Organising the provision of simultaneous interpreting for any kind of event is, perhaps, one of the most delicate areas in the entire event planning process since entire speeches and important conversations can be completely misunderstood if not expertly conveyed to all the delegates of a multilingual audience.
There are different ways of providing this kind of service depending upon the type of event; the budget available; how the interpreters are able to operate; and how the translation is delivered to the delegates - to name but a few.
This document aims to give event planners a complete overview of the different options for providing simultaneous interpretation - and help them to find the most practical and cost-effective solution for their specific needs.
In this post, we will cover:
- Definition of simultaneous interpreting
- How it works
- Infrared systems
- Radio FM systems
- Software platforms
What is simultaneous interpretation?
This is a brief description of simultaneous interpreting for the uninitiated. It doesn’t claim to cover everything. Much more detailed information can be found online and in specialized books.
It’s probably useful to first distinguish the term “interpreting” from “translation”. Technically the former is used in reference to the spoken word, whereas “translation” is associated with the written word. Thus, simultaneous interpreting is a mode of interpreting in which a speaker delivers a speech and the interpreter reformulates it into a language his audience understands at the same time as the speaker is speaking – that is, simultaneously.
In contrast consecutive interpreting involves regular pauses in the delivery of the speaker’s speech, during which the interpreter gives his interpretation of what has been said in the language of the audience. Clearly it is much smoother - and less time-consuming - if simultaneous interpreting can be offered at an event, since the attendees can experience the event and digest its content directly in the language that they understand, rather than having to listen to the speakers' own language.
In all likelihood you’ve participated in a video conference where you’ve had the ability to select one or more different translation channels, or a live conference where delegates were given special headset devices through which they were able to listen to the speakers in their own language, all simultaneously translated by a team of interpreters. These are examples of the use of simultaneous interpretation.
In the case of consecutive interpreting, the speaker has to pause mid-flow to allow the interpreter time for the translation. While in simultaneous interpreting the natural flow of the speaker is not disturbed, consecutive interpreting requires much more time (usually double). Consecutive interpreting finds application in one-to-one conversations or small meetings which require just one language combination, for example, a doctor-patient or lawyer-client interaction.
This guide is focused on simultaneous interpreting as widely applied in events, conferences and seminars, which requires appropriate organisation and planning for smooth delivery.
How simultaneous interpreting works
A simultaneous interpretation session usually happens in this way:
- The speaker talks into a microphone.
- His or her speech is broadcast to the interpreter who sits in a sound-proof interpreter booth and listens through headphones.
- As the interpreter listens to the speech, he or she translates it in real-time into a microphone.
- The interpretation is wirelessly transmitted to the headphones of those event attendees who need the service.
There is another method, called whispered interpreting or chuchotage, where the interpreter sits next to the people who don't understand the source language and whispers the interpretation in their ears, without using any microphone or headphones. This mode is the simplest one technically, but it's clearly impractical when the message has to be delivered to more than a handful of listeners, so we'll not be dealing with it in this guide.
With the exception of whispered interpreting, the provision of a simultaneous interpreting service clearly requires the use of technological infrastructure that is capable of handling the communications flow for all the actors involved - the organizers of the event, the speakers, the interpreters and the attendees. These systems involve the following infrastructure:
- Infrared systems
- radio FM
- RSI software platforms
The type of event that you are planning will clearly influence which system you choose as they involve different features.
These are described more fully in the following chapters, but here it is a quick comparison table:
Before we go into looking at each of these systems, we need be mindful of some specific procedures that the interpreters will be required to adopt in the execution of their tasks, which vary depending upon the choice of system:
- The ability to receive the speakers’ source (known in the events industry as the “floor”). Interpreters need to be able to look at and listen to the speakers through headphones, either live at a venue or via a video feed
- If the interpreters are to operate in the same room as the conference, they will require special soundproofed booths so that their voices are not heard by the audience and ambient sounds from the venue don’t disturb their translation work.
- Interpreters normally need to operate in pairs for each language combination, so that they can alternate translation duties during the session, as their task is mentally rather demanding. Their equipment is therefore set up so as to allow each of them to listen to their booth mate. In this way the one who is on air will have a mechanism to allow a smooth microphone handover at the moment when their partner takes over the task.
