Tips for Speaking Using an Interpreter on a Web Conference

adobe connectImagine speaking via a web conference to an audience half-way across the world who doesn’t even speak your language.  As our world grows more connected, it is likely that you will have this experience, if you haven’t already.  How can you avoid some pitfalls?  In a word:  preparation.

On Sunday, I presented via Adobe Connect (an online web conferencing tool) at a conference held in Tehran, Iran.  The audience, both physically in the room and online, was mostly managers and business owners, mostly men.  They were at the conference to learn how to be better public speakers.

My topic was “Easy PowerPoint for Speakers,” which is the one topic that I rely greatly on my presentation slides to get my points across.

There were many factors to consider: time difference, language, and technology.

Time difference.  My presentation time of 5:45 PM in Iran was 8:15 AM for me. Use a time-zone converter.

Language.  I don’t speak Farsi, the language of the conference, so I would be using an interpreter.  I learned a lot about using an interpreter:

  • Practice with the interpreter to learn how to flow together.  I connected with the interpreter the day before.
  • Say complete thoughts, but not too many sentences before pausing to allow the interpreter to speak.  Because the grammar and language construction may be different, the interpreter needs a complete thoughts to interpret (don’t just say part of a sentence).  At the same time, too many sentences can be difficult to remember.
  • Don’t use jargon or idioms (e.g. “he rubbed me the wrong way”).
  • Don’t attempt humor that relies on “timing” or word play.  Verbal humor doesn’t translate well.
  • Be culturally sensitive.  For example, the “thumbs up” sign is an obscene gesture in Iran.  Fortunately, I learned this before the conference, in a text message to the organizer (I had sent the picture icon “thumbs up” to indicate approval).  An internet search on cultural taboos and offensive gestures can give you clues.  Also, ask people you know from that culture or the host.
  • Speak to the audience, not the interpreter.
  • Reduce your content.  I had a 30 minute presentation time slot.  When I practiced the presentation, it took 29 minutes.  Good, right? No!  I had not thought about the extra time the interpreter would need.  So, I had to cut the content—either the number of points or the words.
  • Learn at least one phrase in the native language of the audience.  I learned how to say “Thank you” in Farsi (not well, but any effort is appreciated).

The technology.  Many, many things can go wrong with the technology.  At a minimum, do the following:

  •  Practice with the technology (by yourself, to check your system, and have a run-through rehearsal with the meeting planner or conference engineer).  When I practiced with Adobe Connect, I didn’t think it was working because when I shared my screen, I didn’t see it sharing.  I searched online for an answer, and discovered I needed to install the Adobe Connect “Add-in,” but that didn’t solve the problem. By trial and error, I found the “preview” selection that allowed me to see what attendees would see.
  • Get there early—whether in person, or presenting online.  Allow time for technology challenges.  Go online 10-15 minutes before your presentation time (or at the time the meeting planner designates).
  • Make sure you have a way to communicate with the meeting planner, in case of a problem.  For this conference, the meeting planner and I had multiple ways to communicate:  email, facebook, Skype and Viber. Viber, a free service, was particularly useful for both texting and talking.
  • Try looking into the webcam as much as possible, if you will be seen by the attendees.  Give them eye contact!
  • Have a plan B and a plan C.  The plan B was to record myself practicing (I played the PowerPoint on my TV and stood next to it).  Then, I uploaded the video to YouTube and sent the link to the conference planner, so that it could be played if the web conferencing technology didn’t work. Here is the video of that practice: (29 minutes).


During the technology check the morning of the presentation, I could not hear the sound, so we went to plan C and the interpreter called me (via Viber) so that I could hear when he was interpreting.  During the actual presentation, the technology failed due to a slow internet connection, so we went back to plan B, using the video, which was choppy, again probably due to the internet connection. After about 30 frustrating minutes, they stopped the video to keep the conference on track.  While the video was playing (painful to watch!), I posted the link to the video in the conference chat area.

