Let’s begin this multilingual online events guide with the very basics of event planning. Although these might seem obvious to most, stick with us - it’s important to make the right choices from the get-go as multilingual online events offer much less leeway if things need fixing at a later stage compared to ‘standard’ events: remember - more languages, more people, more work!
Let’s dive in!
First: choose the date wisely
The event industry is, or at least it used to be, very much a seasonal one: two very busy peaks during April-June and October-December, with very little movement in between.
The advent of online and hybrid events has partly shuffled the cards on the table, although the busy seasons seem to be unaffected for the time being. Another change brought about by the pandemic is that many more events are taking place due to budget availability and the reduced cost of running an online event.
This means event organisers need to pick their dates wisely to avoid overlapping with other major events and being ‘just another’ online event taking place during a particularly busy period. This is especially true for multilingual online events, as they rely on a series of skilled professionals whose availability needs to be taken into consideration.
Planning in advance is therefore essential: organising this type of event last-minute or in the midst of peak season is going to result in a higher price tag on all aspects and won’t give you or the team enough time to coordinate and prepare.
Here are a few things to factor in when planning a multilingual online event:
The availability of the production team
The availability of the language team
The time needed to source speakers, especially if they speak different languages
The time needed to effectively promote the event, especially if you are running (as you should!) a multilingual marketing campaign
The time needed to create the content
The time needed to rehearse: as these events are more complex than your run-of-the-mill Zoom event, a dry run with all speakers, technicians, interpreters and captioners is considered an industry best practice
PRO TIP: consider scheduling your event right at the start of busy seasons or even a few weeks prior, and factor in at least 2 months to get things going - your budget will thank you!
Second: choose the time and duration wisely
Once you’ve landed on a date, you need to consider how long you want your event to be, and at what time you want to kick things off. Sounds straightforward? You may want to think again.
Let’s start with the duration - by now you will most likely have heard the terms ‘Zoom fatigue’ and ‘brain fog’. These have become staples of the ‘new normal’ and stand to testify how much saturation from online events people are experiencing.
This doesn’t mean all online events will give your audience Zoom fatigue, as there are very simple ways to avoid it:
Consider splitting it into two different days to have a maximum of four hours per day if you have lots of content to go through during your event. This will help your audience stay concentrated and engaged throughout, as well as schedule other commitments around the event, making attendance more likely.
Plan in plenty of breaks. From experience, people start to switch off, or worse - drop off, after about 1.5 hours of uninterrupted event streaming. An easy way to avoid this is to plan in power-breaks after every couple of speakers or after keynotes, so that people have time to brew a cuppa, stretch out, go for a walk in the garden, put a laundry cycle on - you name it. This will also give them time to better digest what they’ve heard and you the time to regroup and move onto the next session.
PRO TIP: Jump straight back in with an interactive activity, like a short quiz or a prize draw to make sure everyone returns on time!
Let’s move on to time now. Nobody likes early mornings, the graveyard shift will have your audience dozing off in front of the screen and the slot after a full 9-5 isn’t going to yield much better results. With multilingual events things get even more difficult, as you need to reconcile different time zones and anything above a three-hour difference starts to become difficult to manage.
Plan right from the start for this: are you targeting audiences in vastly different time zones, say Central Europe and the Asia-Pacific area? In this case, it’s probably better to hold two separate events to avoid having to schedule the event at a time that doesn’t suit anyone. This is clearly more budget-consuming upfront, but it can have its advantages: you can customise the event even more to your target audience, not just by selecting a topic and an angle relevant for them but also by choosing the event platform based on what’s more commonly known in that market, and selecting speakers with social capital and influence on your specific attendees.
PRO TIP: even if the event is on two or more similar time zones, make sure to still select a time that suits everyone keeping in mind work/life schedules can change from country (and cultures) to country!
Third: pick your access services
Now that you’ve zoned in on the markets, the dates and the time, you can start thinking about the languages you want to provide access services for.
As a quick recap, these are some of the services that can be provided for online events:
Simultaneous interpreting: this is the most used one, as it allows the event to progress normally whilst the interpreting is provided to the audience.
Consecutive interpreting: this entails pauses and breaks whilst the speaker is talking for the interpreters to translate the speech. It’s an option for smaller-scale events with only two different languages involved and where the budget is tight and doesn’t allow for a sophisticated platform.
Sign language interpreting: an essential service for audiences with deaf or hard of hearing members.
Live captions: this is a great tool to make your event more accessible.
Live subtitles: if you want to go a step further than live captions, you can think about providing live subtitles. Bear in mind that this entails streaming on a separate channel for each language you’ve selected.
Based on the needs of your audience, you’ll need to offer or more of these.
PRO TIP: a budget-saving tip is to consider whether a specific language needs access services. For example, Nordic countries are notoriously famous for having a good level of English literacy, so if the event’s main language is English, there’s a chance that interpreting for that language might not be needed. Research shows that the more technical and the more marketing-based a message is, the more people tend to respond better if they interact with it in their native language.