- When no interpreter is available to interpret directly from the language of the floor to some of the delegates, the interpreters need to listen to the audio of another translation channel and operate in “relay” mode. For example, a Chinese source language can be interpreted into English and then from English to another language. In this the Chinese can be relayed via English to another language.
These procedures and requirements are defined in relevant ISO Standards, such as ISO 18841:2018 (basic requirements for the provision of interpreting services and recommendations for good practice) and ISO 23155:2022 (requirements and recommendations for the provision of conference interpreting services, also serving as reference for users of conference interpreting services). These ISO Standards should always be adopted for reliability when planning a simultaneous interpreting session.
More information and details about these systems and procedures are provided in the following chapters.
Historically this has been the most frequently used way of providing professional simultaneous interpreting at on-site live events.
Infrared systems use radio infrared (IR) technology to transmit the interpretation feed to on-site attendees, who receive the audio stream via hand-held multi-channel receivers.
An infrared system consists of several dedicated devices, each one of them performing a specific task:
- The control unit that governs the distribution of signals throughout the system. It receives the speakers' audio feed (the “floor”) and sends it to the Interpreter Consoles, and in turn receives the translation audio feeds from the interpreters, sending them on to the Radiant Panels which are placed in and around the audience, and have the capacity to support multiple language channels
- The Interpreter Console enables the interpreter to listen to the speakers' audio and translate into the target language. It can be paired with another console so that two interpreters can alternate in translation duties during the interpreting session and includes several other features that are fundamental to the proper performance of the interpreter's tasks, including the capacity to listen to a companion interpreter (the “booth mate”) and perform the microphone handover operations, and to listen to other interpreter audio channels when needing to operate in relay mode.
- The IR Radiant Panels transmit the interpreters' audio streams to the IR Receivers, using a radio frequency in the infrared spectrum of light.
- The IR radio receivers are small portable devices that receive the audio translations. They come with a headset and a selector for delegates to select their chosen language channel.
The main reasons for the adoption of IR technology for simultaneous interpreting purposes are that its usage doesn't require a license (as would be the case with FM/UHF/VHF radio frequencies); and that infrared beams do not pass through walls and other physical barriers (which prevent them being received by others outside the venue) and are not affected by the presence of other kinds of radio frequencies (offering excellent undisturbed audio quality).
There are some drawbacks, however. Being sensitive to any potential physical obstruction, the IR Radiant Panels must be accurately placed in front of the listeners in clear line of sight. They can't be covered with objects like curtains or drapes. Each panel can serve only a limited number of users, and several units therefore have to be used to properly serve everyone when the audience is of any size. Also, sunlight and very bright flashing lights can interfere with IR beams, so they cannot be utilised for open air events.
How does this system work?:
The speakers' source audio is plugged into the Control Unit, which distributes it to the Interpreter Consoles, allowing the interpreters to receive it and translate. The Interpreter Consoles send the translation audio feeds to the Control Unit, which sends them to the Radiant Panels installed at suitable locations in the venue. The translation audio feeds are aired by the Radiant Panels and heard by the attendees through their headset receivers, which are provided to them by the event organiser.
The Control Units are connected by wire to the Interpreter Consoles and the Radiant Panels, whilst the Receivers are wireless receiving devices. Infrared systems are thus designed specifically to function in on-site events, servicing the attendees at the venue with feed from the interpreters operating in their booths on-site.
Where to get them:
Infrared systems are manufactured by many well-known brands such as Bosch, Sennheiser, Brahler, Auditel, as well as other Chinese brands. All of them have the previously described features in common but differ in price and performance quality.
The devices used in an infrared system are quite expensive. Just to give you an idea, the cost of each headset receiver ranges between US$100 – $400, interpreter consoles are $500 - $1200, control units $1200 – $4000 (for each language channel), radiant panels $800 - $2000, plus other accessories. The price differentials are pretty much related to brand reputation, performance quality, and additional features, such as the degree of integration within a complete line of conferencing equipment; the power of the radiant panels; and the charging system for the headset receivers (some can be power recharged, while others use disposable batteries), etc.
