You are planning a small meeting like the one in this picture, where the participants speak different languages and must interact between themselves. If you are having to provide interpretation and don't know how to do it? Don't worry! In this document I'll guide you through how to organize it in the most practical and effective way. Please dedicate a few minutes to read it and you will understand how you can accomplish it by yourself.
If your meeting has different settings, just have the patience to go through the entire document, since I’ll cover them, one by one.
- The interpreting platform
- The interpreters
- Connecting the interpreters to the meeting
- The equipment
- The microphones
- The video camera
- Larger meetings
- Your budget
The interpreting platform
In a scenario where you have five participants who only speak English, two who speak only French and one Italian, you might be tempted to hire a couple of interpreters to sit close to the non-speaking English participants and whisper the translation during the session, but that’s not going to work effectively as you will see later in this article.
In the solution that I am proposing, the interpreters verbally translate the session in simultaneous mode - meaning that they translate while each speaker talks. Since the speakers' and interpreters' voices overlap, the delegates will need to listen through a headset in order to focus on the translation (this is what happens in large international events as you may know). By using a headset, with the interpreters voice going directly into their ears, the listener’s brain can focus on the interpretation whilst not being disturbed by the original speaker’s voice.
There are specific devices that are made for this purpose, which I'll briefly cover in the final chapter, but the most efficient and cost effective solution is to use a software application like Ablioconference, where delegates needing translation can listen through a free mobile app download to their smartphones or tablets.
Other applications like Ablioconference are available on the market. They are usually called RSI platforms (RSI standing for Remote Simultaneous Interpreting) and you can easily find them on Google, but we like Ablioconference for its simplicity and convenient pay-per-use model.
By using one of these platforms you will be able to organize the meeting by yourself, without the need to rent any dedicated equipment and technicians for its setup.
Please note that the Ablioconference platform (like any other RSI one) needs to be properly configured prior the meeting and has to be managed by an operator during the event. This task can easily be performed by yourself or one of the interpreters. Alternatively, you can book a dedicated operator with the platform provider.
Another significant advantage of using an RSI platform is that interpreters will be operating remotely on a laptop with an Internet connection: so they won’t have to travel to the meeting location. You can select and engage them independently from wherever they are.
On their interpreter dashboard they receive the audio/video feed of the meeting and their translation is sent to the listeners mobile apps. Actually, interpreters have more functions on their dashboards, like being able to operate in pairs, alternating and checking each other during the sessions, to work in relay mode, manage their handovers and more – all functions needed for professionally perform their task – but let’s not go off topic...
Just one more thing, however, on interpreters. The majority of professional interpreters are now experienced in operating remotely, using RSI platforms. If you don't know where to locate them you, can always ask to Ablio, who offers a wide selection of interpreters out of a pool of more than 2000 professionals.
Connecting the interpreters to the meeting
Since the interpreters are operating remotely, they need to be connected to the meeting through the video conference you have selected. They don’t join the conference but the technical operator captures it into the RSI platform, which will send the audio/video feed to their remote dashboard.
If there are participants joining remotely your meeting, they can join the same video conference you are using to connect with the RSI platform.
The equipment that you need to have in the meeting room is the same as you have when organizing a video conference:
- A computer, with good Internet connection (enough bandwidth to support the video conference session)
- A video camera (a webcam)
In the picture above, there is a laptop computer (which seems suited to the purpose), and you might be tempted to use its integrated webcam and microphone, but these would only benefit the person in front of it. If other participants have to speak, the integrated microphone will not be able to accurately pick their voices and the sound will be muffled or inaudible in the video conference.
Remember that the interpreters need to receive a clear sound signal in order to accurately perform their task, because it requires a cognitive effort superior to that of the attendees who are just listening in.
So, you will need some extra microphones and a webcam. If you are not familiar with sound devices, video and computers, it might be difficult to make the proper choice. Here you can find some suggestions that might not be the best of the breed, but all of them have been carefully selected for their ease of use, quality of sound, good price/performance and can be purchased from the most popular web stores.
All these microphones have a USB plug for connecting to the computer through a USB port, therefore they don't require installation and are automatically recognized by the operating system of your computer.
