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Speak using complete phrases or communicate one idea

When I observe people public speaking and using an interpreter for the first time, the most common mistake is speaking too few or too many words for the translator to construct the phrase or idea in the language they are interpreting. There is a big difference between an interpreter and a translator. Using an interpreter you speak a few words and then the interpreter takes your words and ideas and communicates them in the local language. A translator would take a document and translate it word for word into the local language. Getting good at using an interpreter is learning how to "chunk" together enough words to establish a flow. Too few words and it's difficult to build momentum. Often the way grammar or words translate it's hard for the interpreter to communicate your words if there is not enough spoken. Too many and the interpreter fails to communicate fully the message in the depth you have said.


Rephrase rather than repeat

When you are communicating your message, especially if you have not been able to go through the text before hand, you can sometimes reach a point when you have used a phrase or words that confuse or are unknown. A classic mistake is to repeat the same words or phrase. Then maybe repeat it again, but this time slightly louder, as if by increasing the volume it makes it easier to understand! Rephrase rather than repeat. Think of other words that describe the thought you want to communicate. Suggest a few synonyms and you will find the interpreter gets the context of what you are trying to say.


Humour doesn't travel to the same destinations as you do

As an experienced speaker would know, when you are on your feet in full flow you can get a line or thought that you know could add a touch of humour to your speech and, with the correct timing, you drop it in. Don't do this when using an interpreter. There is nothing worse than either the blank stare from the interpreter or the uncomfortable silence following a line that bombed because the humour didn't work. Even worse, don't try to explain it! That never works in your own native language let alone when being interpreted!


Keep eye contact with audience, not with the interpreter

Whenever we speak in public gaining and keeping eye contact is vital to create and build trust and rapport with your audience. Another common mistake I often see when people use an interpreter, is to look at them rather than the audience. I prefer to have the interpreter on my left hand side or even behind me if I am speaking without notes. I am right handed and naturally feel more comfortable gesturing and moving when speaking to my right.

Those are four key lessons I've learned when using an interpreter. Perhaps, if it's at all possible, let the interpreter have the transcript of your speech in enough time to read it through and ask questions. I was speaking recently at another conference in Kiev, and I was able to use an excellent interpreter. But even then, the word "Bonnet" of the car (as in "hood" in American English) caused some problems! The interpreter had the transcript a few days before, and it really helped in being able to communicate a better flow in the speech through another language.