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Public speaking tips: how to handle simultaneous interpretations

I’m preparing to provide presentation skills training for 20 executives from around the world. My session will be interpreted by highly skilled interpreters working in a total of five languages.

This type of public speaking assignment is rare. Few speakers will ever have to deal with the logistics of multiple simultaneous interpretations, but if you face one of these assignments, here’s some practical advice.

1. Prepare a written agenda for your remarks and provide this to the interpreters prior your remarks. The more they know about your messages, the better they can convey your words.

2. If you plan to use any PowerPoint or distribute any written materials, make sure they have these items well in advance of the event.

3. On the day of the program (ideally an hour or so before you speak) meet briefly with all the interpreters in a group. Ask if they have any particular questions or concerns.

4.  As you begin with your opening words, speak clearly and make good eye contact with all parts of the room. Establish this positive rapport before you go into your formal presentation.

5. Attendees will typically be grouped by their language. As you present, look at each group to make sure they are getting your messages. Nod in recognition, as necessary. Pause to clarify, as necessary.

6. Never rush. Never.

7. On the other hand, there’s no need for you to speak particularly slow. Interpreters are trained to work with “regular” speech. If you talk ridiculously slow, you will make their job more difficult and perhaps hinder their effectiveness.

8. Pause often. Pausing benefits the interpreter … the audience … and you!

9. Pay strict attention to the schedule. Never run overtime. Interpreting is difficult and tiring work. Whatever you do: Don’t run into the interpreters’ much needed break time.

Elena Bernardo talks about translating How To Write & Give A Speech into Spanish

In February, Alba Editorial will publish the Spanish edition of How To Write & Give A Speech (2014, St. Martin’s Press). A few weeks ago, I interviewed the book’s translator, Elena Bernardo of Madrid. Part one of the interview appeared on this blog on January 17. Here’s part two of my interview with Elena:

1. Do you belong to any professional organizations for translators?

Yes, I do. It’s very important for a translator to be a member of an association. Since most of us work alone at our desks, associations give us the chance to be in contact with colleagues and share information. We can help others when needed and be helped when needed.  Maybe we have to search for advice about a new project, a new market, a slippery phrasing, a computer tool or a legal aspect.

Because I often work with commercial texts in fields like perfume, watchmaking or fashion, I’m a member of Asetrad. It’s a meeting place for colleagues who work in Spanish – to and from many other languages (either translating, interpreting or reviewing). It’s the biggest translators’ association in Spain. And because I also do literary translation, I’m a member of Acett, as well. Acett is a Spanish translator’s association specifically for translators who work with books.

2. Do you accept professional interpretation assignments?

Not yet, but I hope to do so shortly. I’m totally fluent in French. I’m taking interpretation classes and also doing some volunteer work to get more interpreting experience.

3. What would you like readers to know about the art and craft of translation?

Translation is not just about knowing two languages. It’s not about using dictionaries. A translator needs to have a good knowledge of his or her own language, the language into which she or he is translating. A translator needs to be a skilled researcher. We need to find information about the subjects we’re translating.

I sometimes put it this way: Knowing how to translate is a bit like knowing how to play chess. Many of us know how to move the chess pieces, just enough to play with our 6 year old niece or even to beat our 15 year old neighbor, but not everybody knows how to play chess well.

You might know a foreign language enough to chat in an informal meeting. You might even be fluent enough to read a foreign newspaper or discuss, say, politics. But this does not mean you can actually translate the language with a professional quality.

Coming February 11: Cómo escribir y pronunciar un discurso  (Alba Editorial)

To learn more:

Speechwriting to mark the beginning of things … and also to mark the end of things

This week marks an anniversary in the ending of the Vietnam War. On January 23, 1973, President Richard Nixon announced that the United States would no longer be involved in Vietnam.

I mention this to make a point about beginnings and endings. In speechwriting we often write speeches about the beginning of things: Our clients speak to launch fundraising drives … to welcome a new executive … to announce a new community project … to dedicate a new bridge … to start a new program.

How often to we write speeches to mark endings? Not so often.

Here’s something to think about the next time you prepare a great presentation to launch something: Follow up with your audience in a few days, or weeks, or months. Let them know how it’s working out. Don’t let your topics just fade away. If a topic is important enough to talk about, then it probably merits follow up. If/when something ends, your audience will want to know about that, as well.

Japanese translation: How can writers benefit by international editions of their work?

When How To Write & Give A Speech was first published by St. Martin’s Press back in October of 1984, I already knew a fair bit about the publishing business. I had put myself through college by working at a fine independent bookstore in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I made it a point to read the publishing trades – soaking up as much information as possible.

However, when my book first appeared, I still had so very much to learn about the nitty-gritty workings of the publishing industry. Yes, I wrote the book and I got it published. But once it hit the bookstores, I wasn’t really sure what to do – more specifically, how to help St. Martin’s Press sell it.