So, no matter how well you prepare, things can still go wrong!  At this point, breathe, calm down, and realize you can’t change the past!  However, ask yourself—what can I learn from this?  Apply your new-found wisdom to your next presentation.

Do you have some tips to share, either about using an interpreter or presenting online?


Authentic vs. “Politically Correct”

I will be authentic

Have you ever wondered whether to tell a story because you were concerned that the language or subject matter might be offensive or “politically incorrect”?
Ironically, as I was considering that very issue as I am preparing a presentation for an Iranian audience, I happened to check the reviews for the very first book I published, Small Talk Big Results.  Most of the reviews have been very positive, but it recently received this one-star review, apparently at least in part because the reader was offended by something I had written.  The review:

Big disappointment! Most especially offended by the “regard story” a writer should be able to cite many examples to make a point- should have thought more out of the box and not had to resort to offensive titles in an attempt to make a point.

The reviewer had used the word “regard” which didn’t make any sense, but I figured out what I think she was referring to.  Here was my response, written as a comment to the review:

I’m sorry that you found the “regard story” offensive. I assume you meant to say the “retard story.” The story used the word “retard as a “throw back” terminology, the way children of my era referred to a person with a mental disability. It was the beginning of a true story, a story which I used to illustrate the point that you don’t have to give all the details of a story in order for people to form a picture in their minds.

For those considering purchasing the book, who may be wondering what is being referred to, here is the beginning of that story, quoted from the book:

“Bread…b-bread!” the boy grunted as he walked awkwardly from table to table in the elementary school cafeteria, begging for extra bread and stuffing his mouth full. I never did like the bread and butter “sandwiches,” so I gladly handed mine over to Robbie. Actually, I didn’t even know his name was Robbie until later. We kids just called him “The Retard.”

I didn’t write the end to that story in the book, but what happened later that day was that Robbie died, having choked on the bread. The only reason I would call a person with a mental disability “retard” would be in relating the authentic language of this story. I was profoundly moved by his death and by my realization, at 11, that he was as deserving of love and respect as anyone else. Perhaps I should have included the ending of the story in the book.

Perhaps if I had included the end of the story, the reader would have seen how the term “retard” fit into a bigger, more respectful viewpoint.  In any case, it never occurred to me that relating a story from childhood with an offensive term in it, would be offensive.  Lesson learned.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t mention that until I was an adult, I didn’t know that Brazil nuts were called Brazil nuts.  

Brazil Nuts

My mother called them “nigger toes.”  As a kid, growing up in a mostly all-white area of North Dakota, I didn’t know that “nigger” was an offensive term. So, now I wonder, if I were to tell THAT story, could I even say the word “nigger” as part of my authentic story?

Here’s where I stand on the issue. I will be authentic. I will be considerate and respectful, but still authentic. I may offend some people. But if I have to worry about being politically correct then I become boring and bland and a little part of me dies.

Live and let live.  Tell YOUR stories.



Improve Your Speaking with Improv

Improv to Improve

Aside from participating in Toastmasters, the most beneficial activity I have done to improve my speaking was to take a couple of improv classes several years ago.

The idea of speaking without preparation may be terrifying to you.  It’s still not my favorite thing to do, but practicing improv in class, in Toastmasters and even in professional speaking has helped me to connect with my audience and, much to my surprise, has reduced my pre-speech jitters.

Prior to taking improv classes, I was a bit stiff as a speaker, primarily because I would try to say my speeches exactly as I had written them.  This created six main problems:

1. Stilted, non-conversational language.  What looked good to the eye wasn’t always good to the ear.  My sentences were often too long and my phrasing wasn’t always how I spoke.

2. Too slow rate of speech.  Because I was trying to access exact phrasing from my memory, my rate of speech was a bit slower than my normal conversational rate.

3. Unfocused eye contact.  My eye contact was often an unfocused gaze as I was sometimes “reading” my speech by visualizing the words on a page.