Normally you would therefore rent a system for your events from specialized providers - who will also take care of the on-site installation and management during your event (unless you need to provide a fixed system installation, as in the case of a venue permanently equipped with its own simultaneous interpreting facilities, or if you want to act as a service provider yourself).
The provider of the technical production of your event will most probably be best suited for running such a system, since the infrared system is usually supplied as one part of the complete list of A/V technical equipment that is required for the event (including microphones, loudspeakers, video projectors, etc.). Unless your event has very special requirements, it's not usually a good idea to split the technical production between different providers, since you'll end up with different technical crews that have to integrate their systems on the ground. However, it is often the case that you have to choose a different provider for the interpreters, although some technical providers will also offer you a full package that includes the interpreters required for your event. In general it’s good to be aware that the provision of hardware and the supply of interpreters are usually considered to be two distinct tasks that are quite rarely hosted under the same entity.
As you will require a full turn-key service, it’s vital to ensure their staff have good experience in fulfilling the tasks your event will demand. This is more important than the brand of equipment they will use.
As interpreters have to be in the venue, they need to operate in a sound-proof working environment. This is provided by special interpreter booths designed and built to the ISO standards that relate to conference interpreting.
Interpreter booths come either as tabletop booths or as full-size interpreting booths. As the name suggests, the first type are placed on the top of a suitable table and are convenient as they're easy to transport and set up. On the other hand, because they're open at the back, these booths are not fully sound-proof, so you can't ensure completely comfortable working conditions for the interpreters.
In contrast full-size interpreter booths are like fully enclosed rooms, with walls, floors, ceilings, doors, and their own ventilation systems. Usually, they are designed to accommodate two interpreters.
Interpreter booths will normally be rented by the same provider as the infrared system.
As an event planner, you just need to be aware that they need to be placed within the venue in a location that allows the interpreters to have a clear view of the speakers, the podium and any presentations. Otherwise they must be given a supplementary video feed from the floor.
The booths need to have a sufficient number of power outlets for their laptops, tablets, and any other gadgets that the interpreters may need for their work, high quality ventilation, and optimal acoustic conditions. This means that fans should be as quiet as possible, and all booths should have adequate sound insulation between them if more than one are provided on site.
If you plan to use an Infrared System at your event, you'll have to organize a service for handing out the headsets receivers to the attendees, and their collecting them at the end of the event (this task is not usually included in the technical service provider’s duties). For example, you might set up a desk in the lobby where you would need a system for handing out the receivers on presentation of the attendee's ID, which helps to ensure that they return the loaned device at the end of the event, in order to avoid any losses. (You would be charged for any loss of equipment by the providers.)
The bidule system, also referred to as infoport or audioguide, is a portable system where interpreters are equipped with a radio transmitter/microphone, and each attendee listens to the interpretation through a wireless headset.
The bidule works as a sort of walkie-talkie, the difference being that only the interpreter device can transmit, while the attendees' headsets can only receive. The translation audio is aired as a radio FM signal, operating in public and unlicensed radio frequencies.
So a bidule system only uses two devices:
- the transmitter unit, used by the interpreters to talk
- the receiver unit, used by the attendees to listen to the translation.
Each device is usually capable of operating one single audio channel. Where the translation has to be provided in more than one language combination, different sets of transmitters and receivers need to be provided and set on different radio frequencies.
The radio FM signals are less sensitive to interference than radio infrared. But since they are transmitting on public and unlicensed radio FM frequencies through the device antennae, the distance between the interpreters and the attendees has to be within a 25 meters range, The audio quality is usually inferior to the infrared systems and the chances are that the devices could pick up noise from other sources transmitting on the same or adjacent radio frequencies.
Two interpreters are able to share the same language combination, each one of them with their transmitters, but their devices lack the other functions available in the Infra-Red Interpreter Consoles . This means that they have to sit close to each other and work out how to synchronize.
Bidule systems can be used at on-site events, servicing the attendees at the venue with the interpreters obviously operating on-site, in booths.
Compared to infrared systems, they are cheaper and simpler to use since there is no system set up and wiring, but clearly there are less functions. They are best suited to small events or on guided visits where the speakers, interpreters and delegates move from one place to another.