One of the first things I learned was: getting translated into other languages can hugely benefit an author. As you might imagine, each foreign rights sale brings its own revenue stream. But far more important, these international editions open up consulting options. And therein lies the real value of foreign editions.

My first foreign translation was in Japanese. Over the years I’ve provided speaker coaching and taught onsite speechwriting workshops at Japanese organizations. Being able to hand a Japanese-speaking client a copy of this Japanese edition did much to build my reputation as an international speechwriting consultant.     Japanese cover frontjapanese cover BACK

IABC announces series of communication workshops

Is 2015 the year you’ll develop your professional worth and boost your career? Only you can decide. Perhaps these workshops from IABC will inspire you.

Write Attention-Grabbing Blogs, Articles and Proposals to Boost Your Career and Build Your Organization’s Brand 4–25 February 2015. 1-2 p.m. PT / 4-5 p.m. ET weekly web sessionPresenter: Lynda McDaniel Blogs, articles and proposals can garner attention and recognition, as well as new clients and improved results. Of course, they need to be professionally written and compelling to accomplish those benefits. This four-part workshop will help you write blogs, articles and all kinds of proposals that boost your career and build your organization’s brand.

The four-week session is priced at US$400 for members.

Bring Your Employee Research Alive10 February–10 March 2015, 9-10 a.m. PT / 12-1 p.m. ET weekly web sessionPresenter: Susan Walker, ABC and a Fellow of the Institute of Internal Communication and the RSA If you need to learn the basics to produce robust and reliable research findings, and how to action plan to deliver practical and measurable improvements to business, this course is for you. Susan, will take you through the step-by-step process for creating a strategic communication plan that will make a real difference to your organization and prepare you for a more senior role.

This workshop is priced at US$500 for members.

Building Your Personal Brand 12 February–12 March 2015, 9–10 a.m. PT / 12-1 p.m. ET weekly web sessionPresenter: Angee Linsey Whether you are in the beginning of your career, or are a seasoned professional, being deliberate about your career is a necessary. Your personal brand is what allows you to move through your career in the direction you want to go. This workshop will show you how to create your personal brand by providing tips and tools to help you figure out where you want to go, and how your personal brand will get you there.

This workshop is priced as US$500 for members.  Take It To The Next Level: From Tactical to Strategic Communication 18 February–25 March 2015, 10–11 a.m. PT / 1–2 p.m. ETPresenter: Barbara Gibson, Ph.D., ABC You’ve mastered the various tools of communication–producing newsletters, intranets, press releases and events with one hand tied behind your back. But no matter how good the tactical work, if you’re not working from a well-built strategic communication plan, you’re not as effective as you should or could be. This practical, hands-on course will take you through the step-by-step process for creating a strategic communication plan that will make a real difference in your organization and prepare you for a more senior role.

For IABC members, this course is US$600.

Prove Your Worth: How To Conduct A Communication Audit 26 February-–2 April 2015, 1–2 p.m. PT / 4–5 p.m. ET weekly web sessionPresenter:  Claire Watson, ABC This interactive course engages participants in hands-on learning about how to conduct a communication audit, reviewing internal and external communication and social media activities. Participants will learn the communication attributes of high performing organizations, research methodologies and how to benchmark leading and lagging business indicators that measure the impact of strategic communication on business needs against a broad scope of audiences. The learning can be immediately applied to practical situations within working environments.

For IABC members, this course is US$600.

Getting strategic with social media  Presenter Shel Holtz, ABC, and Joe Thornley 4 March – 22 April 2015, weekly 1-2 p.m. PT / 4-5 p.m. ET

Crisis Management for Communication Professionals Presenter Eric Bergman, BPA, ABC, APR, MC, FCPRS 4 March – 30 March 2015, weekly 1-2 p.m. PT / 4-5 p.m. ET

What would a speechwriting award (or any writing award) do for your career?

If you’ve already won a speechwriting award, you’ve seen the attention it can bring to your work. (For that matter, an award for any kind of corporate/government writing will boost your resume.  But I’m going to focus today on speechwriting awards because speechwriting is the single most lucrative writing specialty for business or government communicators.)

If you’ve already won a few speechwriting awards, good for you.

But if you’ve won those speechwriting awards from a range of organizations (for example NAGC, APEX, PRSA, etc), that’s the best possible boost to your career. Unfortunately, that’s where most speechwriters make a career mistake. They enter one award program … either win or don’t win … and then automatically enter the same award program the next year. Don’t make that mistake. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Boost your resume by winning from a range of organizations.

As an instructor of speechwriting workshops since 1992, I’ve seen first-hand the career advantage that awards can bring to speechwriters (either freelance or on staff).

If you’ve never entered the NAGC (National Association of Government Communicators) PR&GS Awards competition, make 2015 your year.

The Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition final deadline has been extended to Friday, January 23, 2015

Entry fee discounts are realized with NAGC membership. Download the brochure with payment schedule here:

Translator working from Spain … author working from Philadelphia area

The work of translating How To Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press) into Spanish has been accomplished entirely via email. The translator, Elena Bernardo, worked from her home office in Spain, and I worked from my home office near Philadelphia. Alba Editorial will publish Cómo escribir y pronunciar un discurso  on February 11.

One day, for the fun of it, Elena and I shared photos of the views from our home offices. Two writers, two very different working environments, but sharing the same interests and concerns as writers around the world.

Working in sunny Spain

Spanish Joan winter office view

Working in snowy Philadelphia area

Interview with Elena Bernardo, translator of How To Write & Give A Speech

On February 11, Alba Editorial of Barcelona Spain will publish the Spanish edition of How To Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press). Over the past six months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with translator Elena Bernardo, who brought the book’s 30th anniversary edition to life in Spanish.

Although my books have been translated over the years into Japanese, Dutch and Polish, this marks the first time I’ve been involved in the translation process at all. (Previously, the publishers simply handled the translation process on their own.) I’ve long held translators, in general, in high esteem. I now owe gratitude to Elena Bernardo, in particular.

Many writers have asked me about the translation process. I thought I’d interview Elena and let her speak for herself. (Speechwriters: Be sure to read the last two sentences in answer #3. In this regard, Elena’s experiences as a translator sound much like our own experiences working as a speechwriter. Some days, speechwriting truly is magic.)

1. How did you get started working as a translator?

I’m a journalist turned into a translator. I worked as a journalist in France, where I lived for five years in the nineties. I worked as a correspondent in Paris for a Spanish radio station, and also as a Spanish freelancer for international news services based in Paris and Lyon. In fact, during those years I was already translating a lot.

Then I came back to Madrid, my home city, and someone asked me to translate a French travel guide for an Spanish editor. I enjoyed it so much that I asked for another guide. This was in 1997. After a few years I realized all my assignments were translations.

To be a journalist helps me a lot in translating. Not only because I’m used to writing, but also because I’m curious (as all journalists are) and used to confirming data, which in translation is just as important.

  1. What writers have you translated into Spanish?

I translated an important Australian author, Henry Handel Richardson, who was actually a woman writing with a pseudonym. She wrote The Getting of Wisdom a hundred years ago based on her own experience at school, and her ideas about education are still totally up to date.

I’ve translated Below Stairs, the memories of Margaret Powell, a very funny British kitchen maid who started working around 1920. Her memories served as an inspiration for some chapters in British TV series like Upstairs, Downstairs, and Downton Abbey.

I also translate from French. My favourite in this language is a Jules Verne book, The Carpathian Castle, which could have inspired some aspects of Bram Stoker Dracula‘s.

  1. What do you enjoy the most about translation work?

I like to change subjects. One day I might be into the wild forest running away from a murderer in a detective story, and the next day I can be in technical instructions to help an operator fix heating machines.

I can be dealing with Jules Verne in the morning (I remember he gave me a hard time with sheep diseases!) and with a very poetic text about a perfume in the afternoon for a press release.

Translation is also reading in a different way, much more profound, so you learn a lot of things about different fields. In literary translation I love the moment I get into the music of the author. That very moment when I feel I’m laying the sentences with the same rhythm and the same intention as in the original, but in my own language. It’s magic.

Look for part two of this interview next week …

To read about the Spanish edition on Amazon Spain, visit

Would an NAGC speechwriting award boost your resume?

Did you miss the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards submission deadline? No worries.  The Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition final deadline has been extended to Friday, January 23, 2015

If you haven’t submitted your entry to the BP&GS Awards Competition, now is the time. The final deadline for the 2015 BP&GS Awards competition has been extended. Entry fee discounts are realized with NAGC membership. Download the brochure with payment schedule here:

Do your executives like to use big words in their speeches?

This observation from Carol Bellamy, former New York City Council President, gets a nod of understanding from most speechwriters:

“Infrastructure is the longest word any of us in politics have learned to say, so we say it a lot.”

Too many executives measure intelligence by the number of long words in a speech: the more syllables per word, they think, the more intelligent the audience will rate the speaker.

Not so. Long words can  be problematic. And a string of long words (masquerading as a sentence) can be downright awful.

Why say something “is operational” (5 syllables) when you can say “it works” (1 syllable)?

Jargon, in particular, backfires. It smacks of bureaucratese and audiences tend to block it out. Cut jargon from the very first draft – even better, cut jargon from the outline itself.

If your speaker puts the bureaucratese back in, cut it again. Two reasons:

1. Professional speechwriters do more than take dictation.

2. Professional speechwriters need good speechwriting samples for their portfolios. A jargon-filled speech sample won’t get you up the speechwriting ladder.

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