4. Inauthentic emotions. Part of me wasn’t present in the moment.

5. Increased “blank-outs.”  Because I had taken my brain down the well-worn path of saying my speech only one way, if something got me off-track, I had no alternate paths to get back on track.

6. Unwillingness to change direction to suit the audience’s needs.  Sometimes an audience needs something a little different than planned.  If you doggedly “stick-to-the-script” you can’t adjust on the fly.

Improv techniques helped me on all counts, plus it gave me a confidence that I could deal with change, a “yes, and” attitude, of acceptance of whatever happens during a presentation and using that to forge a connection with the audience.  For example, at a recent presentation, my PowerPoint presentation went wacko, so rather than getting all flustered, I accepted it and just did more audience participation.

How can you improve with improv? How can you practice?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Join Toastmasters.  Part of every meeting is a time for “Table Topics” where a few people answer a question with no prior preparation.
  • Take an improv class.  Google “improv classes” for your area.  My husband I made a “date” out of taking improv classes together.  We went to Stevie Ray’s Improv Company
  • Don’t write out your speeches.  Practice and speak from brief, keyword notes.
  • Make fun of stuff.  When you are watching a TV show or a movie, or even reading a Facebook post, come up with a comeback.  This can be a fun group activity, too.
  • Practice with a friend.  Try coming up with a silly story, going back and forth, each saying one sentence.  No pre-planning the story line.
  • “Read” a book to a small child (who doesn’t yet read) by making up a story to go with the pictures.  Ignore what is actually written.
  • Practice using the phrase “yes, and” with people, even if you disagree with them.  The idea is to not negate a suggestion or person, to not block them or their ideas, but to accept and move forward. A “Yes, but . . .” response may sound like you are agreeing, but the “but” negates the “yes.”

A personal example . . .

Shortly after I learned about the “Yes, and . . .” concept, I ran into a woman visiting my church for the first time. I asked her what brought her to the church and she said she wanted to get her kids into religious training. She said, “It doesn’t matter what religion. They’re all the same, right?” Well, the old me would have said, “WHAT?? ARE YOU CRAZY? RELIGIONS AREN’T ALL THE SAME!”  That would have blown her out of the church! Thankfully, I took a breath, nodded, and said, “Yes, many religions have similar philosophies, such as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  We then had a pleasant and engaging conversation, and I kept the door open for dialog.

Improve your speeches and your conversations with Improv!

Be a Motor Mouth: Practice Your Speech in the Car

Diane in car

You can greatly improve your speech with practice, but finding the time . . . that is the challenge isn’t it?

One way that I have found to slip in practice time is to practice in the car.

I don’t suggest practicing in rush-hour traffic, because your attention will be divided and you might not react to changing traffic conditions as quickly as you need to. But divided attention can help you learn your speech.

Divided attention creates additional cognitive loading because you will be trying to do two tasks at the same time—driving and speaking/remembering your speech.  The advantage to practicing your speech with divided attention is that you are simulating some additional stress, stress you don’t have when practicing at your home.  Your speech will be easier to give when you aren’t driving.

Practice time in the car can be used at several different speech development times:

  • Brainstorming ideas.
  • Practicing small segments.  If you are presenting a longer speech, you can divide it into bite-size chunks:  introduction, main points, conclusion.
  • Evaluating your vocal expression.
  • Internalizing by listening.  Record yourself reading a speech you have written and listen to it while driving.  I just use my phone to record my speech.
  • Repeating small segments that you record.  Play a portion of your speech. Pause it and then repeat.
  • Speed speaking.  Try increasing your rate of speech and zooming through it.  You will have to think faster to speak faster.
  • Audio editing.  Bring a very brief outline of your speech in the car.  Record yourself giving your speech, following your outline, but not using any memorized phrases.  Later, at your desk, transcribe your speech (or use a transcription service).  Transcribe it exactly the way you said it and then edit it to make it more powerful by working on transitions, eliminating filler words, adding foundational phrases, etc.
  • Running through your speech on the way to your speaking engagement

So, go ahead, be a motor mouth and practice your speech in the car!