vector image

Your complete “how to” guide for simultaneous interpretation at your event

No items found.

From renting equipment and setting up hardware through to finding the right interpreters, organising the interpreting for your event is an important (and sometimes time-consuming) part of your preparations. So, we’ve put together a detailed 4 part guide to help you decide what’s best for your event and provide the high quality interpreting your attendees expect.

So, what is simultaneous interpreting?

When interpreting simultaneously, an interpreter translates the speech of a presenter in real-time. Unlike in consecutive interpreting, this way the natural flow of the speaker is not disturbed and allows for a fairly smooth output for the listeners.

✓ Happens in real-time

When is simultaneous interpreting most appropriate?

Because there are no pauses for the interpreter to stop and think through the speech during simultaneous interpretation, this type of interpretation is best-suited for large-scale events where a delay in the delivery of the speech could seriously impair the experience of the event.

✓ Saves time

✓ Does not disturb the natural flow of the speaker

On the downside, simultaneous interpretation can be quite stressful for the interpreters. They have to do their best to accurately interpret in a very limited time what is being said. Plus, they usually don’t know the content of the speech until they hear it, just the general topic.

So, now we have an idea of what simultaneous interpreting and which events it is best suited for, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to manage it at your event.

Part 1: Taking care of interpretation equipment

Traditional equipment for simultaneous interpretation

Event organizers usually choose traditional conference interpreting equipment (hardware) to enable participants to listen in to interpreters during their events.

How does simultaneous interpretation using traditional hardware work?

✓ The speaker talks into a microphone.

✓ Their speech is broadcast to the interpreter, who sits in a soundproof interpreter’s booth and listens through headphones.

✓ As the interpreter listens to the speech, they also interpret it in real-time, speaking into a microphone.

✓ The interpretation is transmitted wirelessly to the headphones of the event attendees.

Points to bear in mind before renting or buying simultaneous interpretation hardware

1. How big is your audience going to be?

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With everything organized and ready, down to the smallest detail, the last thing you want is to find out you are short of receivers. So, you’ll need to make sure you get the most accurate estimate possible of the number of attendees, so you can determine the number of headsets you will needed. Then make sure you have some more for backup too.

2. How many languages will be needed?

Credit: Vladislav Klapin

Having figured out the size of your audience, now you need to work out how many languages the event will have to be interpreted into. That’s because the number of languages will determine the number of transmitters you’re going to need. Transmitters allow the interpretation to be broadcast in real-time via radio waves, and you can get either portable or stationary ones. Which brings us to our next question.

3. Do you need a portable system? And if so, how portable?

Credit: Brooke Cagle

Broadly speaking, all interpretation hardware systems are portable. But the degree of portability varies depending on factors such as power and the ease of set up. To decide whether to choose more portable or less portable equipment, you’ll need to consider the points below relating to how translation systems work.

4. Where will the interpreters be sitting?

Credit: Katie Montgomery

It’s very important to find the best possible location for the interpreters. Their work requires a lot of concentration and can be really stressful. So make sure you set up their soundproof booths where they will feel most comfortable and where they can see the speaker.

5. Will the transmitter reach the receiver?


If you’re planning on renting or buying equipment that uses infrared signals to transmit the speech and the interpretation, you should make sure that the space between the transmitter and the receiver is not obstructed by walls or any other opaque objects. If you cannot guarantee this arrangement, then make sure you get translation equipment that uses an FM system.

Interpretation system types: which one should you choose?

Option A. Infrared systems

This technology uses invisible pulses of light to transmit the speaker or translation feed. Attendees receive the stream to their headphones via multi-channel receivers.

Points to be aware of when using infrared systems:

✓ This system is sensitive to obstruction, so they must be placed in front of the listeners (in a clear line of sight).

✓ That being said, they also can’t be covered with such objects like curtains or drapes, so you will have to put aesthetics aside for the sake of good sound quality.

✓ You should also pay attention to the light in the room where the infrared system is set up – very bright or flashing lights can interfere with infrared systems.