Four: choose the speakers
The beauty of multilingual events is that you’re not bound by limits: you can pick any speaker that perfectly fits in with the chosen topic and the audience you’re targeting. They don’t have to speak English as you’ll be providing interpreting services anyway, so you’re free to choose the best profile that adds value to your event and your audience.
This is an advantage for your speakers as well: they won’t be forced to present in English but rather in their native tongue, which will lead to more fluent, detailed-rich, natural and engaging presentations.
Five: choose your content
Online events have vastly improved since their rudimental origins and offer now a whole host of streaming options, with even technologies such as AR and VR being thrown in the mix: whether you prefer to KISS (keep it short and simple), or go big on the wow factor, online events will have a way to make your vision come true.
Here are a few questions to guide your choice:
Do you want your event to be interactive, with polls, quizzes, games, and similar?
Are you planning to stream from a single location or set it up 100% remotely?
Are your speakers going to pre-record videos or are they giving their talks live?
Are you going to share videos, presentations, slides or similar?
And here are a few considerations to keep in mind when it comes to content in multilingual online events:
All audiovisual material (which includes PPTs, slides, infographics, videos and animations) needs to be shared with the interpreting/subtitling team in advance.
As an industry standard practice, videos are only interpreted if provided in advance with a full transcript, although in this case it would be best to subtitle the video ahead of the event and stream it with live captions included. In case the video is the pre-recording of a speech and the speaker isn’t reading off a set script but giving a presentation, this can be interpreted provided it’s given to the team with sufficient advance.
If the event is scripted, the full script must be provided in advance to the interpreting team.
PRO TIP: have you created an interactive PPT with cool animations, effects and videos? Make sure to let the AV team know! Because of how things are sometimes run in the back end, dynamic AV content needs some adjustments in order to show animations and similar effects correctly.
Six: build your technical and language teams
Now that you’ve laid the perfect foundations for your event, it’s time to build your team of expert technicians and linguists to bring it to life. Here are a few tips that can come in handy:
Find an AV team that’s specialised in the platform you’re considering and that’s open to offering suggestions and consultancy to get the best out of the event.
You should source your interpreters taking into consideration these factors:
○ They have the correct language combination, i.e. they interpret between their first (native) and second language, and the right variant (for example, Lusitan Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese)
○ They have experience offering remote simultaneous interpreting for online multilingual events
○ They use the suitable equipment set-up. These are considered to be essentials:
■ Fibre connection, cabled in
■ At least two separate devices
■ Dedicated external USB microphone
■ High-fidelity headphones
■ Emergency UPS
○ They’re experienced in the topic of the event: although interpreters are equipped with the skills to work in most scenarios, specialisation is always a plus - they will be already familiar with the content, the terminology and the tone of voice needed.
These criteria above apply to sign interpreters and live captioners/subtitlers as well.
Consider having a moderator: this role is very important in multilingual online events, especially if you’re holding a plenary session or a discussion between a panel of experts. The language experts need enough time to be able to keep up with the language switch and reset their consoles so the audience still gets the interpretation, the captions or the subtitles, and a moderator helps to manage the flux of the conversation to avoid overlaps, people speaking on top of each other or those embarrassed silences when nobody takes the floor after an open question!
Brief your speakers on how to work during multilingual live events, as they will have to prepare their material in advance, share it with the team, answer questions on terminology, take part in rehearsals, have the right audio and microphone set-up, and make sure to deliver their speech naturally without reading off a script or slides.
Keep all lines of communication open: all the moving parts should be kept abreast of the organisational efforts in order to avoid issues further down the line. This will make sure your multilingual audience can access the event as smoothly as possible.
PRO TIP: set non-negotiable deadlines by which materials should be supplied to the AV and language team in order to prepare ahead of the event, creating a shared folder of documents easily accessible to everyone.
Seven: choose the platform wisely
You may already have a preferred platform you’ve used before or you’ve heard great things about. With multilingual events, however, you might need to consider your specific needs before deciding to go with what you already know:
Does the platform offer a multilingual interface?
Does the platform support live captions?
Does the platform support interpretation?
○ Does the platform allow for relay interpreting, i.e. can the interpreters listen to each other in case they don’t speak the language of the speaker/audience and need to listen to the English interpretation in order to translate into their language?
○ Do interpreters have access to a virtual booth, i.e. can they see and hear their booth partners?
Does the platform support polls and/or the format of multilingual live content you’ve decided to create?
These are all important questions to bear in mind, but the good news is that most platforms have now developed very advanced functionalities and the market even offers add-on services for interpreting that can be integrated on some video conferencing platforms.
PRO TIP: get your AV and language teams involved ASAP so they can advise you on what works best for your event!
These seven steps will help you get your multilingual event off to a flying start, creating a truly multilingual and accessible experience for your audience.
Need help or advice? Get in touch so we can have a chat and discuss your need to plan a successful multilingual event!