hub into use involves starting with a preconfigured hub and introducing another interpreter into the mix. I recommended to the client to work with a professional colleague that I’ve had experience working with before. This meant that we both have a general trust in the expected quality of interpreting (an important part of both face-to-face and remote interpreting scenarios), but just as importantly, that we have a degree of trust in one another’s commitment to social distancing.
Prior to the event, we discussed and negotiated the use of PPE. Should we wear gloves during our time together? What about masks? Should they be used at all times, or only when not interpreting? In the end, we elected to work without the use of gloves or masks, but we did take the precautions of having sterilized pre-made food ready for lunch, along with sterilized utensils, all surfaces (tables/chairs/sink faucets, toilet, etc.) that might be touched were sanitized, and we signed a liability waiver on the risks of getting the virus.
Familiarizing my colleague with the equipment setup went pretty easy. They brought their own microphone windscreen, and so that was installed on the microphone, along with simple adjustments to the mic’s placement. Headphones were made available. We let them hang-out alone in the sun for a few days before and after the event.
We also needed to become acquainted with the interpreting software interface. Here, co-location has a great advantage over being in separate locations: Two interpreters in one room means that we only need one interpreter’s profile, instead of two (as we would need if we weren’t co-located). One interpreter uses the interpreter’s profile to connect with the hub’s audio setup (mics and headphones). The other interpreter uses their profile to merely watch the video. The benefit is that we don’t handoff to one another by clicking any buttons. So, less focus on the tech, and more on interpreting.
The one-interpreter-profile solution also makes adding interpreters to the hub easy to do, because there is no learning curve for the guest interpreter, regardless of the platform. They simply set up their mic, grab a coffee, and we’re ready to rock.
The setup for this event did require some changes in typical booth behavior. Both mics remained ‘hot’ throughout the event. So unlike in the standard booth, where one can turn on/off the microphone and somewhat freely make noise, like moving papers around the desk or using a mouse, we had to stay super quiet because any of these noises would be picked up at any time.
We both agreed that fatigue wasn’t as big of an issue with co-location. And this is quite opposite to my previous solo-remote experiences. Perhaps this came from the confidence we had in working together, the ease of floor transition, or also the fact that we weren’t rushing around as one does during a face-to-face event.
From the interpreter’s perspective, the greatest asset of co-location is the ability to visually signal one another throughout the event – making for seamless and less-tiring performance. We can take/release the floor on command, request immediate assistance from one another, and do all those things that come naturally in an on-site interpreting booth. Again, the advantage is that we can remain focused on interpreting rather than on managing the technology.
Being the inaugural run of the hub, there were inevitably going to be some issues that require fixing, such as the ‘two hot mics’ problem mentioned above. Thankfully, solutions are available. These are things that get into the technical weeds, so I’m not going to go into them here. Suffice to say, that working with equipment at home is a practice in getting as close as possible to face-to-face quality.
My takeaway is that home-based RSI is not yet mature. There’s still innovation to come from both the technical and social side of things. As long as we are willing to experiment, learn, and make good decisions, we are going to get ever closer to the quality our clients have to expect from face-to-face events, where co-location is simply taken for granted.