The project managers who handle interpreting equipment and staff for large events are a special breed.
Last month Tembua provided full interpreting services in six languages for an international conference. This meant backpack transmitters for the interpreters as they stepped onto buses for city tours, hundreds of headsets and receiver combinations for the participants, soundproof two-person tabletop booths with mikes, consoles for the conference sessions, transmitters, miles and miles of cables, and our 19-member team.
What we seem to re-learn at every conference:
1. No matter how many extra batteries are in the kit, we will need one more.
2. The one-person-easy-setup booths always take two people to set up.
3. Following repeated sound checks to perfectly set the audio transmitted from the interpreting booths, the house crew will bring in something that creates static on one mike.
4. At least one person will storm to the interpreting table and demand a language which the conference organizers did not order. (In some cases we can arrange a last-minute solution if the organizers sign an addendum to the contract.)
5. Someone will ask why in the world they have to pay people to simply talk. (We politely tell them that beginning interpreters start with radio broadcasts in their own language. When they can rephrase the broadcast after a slight delay and not lose any information, they are allowed to move on to listening in one language and speaking in the second language. We resist the urge to emphasize how difficult this is. )
6. Several people will be certain their equipment is malfunctioning because they have it turned to the wrong channel.
7. At least one person will tell us about the nephew who is studying Chinese in high school and who could work for us at the next conference if we are ever stuck for interpreters.
8. One interpreter will get the flu, have car trouble, or get stuck in traffic and be almost late. (We are prepared for these eventualities.)
9. A good sound tech is worth his/her weight in gold!
10. It takes a great deal of diplomacy to explain that the reason a participant is not hearing the Japanese speaker is that Japanese was only ordered for the main session and the participant is in one of the breakout rooms.
Through all of this, our onsite project manager smiled and calmly answered questions; smiled and handed out bags with headsets and instructions for use; smiled and corrected the spelling error on an interpreter’s name badge; smiled and handed bottles of water to the interpreters. In a quiet moment, she stood at the back of the large room and was amazed yet again to watch participants nodding, engrossed in the audio stream from their headsets. From their point of view, the interpreting services were smooth and invisible. As they should be.