How does it work:
Each interpreter is provided with a Transmitter and is engaged in the translation at the push of a button on the device. The audio translation is aired from the Transmitter to the Receiver units, listened by the attendees through the earphones provided.
Besides the interpreter booths (which usually are tabletop), no system installation is required on ground.
As an event planner, you would still have to organize the delivery and recollection of the devices, as you would with the infrared system's headsets.
Where to get it:
Bidule systems are less expensive than Infrared systems, as their prices range between US$ 150 -500 for each device (either transmitter or receiver), plus other accessories like battery recharges, manufactured by many companies under different brand names.
Again, the cost makes it worthwhile renting them from the specialized providers, who supply the infrared systems.
Radio FM systems
Another way of providing simultaneous interpretation, especially to open air events with large numbers of attendees, is to broadcast the translation audio channels through a radio FM system.
Depending on the FM radio broadcasting regulations applicable to the event location, licensed or unlicensed FM radio frequencies are used to broadcast the translations, - one for each translation channel. The attendees receive and listen to them through standard radio FM receivers.
How does it work:
A radio FM system for events is generally provided using an audio/video production truck, called an “OB van”. This is a small mobile production control room that allows filming of events and audio/video production at locations outside a regular radio or television studio, equipped with antenna for airing translation channels and a number of speaker consoles for the interpreters. Here again the consoles to be used by the interpreters do not provide all of the functionalities available in an Infrared Booth. However, the OB van can work together with an infrared system, receiving and airing its translation channels.
One advantage with this system is that it doesn't require dedicated receivers for the attendees. They are required to use their own radio receivers with earphone - no headset or receiver distribution! It can also support large numbers of attendees – just depending on the power of the antennae. The sound quality can be very good.
But... it’ s important to pay attention to which FM radio frequencies you are using. Very few providers have their own licensed frequencies and there are specific regulations for using unlicensed ones, especially in urban areas. That's why radio FM systems are hardly used in venues and cities but come into their own at open air events in the countryside.
Where to get it:
OB vans are custom built units, each one equipped with different types of equipment capable of servicing a variety of performances and are available for rental by specialized audio/video productions companies.
The choice of which OB van will depend upon on the number of functions you require for your event... For example, the OB van might also operate as TV studio, if the event is filmed; as mixing console for the entire event or have a Transmitter Link to the broadcasting antennas.
RSI Software platforms
The latest and fast emerging solution that provides professional simultaneous interpretation are software applications, called RSI (Remote Simultaneous Interpreting) or VIT (Virtual Interpreting Technology) Platforms, they replicate all of the functions performed by each piece of equipment within an infrared system. Hardware replaced by a specific module within the software.
- The Media Server, managed through the event master dashboard, governs the content distribution throughout the system. It receives the speakers' audio (the “floor”) and sends it to the Interpreter Consoles. It receives the translation audios from the interpreters and sends them to the attendees via the Internet
- The interpreters operate through the Interpreter Dashboard, enabling them to receive the speakers' audio/video and translate into the target language. Their dashboard is equipped with the fundamental features for the proper performance of their tasks, like the possibility to listen to the companion interpreter (the “booth mate”) and perform the microphone handover or listen to other interpreters' audio channels in order to operate in relay mode. All the traditional features provided by the Infrared System.
- The attendees listen to the translation channels through mobile apps or web apps on their smartphones or computers
As these software platforms rely upon the same telecommunications infrastructures used by Internet and the ubiquitous diffusion of smartphones and computer, they don't need dedicated hardware or equipment. This clearly reduces the total cost of the service.
The RSI platforms are more flexible than hardware-based systems and can be used in any kind of event, be it live at a venue, virtual or hybrid. Because all communications are handled through the Internet, they are able to connect speakers, interpreters and attendees located in different places around the globe.
How do they work:
Most of the RSI platform provide different configurations, in order respond to the specific needs and set up of each event.
At on-site live events, the platform operator and the interpreters can operate either on-site or by remote. The attendees receive and listen to the translation through a mobile app on their smartphones.
