Leveraging Interpreting Technology to Deliver Multilingual Events Online
Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) platforms create a virtual booth where interpreters can pass the microphone back and forth as they interpret an event in real-time. They are designed to eliminate communication barriers on calls and in meetings, conferences, and other event types, so that participants who do not speak the same language can still participate in the exchange.
At first, technology vendors primarily positioned RSI platforms to be either a cost-reduction solution for in-person events as interpreters did not have to travel or to handle virtual-only sessions such as webinars. The COVID-19 pandemic precipitated a switch to scenarios in which the technology was no longer about just enabling remote interpreting but also providing capabilities for remote speakers, remote attendees, or a combination of these.
Three Top Elements to Consider
While RSI platforms seem to be a niche market where all products more or less do the same, in practice, that is not the case. CSA Research currently tracks 26 companies with proprietary systems and invited them to participate in an in-depth study. Our upcoming report “Remote Simultaneous Interpreting Platforms” will provide over 90 datapoints to compare and contrast the 16 RSI providers that participated in the research and profiles summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the platforms. In this blog, we outline just a handful of the many criteria to take into account as you evaluate platform providers.
- Event specialty. Before COVID-19, many platforms specialized in supporting in-person events with remote interpreting. The pandemic changed the needs and now most solutions can also handle virtual events or hybrid events which include – depending on the solution – remote speakers, remote interpreting, remote participation, or a combination thereof. Understanding target markets can help determine if the RSI provider is the right fit for your company based on their past experience and primary goals.
- Standalone solution vs. helper app. Some RSI products are full conferencing platforms with built-in multilingual capability. However, most systems are “helper apps” that supplement a regular conferencing system by injecting the audio, video, or screen content into a specialized app.
What makes helper apps different? Presenters never interact with the app. At an in-person event, listeners use a personal device or traditional conferencing system to hear the interpreting. For virtual events, attendees typically must log into two applications – the event platform to participate in the session and the app which allows them to listen to the interpreting track. Helper apps enable organizations to stick to their preferred event tools but make it more difficult for participants speaking a different language to engage in the discussions, chats, or polling. Interaction between speakers and attendees is usually provided through alternative solutions – such as roaming mikes for live events or a video conferencing platform for virtual events.
- Degree of attendee participation. One of the most essential elements of RSI technology characteristics is whether they function as a one-to-many or many-to-many system. “Many-to-many” means that active participation is possible within the platform in your own language. In a “one-to-many” setup, attendees are limited to passive participation and must log onto the event platform to ask questions in a chat and sometimes also to see the visual component of the session. Think of one-to-many as a lecture mode, and many-to-many as a discussion mode.
Selecting a Platform
Some solutions are more user-friendly than others, some more stable. Overall, it is important to remember that there is not a single answer to which platform is best: It all depends on your use case, your degree of interest in managing the platform and interpreter pool, the usability of the different functionalities, and a variety of performance criteria.
“No platform is perfect. Each one has pros and cons.” [Buy-side organization with experience with RSI platforms]
Whatever solutions you consider, thoroughly test them to ensure they meet your requirements. Much RSI technology remains rather new, with some providers having supported only a few events or with limited hours for assistance.
- Short-list candidates to evaluate. Use the data in our upcoming report to identify candidates that meet your basic requirements. However, keep in mind that vendors continually add functions and that some chose not to participate in the study.
- Reach out to providers to ask for demos and a sandbox. Commit the RSI platform to the same level of pre-purchase testing and validation that you would apply to any major software acquisition. Check the different perspectives – organizers, presenters, interpreters, and attendees – with a focus on ease of use. Gauge system performance, access methods, and ways to engage as a participant. Experiencing a platform for yourself will help you determine if it offers the level of customer experience you’re looking for.
- Do a deep dive on available material. Even if the technology looks easy to use, a smooth switchover requires going into the nitty gritty. Take the time to attend training sessions, listen to tutorials, and read support documentation. If the audio and video quality are good, other details might still frustrate you in the long run: Organizers may find the planning process cumbersome, speakers may feel constrained in what they can do, interpreters may not feel efficient, or attendees may not manage to log into the session to listen to the interpreting.
- Plan the deployment. Hold practice sessions for speakers. Give interpreters a chance to become comfortable with the platform ahead of time. Let your A/V team communicate with your RSI provider. Design announcements that clarify how attendees can access the language support you plan to offer. Choosing an RSI solution is just the first step, implementing it well is what makes it a sustainable choice.
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