✓ If you’re planning your event in a bigger space, you will need to get several infrared emitters to increase their range.

B. Medium range FM interpretation systems (handheld)

These systems make use of radio waves to transmit the speech (either original or translated) to the attendees. Just like infrared systems, FM systems are also connected to multi-channel receivers with headphones.

Points to be aware of when using FM systems:

✓ These systems are light and easy to carry around, so dealing with logistics is not such a challenge.

✓ Because they are portable, they are well suited to events where they may be needed on-the-go.

✓ Unlike infrared systems, FM systems are not sensitive to obstructions, meaning they can penetrate walls and other opaque objects. They’re also not sensitive to light, which is great if you want to organize your event outside.

On the downside, their portability (and smaller size) comes with a more limited range (around 250 feet / 76 meters). This means you will have to do your sums and make sure you have the correct number of FM emitters.

Option C. Longer range FM systems (portable)

If the venue of your event exceeds 1,000 feet (about 300 meters), you’re going to need a longer range FM system. But with great power, there also comes… more weight. These systems are still portable – you can move them around – but their set-up and take-down are going to take more of your time.

Points to be aware of when using long-range FM systems:

✓ How much power are you going to need? Well, it depends on how much you care about sound quality. Basically speaking, more power means better cancellation of radio interference, which in turn means better sound quality in the interpretations transmitted.

✓ Longer range FM systems are also going to be more cost-effective than medium range if you have a larger audience.

✓ The biggest drawback is immobility. Yes, longer range FM interpretation systems are still portable, but they’re definitely not mobile. These transmitters are usually fixed, meaning speakers and attendees can’t move too far from them or they will not hear the speech.

Interpreter booths: the basics you need to know

First of all, interpreter booths are a must for simultaneous interpretation when traditional equipment is being used. The interpreters have to be physically in the venue, and these events tend to get quite noisy. So, bearing in mind the stress the interpreters are under at big conferences, it is very important to ensure they can work in a soundproof environment – in other words, in an interpreter booth.

Credit: Oli Studholme

Interpreter booths can be either permanent or mobile. Both variants are strictly regulated by the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) standards relating to conference interpreting. You can read about the regulations for permanent booths here, and for mobile booths here.

As for the shape, interpreter booths come as either tabletop booths or as full-size interpreter booths. As the name suggests, the former are placed on top of a table, and their main advantage is that they’re easy to transport and set up. On the down side, they’re open at the back, which means you can’t fully ensure comfortable working conditions for the interpreters as these booths are not fully soundproof.

Full-size interpreter booths are like little houses. They have walls, a floor, a ceiling, doors, and even their own ventilation systems. Usually, they can fit at least two interpreters – larger booths can fit up to four. Naturally, these types of booths are much harder to transport and assemble, and you will need at least a couple of technicians for this task.

What things do you need to make sure of when using interpreter booths?

Credit: Joi Ito

Firstly, you need to make sure the interpreters have a clear view of the speakers, the podium and presentations. Being able to see what is going on makes accurate interpreting easier.

The interpreters will also need good internet access.

Then you need to make sure they have a sufficient number of power outlets for any laptops, tablets and other gadgets they may need for their work.

Providing high air quality in the booth is non-negotiable for obvious reasons – that’s where CO2 sensors come in.

Finally, you will need to ensure optimal acoustic conditions. This means fans should be as quiet as possible and the sound insulation from other booths should be close to perfect.

Part 2: Alternative equipment for interpretation at conferences

If all the decisions and processes required when using traditional equipment sound a bit overwhelming and you’re looking for a simpler solution, there are now some smart alternatives to traditional hardware.

Innovative systems for simultaneous translation


The good news for event organizers who like to keep costs and headaches to a minimum is that these days there are some innovative alternatives to traditional simultaneous interpretation equipment. Various tech companies are successfully transforming the interpreting industry by developing apps like Interactio that can completely or partially replace traditional interpreting hardware.

With these systems you only need a laptop, internet access (via Wi-Fi or mobile data), and attendees’ smartphones or tablets to stream any kind of audio, whether it is the speaker in their original language or a simultaneous interpretation of what they say in as many languages as you need.