If the platform operator or any of the interpreters are operating remotely, both the audio and video feeds of the speakers need to be plugged into the platform.
For virtual events, the RSI platform works in conjunction with any chosen video conferencing or virtual event platform. The speakers' source is injected into the platform and the remote attendees that have joined the virtual event can receive and listen to the translation channels through either an RSI web/desktop app or mobile app. It’s possible to use the same device to receive the video conference and translation channels or a separate one - a personal computer for the virtual event and a smartphone for the translation.
For hybrid events, the RSI platforms are able to use a combination of features from live and virtual events.
Some RSI platforms also operate as a video conferencing platform where the simultaneous interpreting functions are integrated in this way, the attendees can just select the language channel they wish to listen to, without having to open a second application.
RSI software platforms rely on the Internet for the delivering their simultaneous interpreting service. It means that the expected number of attendees need to be supported by its cloud-based media server and also that there is enough connectivity available at the venue to service the attendees on-site.
This last aspect could be the problematic, because all the attendees who need to receive the translation have to be concurrently connected. Often, the capacity of the networks available at the venues, either through Wi-Fi or mobile providers, is poor, with unpredictable performance. Just to give you an idea, a professional router is normally only capable of supporting less than 100 concurrent listeners.
As event planner you have to carefully consider this point, since it may put at stake the success of this element within your event. One RSI platform, Ablioconference, is overcoming these limitations by generating its own Wi-Fi network and using a special delivery technology that supports thousands of concurrent listeners. Some RSI platforms are overcoming the problem by interfacing with an Infrared System, thus using its radiant panels for expanding and ensuring proper coverage of the audience.
Where to get them:
RSI platforms are produced by specialized companies like Ablioconference, Interprefy, Interactio, Kudo, Quaqua, Voiceboxer. There are more than twenty RSI platforms available on the market: a complete list of them and a description of their features are available on the web in reports made by Nimdzi and other information providers.
As an event planner, you need to investigate and decide which one is the most suitable for your needs. In fact, they come with a range of features and capabilities. They may offer different listening options for the attendees; support virtual events only or have limits on the numbers of attendees and language combinations. Some platforms offer you the possibility to operate the software on your own or by your own personnel whilst others insist you use their own operators.
Most of the RSI platforms will provide the interpreters, whilst only a few give you the possibility of using your own preferred interpreters or language service provider
All of them are available as SaaS, with pay-per-use or subscription options and prices that are dependent upon which kind of service is requested e.g just the use of the platform, added to that the use of their operators and then the interpreters; the number of language combinations and number of attendees requiring translation. Their prices can vary from a couple hundred dollars for using the platform at an event with one language combination and a small number of attendees to several thousand dollars for a turnkey service at complex events. But in any event the costs are lower than the rental of other hardware based options described earlier.
Many of these RSI platforms are also available through a network of service providers, which integrate the platform with their own value added services in order to offer you a complete turnkey simultaneous interpreting service. The chances are that the usual provider of technical services for your events is part of one of these networks and capable of providing the service to you.
Zoom is one of the most popular video conferencing platform that has a built-in RSI feature. Conference organizers can enable language channels in their video conference and the invited interpreters join the conference ahead of time and their voice is made available to the attendees needing translation as a different audio channel within the same conference.
While it might be controversial for some in the language industry, Zoom can also be considered a RSI solution. But is quite rudimentary for the interpreters as it lacks some of the necessary functions that are available on the other platforms, like the microphone handover controls, inability to operate in relay mode and no interpreter management capabilities.
Zoom can therefore be a potential choice for virtual events that host a couple of language combinations with just one interpreter in the booth but not appropriate for supporting lengthy events with more complex language interpretation needs,
The end result of any simultaneous interpreting service greatly depends upon the performance of the interpreters.
To get the best performance interpreters need to operate in proper working conditions.
The interpreters use headsets for clearly listening to the speakers. If they operate on-site, they have to work in a booth which prevents external sounds coming in and and bleeding into their microphones. They have to see the floor - the speakers as well their projected presentations, either by direct view or by watching a screen.
Their job is quite demanding. Consequently, it is standard practice to have two interpreters for each language combination each helping one another and alternating themselves during any session that lasts more than one hour.
