Webinars in Many Languages

    February 16, 2007

If you go to InterCall’s home page, you will find the word "global" prominently featured. Their tag line in the logo is: "InterCall – Global Conferencing Solutions" and down at the bottom of the page the small type says "InterCall is the leading conference call solution for global business." Not only that, but before you go surfing around their site, you are forced to select your country and language preference from a list of 18 representative flags.

(Side note to the web team at InterCall… Why do you get a choice for the French language website when you click on Canada, but when you click on the country flag for France, you get an English-only website for "Europe"? Aren’t Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany also "Europe"? They get to use their national languages. And why is the popup text for Germany translated as "Deutschland" while all the other countries have their names represented in the English equivalents? Oh heck… Website design is a pain even when you are working in a single language!)

With that kind of emphasis on global conferencing you might wonder how InterCall assists clients with large multinational audiences. For answers, I talked to Tiffany Killcreas, who is a nice person with the longest business title I have ever run across. Ready for this? She is "Senior Manager – Product Management, Surround the Call Features and Vertical Markets." You’d need a fold-out business card for that!

Tiffany told me that InterCall has partnered with IAL Services to provide high quality interpretation and translation for conferences conducted in multiple languages. InterCall packages and prices the services, and contracts with IAL to carry out the labor. In this way the client doesn’t have to deal with separate sales groups, but gets the advantage of working with an experienced specialist. The two companies have been live testing their multilingual conference offerings for the past year and last month they made it a formally priced and publicized option for InterCall customers.

Maddalena Ragusin is Business Development Manager at IAL and she stepped me through their area of expertise and how they are working with InterCall. First I had to learn the nuances of terminology in this field. I would have called everything they do "translation," but they reserve that term for altering documents and electronic materials into another language. Translation can involve changes to content to account for cultural differences and local expectations (overcoming what I once labeled "North American egocentricity in the web conferencing biz.")

Translating PowerPoint presentations is easiest when they are created using the worst (but most common) technique. If the presenter merely dumps a bunch of sentences into bullet points, the translators can replace the text with no problem. But if the presentation includes text merged with graphic elements or if it makes use of PowerPoint animations, translation becomes more technically difficult. The translator not only needs to worry about getting the words right, but must preserve the formatting and functionality of the slide as a whole. Maddalena says that IAL’s experience with desktop publishing and concentration on web seminars helps them tame this demon.

Interpretation is the term used for repeating a speaker’s comments in another language to a live audience. It turns out that there are two ways to attack that task. Consecutive interpretation forces the speaker to say a phrase and then wait for the interpreter to repeat it in the second language before moving on to the next phrase. This back and forth choppiness removes much of the impact and effectiveness from a well planned presentation. The alternative is to use simultaneous interpretation. This is the classic version you see in movies and television coverage of United Nations meetings and other formal podium presentations, where the audience listens on a private line to the interpreter repeating the entire presentation at roughly the same time as the speaker delivers it. That’s the format used in InterCall’s support of formal web events such as investor relations calls or company-wide employee announcements and it requires specialized training and abilities from the interpretation staff, as well as the equipment and infrastructure to support the private audience channels.

Tiffany says that being able to offer professional simultaneous interpretation to their web conferencing clients is a big differentiator over others who only support consecutive interpretation or re-recording of an audio track to create an on-demand recording in another language. InterCall has the ability to create bridges and audio subconferences that allow people in many different countries to call in and listen on a local phone number in their native language. The interpreter listens to the speakers’ line and provides a running commentary in the alternate language.

Maddalena mentioned that they IAL supports not only the formal presentation, but live Q&A sessions as well. That got me interested in the mechanics of how they make it work when an operator can only administer and activate question lines in the main (primary language) conference. I ended up forcing a number of people to race around to answer my questions. The typical method would be to exhaust all questions and answers on the main primary language line first. Those would be interpreted for the other language lines in the same way as the rest of the conference. Then the operator would transfer in one of the alternate language lines along with their interpreter. As each question is asked in the secondary language, the interpreter repeats it in consecutive fashion to the speakers in their language and translates the answer back to the secondary language. Any other languages listening in continue to get their own simultaneous translations as usual. Trust me, it makes sense if you sit down with a piece of graph paper and a crayon.

I ended up by asking Tiffany about pricing for interpretation services.Simultaneous interpretation on a conference has a 60 minute minimum and costs $6.50 per minute. Unless the language is Japanese, in which case the cost is $8.00 per minute. I asked Maddalena why Japanese costs more and she told me it has always been that way in the interpretation business. Japanese has too different a sentence structure and too many additional linguistic shadings that can change the perception of the content. Professional Japanese language interpreters are in high demand as the specialists of this specialized field. I asked InterCall to confirm that these costs followed the standard practice of being charged per person per minute, so that I’d have to pay quite a bit for a large audience. Tiffany told me that in fact the prices are per minute per language for the entire conference, not per participant. So to get your one-hour conference call translated into German with a live specialist would only cost an extra $390. That’s a steal. I may start having my webinars translated into Lithuanian just for the sheer sport of it!


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About the Author

With a background in software development and marketing, Ken has been producing and delivering business webinars since 1999. His background in public speaking, radio, stage acting, and training has given him a unique perspective on what it takes to create a compelling and effective presentation. Currently Ken offers consulting services through his company Webinar Success (www.wsuccess.com).