What’s different when you use a simultaneous interpretation app instead of traditional hardware

Simultaneous interpretation apps like Interactio are mobile systems that stream real-time audio to attendees’ smartphones, and they can fully replace traditional interpreting hardware at live events. The main reason they have been developed is to provide event organizers with a simpler system. Their main advantage is that they cut out many of the inconveniences associate with traditional solutions: things like assembling translation booths, managing all the logistics and expenses related with having interpreters on site, and fixing broken headphone sets or locating ones that have gone missing.

The main difference for attendees is that they don’t need to queue up to collect their headphone sets (as they can use their own smartphones and headphones), so they can grab a cup of coffee instead.

For interpreters, they represent a significant change as well: with these new systems they can work remotely from anywhere in the world rather than having to travel to events.

The Interactio simultaneous interpretation app in use at an international Mary Kay conference.

→ Organizing hardware

Finding out at the last minute that you’re out of headsets, or that some of the interpretation equipment is lost or broken, is a real stress for event organisers. So, one of the main appeals of using an app-based system is that there is very little that can go wrong. Your attendees only need to have a smartphone or tablet, and their own headphones. So, with a few spare pairs of headphones available you should have everything covered.

→ Audience reach

There is a big difference in terms of who can actually listen to the simultaneous interpretation audios when using an app-based system like Interactio. They allow for remote streaming, which means anyone, anywhere can listen to them over the web. This makes them an attractive option for maximising the reach and impact of your event.

→ Interpreters can work remotely

For interpreters, the ability to work remotely via mobile systems from anywhere in the world makes a major difference. It gives them greater flexibility and control over how and when they work. They also have more time to prepare for each event, which means they can deliver smoother interpretation. There are advantages for event managers too. You get interpreters who are fresh (rather than fresh off the plane), plus you have a wider pool of interpreters to recruit from.

→ Interpreter booths

With remote interpreters there is no need to rent and set up interpreter booths. This reduces the cost of your event, and is one less thing for you to worry about, especially given the strict regulations and standards that need to be met when setting up booths.

→ Event costs

Using a simultaneous interpreting app cuts costs in a number of areas: renting or buying interpretation hardware, renting interpreter booths, and covering the travel and accommodation costs of the interpreters. Depending on the event, these costs alone can add up to 50% of the event’s budget.

→ Setting up

Attendees need to install the app on their smartphone, connect to the venue’s Wi-Fi (or they can use mobile data) and click “play” on their chosen language. There’s no need for them to set up the app in advance – everything can be done in a couple of minutes at the venue. And event organisers just need a laptop.

→ Time and human resources

With the need of setting up interpretation booths and other traditional equipment eliminated, event managers and other responsible people involved can shift their focus to other important tasks that help to ensure the event goes as smoothly as possible.

Not sure about switching to a tech-based solution straight away?

Simultaneous interpretation apps are already building a good track record with both event organizers and participants. Interactio, for example, has already been used successfully at more than 2,000 events in 32 countries. And, if you’re not ready to shift 100% to these solutions, it’s possible to use them together with existing systems – for example, Interactio is fully compatible with traditional interpretation hardware.

Part 3: Hiring the right simultaneous interpreters

Once you have right system in place, now it’s the time to find the right people to use it. Here are 5 points to consider when looking for an interpreter for your event.
Credit: rawpixel

1. Know what you are looking for

It may sound obvious, but it’s better to be clear on exactly what you need. For example, there is some important terminology that people quite often confuse. The terms “translator” and “interpreter” are sometimes thought to mean the same thing, but in fact a translator deals with the written word and an interpreter with spoken languages: there is a big difference in the skills they use.

2. Remember the importance of specialization

Simultaneous interpreting is a very complex skill. You need to listen to, understand, and memorize what the speaker is saying now, while at the same time speaking the words they said 10 seconds ago in the target language. This means strong knowledge of the technical vocabulary of the subject area you are interpreting on is a must. There is simply no time to stop and think what a word or phrase means. So, make sure you hire a Fintech specialist for a Fintech conference, and not a medical interpreter. Of course there are specialist conference interpreters, but the most important factor is to hire conference interpreters that already have knowledge in the field of your event.

