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Guide to Public Speaking

Guidelines for Interpreters

To be a great interpreter, you need to be a great public speaker. Having done a little bit of research on the topic of public speaking, I’ve found that most of the basic rules don’t apply. Most of the foundational skills for public speaking involve skills that are based on being a bit candid. Storytelling and using humour, for example, can make you a great public speaker but they will make you a poor interpreter. As an interpreter, it isn’t your job to be funny or a storyteller (you know that!). It’s your job to relay the messages of someone else who is a great public speaker.

As I researched, I asked myself “what makes a great interpreter in a public setting”. Here are three general tips that I’ve come up with:

  1. Have you ever encountered a speaker that was fidgety? I mean constantly moving, shuffling papers, or adjusting their clothes. Did it bother you? If you said yes, you are part of the majority. Generally, audience feels less engaged and more distracted when the speaker nervously fidgets.

Do This, Not That

Before starting to interpret, make sure you are comfortable and organized. Adjust your clothing and arrange your materials prior to beginning your interpretation. Relax, put your hands at your sides (unless you’re a BSL interpreter), and start interpreting.

  1. Omit your “umms” and “ahhs”. Make a concerted effort not to make “thinking noises”. This is often distracting to the listener. You’ll come across very professional and prepared if you omit your “umms” and “ahhs”.

Do This, Not That

If you need a moment to think, pause silently. I know interpreting must be on pace but an “umm” takes just as much time as a pause but it is far less distracting. Cutting out thinking sounds will be difficult especially if it is habitual. You’ll need to work to cut it out of your daily communications and work toward cutting it out of your interpretations.

  1. Dress professionally and you’ll feel professional. This is classic advice. The reason its classic is because it is one of those things in life that just happens to be proved time and time again. Trust me; this piece of advice is the real deal. When you feel professional, you’ll be confident and that will show through your voice, posture, and mannerisms.

Do This, Not That

Everyone has a different opinion of how professionals dress but there is some consensus. For men, you can’t go wrong with a dress shirt, black trousers, and black shoes. It is pretty standard and inexpensive to purchase if you require a professional look. Women can often dress in more versatile clothing. For more advice on dress codes please see additional information on the Linguist Hub.

Extra Support:

Good public speaking – specific skills

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Click on the link to start the Interpreters in public speaking seminar.

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