How to deliver a great speech when working with a translator

//How to deliver a great speech when working with a translator

How to deliver a great speech when working with a translator

I’ve spoken about creative ways to use the Internet for marketing and publicity from Beijing to Budapest, all across Mexico and Brazil as well as the U.S and Canada. One thing I’ve noticed in working with translators is that is the speaker’s job to make sure the audience understands every word.

Here are 10 ideas to help you get your message across when you don’t speak the same language as your audience.

  1. Script your intro in the native tongue with the help of your translator.  I heard Richard Miles do a 2-minute intro in Portuguese when we were both speaking at a conference in Rio de Janeiro. The audience broke out into spontaneous applause. If you want to bond with your audience, this is the way to do it. I believe that the audience will be on your side for the rest of the speech. Even if you speak five sentences in that language, you will build tremendous rapport with the audience.  A sample opening could go along the lines of “Thank you for inviting me t speak here today. I arrived a few days ago and enjoyed seeing the sights in your beautiful country and meeting so many nice people.”
  2. Meet with your translator in advance and go over your presentation. When I spoke in Budapest, this actually took longer than the speech! But it was worth it because he understood what I was saying – and so did the audience.
  3. During the preview session with the translator, go over any technical words and see if they can either be translated or if the words are the same in that language. For example, computer is la computadora in Spanish.
  4. Speak slowly so the translator can hear you.  It is almost impossible for a person to listen to you and talk at the same time. And remember that his brain has to translate what you are saying. Leave time for all that mental processing.
  5. Stop speaking while they translate. It is difficult for a translator to talk and listen at the same time – all the while having to convert one language to another. At one event in Fortalesa, Brazil, the person who spoke before me was a professor at an American university. He spoke in the same fast style as he spoke to undergrads. He lost the audience entirely. The translator couldn’t keep up with him and started translating every second or third sentence. It was gibberish.
  6. Give the audience time to listen to the translator – and more time for the message to sink in. It is one thing to listen, it is another to make sense of what they heard. I remember telling a joke and having to wait two minutes for the laughter.
  7. Translate your slides and handouts into the native language. It won’t do your audience any good to see your English words if they don’t understand them. Even though English is the “universal” language now, assume that many people in the audience are not fluent in English and can’t easily translate your words into thoughts and ideas they can act upon.
  8. If you get to the event early, put on the headphones so you can listen to another speaker getting translated. This is the audio equivalent of walking in another person’s shoes. When you realize that the headphones are rubbery, your ears are sweating and the tone quality is scratchy, you will learn a lot about how it feels to hear a translated speech.
  9. Since translation takes time, re-evaluate how much content you can fit into the allotted time. It will be less than you deliver normally.

10. Watch out for idioms and colloquial sayings. I blurted out in China that doing a certain thing would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I quickly realized that saying wouldn’t translate well for a country that has a red flag! I quickly stopped the translator and gave her a substitute phrase. She looked at me quite quizzically!

If you have clients who want you to speak in different countries, consider these tips and you’ll deliver a winning presentation.

Dan Janal is a very successful entrepreneur, professional speaker and marketing coach who helps clients build their businesses by improving their strategy for using publicity, marketing, Internet marketing, e-commerce and sales. To see how you can improve your business, go to

This article can be re-printed on your website, blog or ezine.

By |2016-11-28T23:38:23+00:00August 16th, 2010|Speaking|1 Comment

About the Author:

Dan Janal, author of "Write Your Book In A Flash!" helps leaders write books so they can get more clients and sell more products. My clients get terrific results from my coaching, developmental editing and ghostwriting. For info, go to

One Comment

  1. simma lieberman October 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    This is a great post, and will definitely be valuable to me when I speak in Bogota in November.

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