3. Check local and international associations

One of the safest ways to find experienced and trustworthy interpreters is to turn to associations. These could be local bodies or international associations such as the AIIC (the International Association of Conference Interpreters) or the ITI (the Institute of Translation and Interpreting). There you will be able to specify your subject area and find interpreters who are experienced in your event’s field and able to work in your region.

4. Talk with your peers

There is hardly anything more trustworthy than word-of-mouth referrals. So, if you know other people in the industry with experience working with conference interpreters, ask around. After all, people will not risk their reputation by referring someone unprofessional.

5. Optimize the whole process

If you’re planning on using simultaneous interpretation apps instead of traditional hardware, you can easily kill two birds with one stone when looking for interpreters. Innovative companies tend to love tracking what they’re doing and gathering information. And this includes compiling databases of simultaneous interpreters they’ve worked with. So, by choosing to cooperate with these companies, you can benefit from their smart tech solutions while also getting valuable referrals to trusted interpreters which will save your precious time.

Part 4: Niche languages? No problem!

Credit: Mark Rasmuson

If you’re not familiar with relay interpretation, it’s a type of translation that helps when there is no one available who can interpret directly from the source language into the target language. In this case an intermediary interpreter is used. For instance, a speech given in French (the source language) is interpreted into English by one interpreter, and then that speech is interpreted from English into Swahili by another interpreter. And adding some smart technology to this process helps a lot. For example, the Interactio app makes relay interpretation easier because it allows the interpretation from the source language to be seamlessly transmitted to multiple target languages.

Finding solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing event managers

Along with the practical points mentioned above, we should also think about the bigger picture. What are the biggest problems event managers face, and how can smart interpreting solutions help them to address these issues?

Event budgets

In 2018, EventMB carried out a detailed study focused on the events industry. More than half of the event organizers surveyed (57%) said that budgets were the biggest challenge. How does this link to simultaneous interpreting? Well, at any event costs relating to interpreters and interpreting equipment are going to be high, and sometimes they are the biggest single cost. Because they require much less equipment and there are no travel or accommodation costs for interpreters, interpreting apps like Interactio can cut costs in this area by up to 50%. Also, since about 46% of event managers use event apps, an app like Interactio can be especially convenient because it can be integrated into other event planning apps (and app integration is important for 58% of the industry according to the EventMB study).

Attendee numbers

It’s also worth mentioning that, in the same study, attendee numbers were listed as the third biggest challenge event managers face. In terms of interpreting, highly variable attendee numbers can be a real headache. If you estimate too high, you will waste money on interpreting equipment that doesn’t get used, but if you estimate too low, you’ll run out. Again, apps like Interactio can help event managers because there is no limit to how many people can use the app. What’s more, you don’t even have to worry about whether the attendees will all fit in the room to hear the speaker because they will be able to listen to the presenter anywhere in the venue just with their phone and headphones.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance is an important issue for almost a third of event managers according to EventMB’s research. They often get so overwhelmed by the many things they have to organize that they don’t have enough time for themselves. Using interpreting apps can save precious time, with no need to set up translation hardware, or install interpreting booths. They even make looking for interpreters easier. And, because you don’t have to distribute headsets and then make sure you get them all back, there is one less thing to worry about.

Final thoughts

Planning events is both an exciting and a challenging job. With the right planning and resources, goals can be achieved and even exceeded, all in a timely and cost-saving manner. Interpreting apps certainly have a lot to offer in terms of budgeting, and for saving on time and human resources. They can even give your event a more innovative flavour and enhance the experience for attendees. Naturally, many people are still a bit uneasy about switching completely from traditional translation hardware. In this case, why not try making a smooth, step-by-step transition by combining both traditional and new interpreting equipment solutions at your next event?


Try our app

phone image

Download app and try Interactio with demo event code


Google play iconApp store icon