The Interpreter Consoles (infrared systems) or Dashboards (software platforms), provide them all the necessary functions for executing their tasks and ensure their best performances.
Where to find interpreters:
Unless you have your own in-house interpreters, you need to hire them for your event.
The typical interpreter is a freelance professional, often associated with language agencies.
Differently from other professions, like a lawyer or doctor, there is not an official certification that proves their ability to work as interpreter, but there are reputable Interpreters Associations, like AIIC and others, which certify the quality of their members after precise evaluation and accreditation procedures. These certifications, eventually accompanied by a CV that demonstrates their previous activities in the field of interpretation, are therefore widely accepted as a good proof of the capacity and professionalism of an interpreter.
Interpreters are also available through the commercial language agencies and the RSI platform providers, who have created their own pool of interpreters, selected and accredited according to their own internal procedures.
You can therefore hire them through these agencies or directly, searching them in the members' lists of the major interpreters’ associations.
If you have chosen to run the service through a specific RSI platform, probably the best option is to hire them from the pool of the same RSI platform provider, since it will ensure that they have also been trained in its use.
Usual prices range between US$ 700 – 1200 for a day engagement, plus traveling expenses if they need to operate on-site. This could change substantially change depending on other requirements, like, for example the language combination, the special topic of the event or if the translation has to be recorded.
If they operate remotely, they could be also engaged for shorter times, at hourly rates.
The best interpreters have a busy schedule, so you should engage them ahead of time if you want to have good ones for your event.
Prior the event, provide them with the agenda and any preliminary materials that cover the contents and topics of your event, like presentations, speech scripts, glossaries, so that they can adequately prepare themselves for the tasks. More materials you send them, the better results you'll obtain
The speakers at your event must use a good microphone and speak at a regular pace: in virtual events, have the session handled by a presenter, avoiding speaker talking over each other and moderating the Q&A sessions.
Planning the interpretation for in-person events
Choosing the most appropriate solution for your on-site event depends upon many factors: these guidelines should help you to take the right decisions.
Where is your event happening? How many languages has it to be translated into? How big is the audience needing translation?
Exclude the infrared system option if your event is happening in the open air and exclude the radio FM option if it is happening in a venue.
If your event has to be translated into more than two languages, or any translation language has to be delivered to more than 100 attendees, exclude the bidule system.
Where will the interpreters operate?
Budget-wise, the interpreters fees are higher if they have to operate on-site than by remote, as they include the time and expenses for reaching the venue. If your interpreters operate on-site they are also paid for a full day engagement, even if they have to translate a one-hour session only, whilst remote interpreters will cost according to the time they are on line.
If you are planning to use an infrared system, the interpreters necessarily have to operate on-site, in the interpreter’s booths. Ensure that there is proper space in the venue where the booths can be installed or check to see if they are already available.
About your audience
The user experience for your audience should be the same, whichever solution you choose. They will listen to the translation through a dedicated device provided by you (the headset receivers of infrared or bidule) or their own devices (smartphones for RSI platforms or portable radio receivers for the FM radio).
If you use a bidule or an Infrared System, you will need to organize a desk in the lobby for handling the headsets receivers to the attendees and their recollection at the end of the event. A good ratio is to have one hostess at the desk for every 50 users/receivers, in order to avoid long queues, especially at the recollection. You should also have at least one hostess in the venue, ready to exchange faulty or battery depleted devices for new ones.
If you are using an RSI platform, provide the attendees with instructions for downloading the app prior to and at the event. Some free phone headsets and power banks for recharging the smartphones are good things to have on site.
About using a VRI platform
As previously said, if you plan to use a VRI platform, ensure that there is enough Internet connectivity available on site, both for the VRI platform operations and for all the attendees. If you don't have precise data about it, either use the Ablioconference platform with its integrated Wi-Fi network or shift to an Infrared System or an integration between it and an RSI platform.
Work together with your technical service partner
The simultaneous interpreting service is just a part of the entire technical productions of the event. Consult your A/V provider: if he is able and equipped for supplying it as part of the total service, that would probably be the best solution for you, otherwise find an alternative that can work well together with him and his engineers
Choosing the right RSI platform for your virtual events
If you are planning a virtual event, you have to no other option than to use an RSI software platform for doing the interpretation.