For a meeting like the one shown in the initial picture you can use a conference room speakerphone microphone. These devices have several internal microphones in a single unit and are capable of picking s up the sound from all the meeting participants.
Jabra Speak2 55 (US$ 190)
It includes 4 internal omnidirectional microphones with special sound processing that removes room noise, capable of picking up voices from up to 2 meters away. It can be wirelessly operated via Bluetooth.
Poly Sync40+ (US$ 230)
This one includes 3 internal omnidirectional microphones with sound processing, again capable of picking up voices from up to 2 meters away. It can also be wirelessly operated via Bluetooth and can be paired to another unit in order to serve larger meetings.
Being wireless connected to the computer that runs the video conference, both of these can easily be moved around on the table in order to better pick up the sound of whoever is speaking.
You might also go for cheaper speakerphones on the market, but just pay attention to their microphone performances. If you save a few bucks but the audio quality is poor, the purpose is defeated.
These conference speakerphones will not be good enough when your meeting has more participants, and where you have one main speaker with other participants merely posing questions. As you can see in the following picture, the smaller units described are not capable of covering the entire meeting space.
In this case, you should use two microphones: one for the presenter and one to be used as roving mike for the rest of participants.
Now, if you plug two USB microphones in the computer, the operating system will only recognize one connection at a time and you can only select one at a time from the audio settings. To overcome this, have a look at the following solutions.
Both of them include two microphones that can operate contemporaneously by using a single USB dongle so that are recognized by the operating system as a single device. The first solution is a classic handheld mike, which can also installed on a tripod, while the other one is a little box that can be pinned to the shirt of the presenter or passed around between the participants.
Behringer ULM202USB (US$ 120)
Twin handheld USB wireless microphones, dynamic, wireless.
The USB dongle (the wireless receiver) that you plug into the USB port receives and transmits the sounds coming from both microphones and is seen by the computer as a single device.
Rode Wireless GO II (US$ 299)
Twin wireless microphones. The kit includes two transmitters and one receiver. Each transmitter acts as as a levalier mic. You can therefore use the two microphones and these are seen by the computer as a single device.
It comes at a higher price when compared to similar products but it is a professional device with several features that make it a versatile tool for different kinds of scenarios.
By the way, using these solutions offer a better sound quality if compared to the conference speakerphones, since the microphone will be closer to the mouth.
Instead, if you want to use other kinds of microphones which don't have a USB plug (because you might already have them), you will need an audio interface in order to have them recognized by the computer.
Focus Rite Scarlett 2i2 (US$ 200)
USB audio interface. You can connect XLR and ¼” (6.35 mm) jacks microphones.
It's not a plug & play device: you need to install its software (which is included) and understand how to properly use it, but it rewards you by offering more control capabilities.
The video camera
Remote interpreters are able to operate by just receiving the audio sources of your meeting, but by also getting the video feed will definitely help them to be more comfortable and do a better job.
The integrated webcam seen in the first picture will not probably fit to the purpose, since you will not be able to properly position its viewing angle.
I therefore strongly suggest you to use an external camera that you can strategically position in order to give a good view of the meeting.
Also in this case it doesn't have super fancy - a good webcam that can be connected through USB will do the job.
Logitech C922 Pro HD (US$ 150)
A webcam with USB connection, a 1,5 mt. cable, equipped with two internal omnidirectional mics.
As well as its good quality, this webcam gives you the possibility to be set up on a standard camera tripod, which is fundamental for use in these settings.
If you need to organise a meeting where one or more presenters are addressing a larger audience as in this picture, the meeting room will probably be already equipped with a sound system, where the presenters are using microphones and the audience is listening from the room loudspeakers.
In this case you just have to inject the audio (or audio/video) signals from the mixer console of the room sound system into the computer that is hosting the video conference by using a special switcher that can accept different audio and video sources (usually through HDMI) and sends them out to the computer via a USB plug.
There is a wide range of switching devices, with prices ranging from US$30 to US$6,000. Having used many of them at our events, our strong recommendation is for a Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro switch.
At a rack price of US$ 295 is not the cheapest on the market, but it comes with all the features you need, and probably many others you will not use. It has a professional quality and is convenient and worth the investment if you want to have good results.
