When Should You Use Simultaneous Translation?

Everyone tells us, “At least one person from the foreign attending entity company speaks English. Why do I need translation?”  With more than 1000 meetings worldwide under our belt, I can honestly say the reason is to be sure all involved get the message. My insight might be valuable.  

When was the last time someone stood up at a meeting and said they do not understand what the speaker is saying and they need clarification?  Never, right?  Not because of the content, but because of the language?

Clearly, if a person said that they did not understand, someone would help, or the presenter would slow down. Perhaps someone else would translate or someone sitting next to the person would follow-up in a second language if he could.

So here is the question: When should translation be offered, and should cost be the mitigating factor for not having it? 

I think you have to look at it from the point of view of ROI. Spending about $1800 per person for a meeting in Europe (air, hotel room for two nights, B, L, D transfers and fees).

This average cost will be applied to the ROI and you should ask yourself if the topic is not understood and NOT delivered correctly, then what will it cost me to update, retrain or revisit the person who did not understand the message the first time?

Scenario Meeting in Istanbul Investigator Meeting: Should you spend $20,000 for 100 people in the room to have translation

·       2 translators Russian-English Medical Experience

·       2 translators Ukrainian-English Medical Experience

Attendance:  100 guests in the room with the following

·       33 % Russian

·       33 % Ukrainian

·       33 % who understand English

(All guests we are told should speak English)

For a meeting budget of $200,000 this would be just 10% of the overall cost and a very wise investment.  That is considering the whole point of the meeting is to get everyone in one location is for your guests to take the information learned back to their home sites.


Here is a helpful tip for determining if the translation is needed.  Determine where the guests are coming from.  Check with your meeting management professionals as to whether the quality of English of those making air reservations is just that, coherent.   If they are having difficulty with or having a language issue it might be time to consider translation. 

Remember it works both ways; you are sending a company representative’s to speak, and if he does not understand the questions from the audience, why pay all the money for a meeting?

Consider not only translation but also second screen technology for the foreign languages.

Taking that into consideration, we all agree it is easier to hear the message in our first language and (through empirical data) we can say it usually costs about $2000 per day per language (for two translators).

Further costs require you to include the delivery, set up/tear down, per diem, hotel rooms for translators, translation booth per language, headsets/ digital receivers, technician etc.  Prices will vary depending on city and expertise requirements.  That is how we get to $20,000 plus or minus.

Remember, the translator should speak not only the national languages but the meeting language (medical, financial, etc.).  Be sure you get the right people.

Furthermore, here are  6 quick tips:

1. Send materials (slide deck) in advance or allow for private viewing online to the so they can prepare for the translation.

2. Bring hard copies of the presentations to the meeting, and if budget affords and the information is complicated a small printer is helpful for on the spot printing  

3. Invite the translators to attend your slide review.  It will make a difference to hear the speaker in advance and not just walk in cold.

4. Ask for the same translators for each day. No substitutions.

5. Be sure you have a confidentiality agreement in place prior to start of the meeting signed by all parties. 

6. Are you recording the session? Be certain you share this information in advance of the session.  Discuss how recordings will be used in the future.  If not, the event may get off to a rocky start. 

Summit Management meeting staff are experts that can help you do all of these things. For more information call Glen Alcantara at 973-239-4005 ext. 133.