These criteria should help you to find the one that suits your needs the most.
What is the platform for your virtual event?
If you are platform agnostic, you might opt for an RSI platform that has video conferencing facilities integrated within, as long as you are satisfied with the other functionalities that you need (registration, audience engagements, etc.). You might also use Zoom but be aware of the limitations that the interpreters have, as described in the previous chapter.
If you have already chosen a platform, either a mainstream video conferencing or a virtual event one, the RSI platform will have to work in parallel with it, which means that the attendees will listen to the translations through a separate channel. The majority of the RSI platforms can do this and you are free to choose the one that offers the attendees the most suitable user experience and better integrates with t your event platform.
Do you want a full turnkey service or want to use your own interpreters, or use the platform by yourself with your operators?
All RSI platforms are offering turnkey services but only a few, like Ablioconference, allow you to use it with your own interpreters or operators. Some RSI platforms are also made available as a service through their own network of service partners/resellers.
If you plan to use it by yourself, ensure that your staff has access to the platform and have enough time for practicing it in advance so that they become proficient.
What is your budget and how many attendees will be listening to the translation?
For most of the events, you will see that the major cost is for the interpreters. Don't try to squeeze it: go for the quality, verify it and negotiate a reasonable price.
The overall price of the platform and its composition is different from each provider: for example, some platforms charge a price per user instead of a flat rate, costs by the hour or by the full day, or have monthly subscription plans.
Try to have a good estimation of the total number of attendees that will be listening to the translation before you start requesting quotes, since it greatly influences both the price of the service and the capacity of the platform to support it, especially if you expect a four-digits number of listeners.
Have you contracted out the production of your event to an external provider?
In this case the simultaneous interpretation will be part of the package, but understand and be aware of how it will be conducted and performed, ensuring it properly matches your requirements.
About the user experience in virtual events
The user experience is personal, and is therefore subject for consideration
At in-person events the attendees listen to the speakers through the loudspeakers of the venue and to the translation audio through the headset receivers. As you know, it's hard to understand two people that are speaking at the same time, but by hearing their voices coming from two different places (the loudspeakers and the headset receivers) our brains are capable focus in on the interpreted audio without being disturbed by the original from the floor.
This being so, the best way to listen to the translation during a virtual event is by replicating the same user experience present at the in-person events. The attendees to the virtual event watch the floor on their computers and listen to the translation through their smartphones equipped with earphones.
Listening to the translation within the same virtual event platform has the advantage of requiring only one device (either a computer or a smartphone) but it comes with a poorer user experience. This because both channels (original and translation) are heard from the same source with the original audio muted or lowered to a whisper, therefore losing the original emphasis and tone of voice. Very often if the translation is heard from a separate channel, the chances are that it's not properly synced with the floor.
Choosing the right RSI platform
Having understood how the simultaneous interpreting solutions work and depending on the requirements of your event, these are the questions that you might ask to the potential RSI platform providers to help you to find the one that’s most suited to your needs.
- Does your platform include a desktop app, and/or a web-based app, and/or a mobile app? What functionalities do they have? Are they used by both listeners and interpreters? Is there a maximum number of users that can simultaneously access the apps?
- Does your platform have a dial-in option?
- Is the platform completely standalone, which includes video conferencing functionalities, or can it be used in conjunction with a client's existing conference call platform, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Skype, etc.?
- Can the platform be used for a virtual event in which all meeting participants and interpreters connect from separate locations?
- Can the platform be used for a hybrid event in which interpreters work from remote and the listeners are in a conference room?
- What levels of admin rights and permissions can be granted to our project teams, interpreters and listeners?
- Any restrictions for users from certain countries (e.g. China)?
- Please describe the hardware, software and internet speed requirements for interpreters and for listeners.
- Which additional features does your product support, such as: Audience Feedback, Push to Talk, Chat, Session Recording, Polling, Relay Interpretation, Post-Production (i.e Audio syncing, mp4 overlay, etc)?
- If your platform supports session recording, where are the recordings stored and how can we obtain them?