ATEM Mini includes both a control panel as well as connections.
On the rear panel there are 4 HDMI input connections for cameras or computers and 2 microphone inputs, a USB output to your computer plus an HDMI "aux" output for video.
When you connect ATEM Mini to your computer through a USB port, the computer will recognize it as a webcam and you can then select it as the video and audio source in your video conference software.
You can connect multiple devices, like for example two microphones, or additional computer for screen sharing: the output to your computer will be a single audio/video stream.
The front panel includes easy to use buttons for selecting sources, video effects and transitions. You might not need many of them, but you'll see that as soon as you become familiar with it you will start to appreciate and gradually adopt them.
I know that some of you might be reluctant to take these solutions on board. Your boss just asked you to organize the meeting but you may not be computer savvy, and know little about how interpretation works and are therefore reluctant to use any sort of platform or device. You plan to simply engage the interpreters and have them to come to the meeting place.
I totally understand and sympathize with you. Your plan is definitely a viable option but let's examine the implications.
In the first user case, where you have two French speaking and one Italian speaking participants, you will have one interpreter sitting close to the two French ones and the other interpreter close to Italian one, whispering the translation in their ears when any other participant talks in English.
Please understand that listening to a whispered translation requires a bigger cognitive effort than through a pair of headsets and at the same time all other participants will experience a continuously distracting background noise during the entire meeting which produces more stress and less quality for everybody.
If a French or Italian participant needs to say something, the interpreter will have to translate it back into English in a louder voice so that everyone can hear and in consecutive mode, meaning that a few phrases will be spoken then a pause for the interpreters translate, and so on throughout the meeting. Stop, start, stop, start.
If only one language is needed, instead of two, the situation will obviously be simpler but will not change much, still the stop start of consecutive translation and the continuous distracting whispering noise for all other participants.
If you have a meeting like the one shown in the second picture, where one presenter speaks to a small gathering of people with just few of them needing interpretation, the interpreter cannot operate in whispering mode since there are too many ears to be reached. With consecutive translation you have to place the interpreter alongside the speaker in this situation. Here again, the presenter will have to stop every few sentences, allowing the interpreter to translate them before continuing, since the two voices cannot overlap each other in order not to confuse the listeners.
This method also implies that the speech will be continuously fragmented, with those participants who understand the presenter's language having to listen to the translation, ensuring the length of the meeting will be almost inevitably doubled.
In conclusion, go for the on-site interpreters solution only if participants understand and accept the limits and drawbacks I describe.
There is another possible solution with the interpreters on-site, and this is to use a bidule system.
A bidule system, also called tour guide or info port, is a sort of walkie-talkie which consists of a set of portable radio transmitters for the interpreters, and portable radio receivers for the participants needing translation. The interpreters translate into the microphone of the transmitter while the participants listen to the translation through the headsets of the receiver.
But be aware that the interpreters need to be on-site and will still need to listen to the speakers carefully, which means that you'll have to provide them a proper audio feed by using microphones for the speakers. So, the bidule solution is no good if your plan was to get rid of equipment.
However, if you decide to proceed with the bidule solution, you can rent it from an event tech provider or from the interpreters agency since it's not worth purchasing it unless you plan to do many meetings. Expect to pay US$ 20 for each transmitter and US$ 10 for each receiver for each day's rental.
How much the interpretation service will cost you?
- Hiring Interpreters. Many factors influence their prices. Read this article for an overview.
- If you opt for interpreters to operate on-site at your location, expect to pay from between 20% to 100% more than hiring remote interpreters.
- Engaging Ablioconference RSI platform: see prices at this link or check prices of other RSI platforms at their respective websites.
- Purchasing extra equipment. See above for the prices of the different options.
In this small guide I have illustrated a solution for the most typical scenarios you may come against for small meetings. It has been prepared with a non-technical user in mind, using reliable, effective but price sensitive equipment.
I hope it will help you to prepare and organize your meetings successfully and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
If you have special requirements, questions or need further assistance, please don't hesitate to ask for support at email@example.com
And after any of your meetings... please share your success and experience with us!