- What other platforms or systems does your product integrate with?
- Describe a typical remote interpretation conference process from beginning to end.
- How much time would be required to set up for an in-person conference from the initial request?
- How much time would be required to set up for a virtual event from the initial request?
- Do you provide on-site technicians? What tasks do they perform? Would they be available for the duration of the event?
- Do you work with local AV providers? If so, what are your criteria for AV partners?
- Do you have a dedicated team member to liaise with external AV providers?
- Do you provide your own onsite AV equipment, including sound and camera equipment? If so, what can you provide?
- Do you support Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)?
- What encryption method(s) do you support?
- Are you compliant with GDPR privacy rules? What other standards are you compliant with?
- Where are your servers located that store client data and personally identifiable information (PII)?
- Do you support any other security standards?
- Do you have any other credentials or certificates?
- Do you provide 24/7 support? If not, what are your support hours and time zones?
- How can we receive support (e.g. by email, chat, phone, etc.)?
- What kinds of training do you offer for our project team, interpreters and participants?
- Do you provide demos of your platform as conference preparation for interpreters?
- Do you provide demos of your platform for evaluation purposes?
- How soon could we schedule a demo?
- What is the license model? Do you charge per meeting, day, hour, user, language, etc.?
- Is there a maximum number of seats/users allowed? If so, what is it?
- What are your fees for support, training, demos?
- What are your equipment rental fees?
Additional notes for hybrid events
An hybrid event combines the requirements of both a live event and virtual event, as described in the previous chapters.
If you are planning a hybrid event, and you want to use a RSI platform for providing the service to both your on-site and remote attendees, you need pay specific attention to the way in which the original contents are streamed to the remote attendees.
The RSI platforms send out the translation audio feeds to the clients' devices in almost real time, therefore the platform used for distributing the original video contents to your remote attendees must also send them out in real time, otherwise the two streams will not be synchronized. If your remote attendees are connected through Zoom, MS Teams or other video conferencing platforms, they will receive the stream in almost real time, but if you are using YouTube or Vimeo these streams are viewed with a delay of 15-30 seconds and so will not be in sync with translation streams.
While using a RSI platform capable of supporting both your on-site and remote attendees is the most favoured solution, you can also handle the hybrid event by using an Infrared System for servicing the on-site attendees and an RSI platform for the remote attendees. In this case, choose a RSI platform that is capable of integrating the translation audio feeds with the Infrared System, either through Dante interface (which has to be supported by both systems) or other kinds of interfaces (Wi-Fi Broadcaster, sound cards, etc.) in order to avoid duplicating the number of interpreters.
By doing this, the interpreters can be connected by remote and operate on the RSI platform, and their translation audio feeds be plugged into the Infrared System for their distribution to the on-site attendees, or they could operate on-site in the Infrared System booths and their audio feeds can be plugged into the RSI platform for distribution to the remote attendees.
The entire event industry is going through major changes. The Covid pandemic has forced the shift from live to virtual and every company had to learn how to communicate in different ways. The technological evolution is fuelling the development of new and better tools and platforms that provides enhanced engagement and user experience. The same thing is happening within the simultaneous interpreting providers, whose solutions will continue to evolve at a rapid pace.
We have purposely, not included Machine Interpreting in this guide, since we feel that it is not yet mature enough to be applied in business events. Nevertheless, it's a technology that has made significant improvements over the last years and will continue to grow in the future, as it's supported by huge investments by giants like Google, Microsoft, Meta and Apple.
An emerging alternative to simultaneous interpreting is to provide multilingual captions for online meetings, and many international companies are craving for it. This is also a big challenge that has yet to be fully streamlined. Even though some solutions have started to appear on the market, like SynchWord's live meeting multilingual caption and Touchcast, this technology still has big room for improvement.
While waiting for these emerging technologies to evolve and become reliable platforms before starting to adopt them, in the same way as we are waiting for transport to Mars or traveling in a real self-driving car, let's organize and execute our events in a flawless manner, providing the best returns for all stakeholders.
This guide will be periodically updated with all the news and advancements that will be worth reporting.
Our best wishes for the success of your events!