Speaking to Multilingual Audience

Speaking to a Multilingual Audience

In Blog by Rafael Morel1 Comment

Communication is key. When you’re speaking to a multilingual audience, you’ll need to arrange to have an interpreter present in order to make sure everyone can understand your presentation. Choose your interpreter or interpretation firm carefully, because having your speech interpreted correctly is vital to the success of any presentation.

Why is an AI translating program simply not enough? It’s because you’re not only speaking to a multilingual audience – you’re speaking to a multicultural audience as well. There are some idioms, cultural differences, and nuances that might not be picked up by a translation program – whereas an interpreter doesn’t only know the language, they know the culture as well. They will get your message across in a linguistic and cultural context, especially if they are translating into their first language and are culturally aware. This is especially true when making business presentations in a multicultural setting.

Go over the details of the presentation before you look for an interpretation firm. This way, you’ll know if you want either consecutive or simultaneous interpretation services as well as how many interpreters you’ll need. After choosing the right services, it’s time to concentrate on preparing your presentation.


Preparing your speech in advance is very important to ensure you have everything in order before the presentation. While this may be what you always do before giving presentations, it’s especially important and tricky when you are trying to reach audiences that don’t speak your language. You need to know exactly what you’re going to say to avoid making mistakes that could cause confusion for the interpreter and the people you’re presenting to. Here are some tips on what to look for in order to make your communication seamless:

Rythm and Pauses

When you practice your presentation, pay special attention to the rhythm. You’ll want to leave pauses for the interpreter, and this may affect the form of your presentation. A speech comprised of shorter sentences is ideal. But you will want your ideas presented in such a way as to ensure that the audiences are not left in suspense while they wait for the following sentence to be interpreted.

Remember, the rhythm or cadence of an interpreted presentation is slightly different from a presentation using a single language. You will have to prepare and practice your presentation in such a way that the pauses do not come midway through an idea or concept. Your presentation should be delivered in small pieces (not large chunks of information), and those pieces, ideally, will be complete thoughts. Don’t leave the audience hanging, and they will understand you better.

Jokes, Abbreviations, and Acronyms

When using simultaneous interpretation services, your speeches need to be clear and concise in order to make it easier for the interpreter to relay your message. While coloring your speech with jokes can be a good way to engage your audience, choose your jokes judiciously. For example, some forms of humor do not translate well, and different cultures have different notions of what is appropriate or what is actually funny.

Oftentimes, humor plays on expectations and references that may be understood in your native language, yet for a multicultural audience, the expectations or references could be completely different. Ask yourself whether the humor you use requires a cultural understanding or expectation that might not be shared by your audience. If the joke is on topic, it is more likely to land than if the joke relies on an analogy or cultural or historic reference that may not be common in another culture.

Abbreviations and acronyms can be problematic too. It’s best to favor complete words rather than their short-hand derivations. Your professional interpreter will know when to substitute a word for its abbreviation or acronym. Clarity is key.

Practice Makes Perfect

When you practice your presentations, practice it with its pauses. Practice standing in place while you wait for your next opportunity to speak. Try not to fidget or let your line of sight waiver as this can be distracting for the audience and cause them to lose focus.

Also, if you are not an experienced public speaker, you may find yourself getting nervous. This is completely normal. However, it is quite likely that being nervous will cause you to accelerate your delivery in a way that is not ideal. Practice speaking slowly – even excessively so. The more comfortable you are delivering your speech slowly, the better prepared you’ll be should you find yourself battling with nerves.

Multilingual Audiences

In the event that you are presenting in front of multilingual audiences with translations into various languages, you will find yourself spending a considerable amount of time on stage not talking but rather waiting for the interpreter or interpreters to finish delivering their translation. If you are not used to this, it can be slightly awkward and unsettling.

When you practice your speech, practice it with its pauses. Practice standing in place while you wait for your next opportunity to speak. Try not to fidget or let your line of sight waiver as this can be distracting for the audience and cause them to lose focus.


Prior to the day of the presentation

If you’ve never worked with an interpreter before or if you’re working with someone new, then it’s a good idea to meet with the interpreter a day or two before the presentation. You’ll want to provide your interpreter with a copy of your speech – or a summary or outline if you don’t have your presentation written out completely. This enables them to understand their task better.

If your speech is written out completely, it’s a good idea to mark where you intend to pause to allow the interpreter to speak. This will allow your interpreter to be better prepared. And your interpreter will be able to inform you if you have chosen passages that are too long or if you interrupted the flow of information in a way that could be problematic in the target language.

When you meet with your interpreter – even if the meeting is conducted in a virtual space – you will have the opportunity to ask questions. This is particularly useful if you plan on using cultural or political references, humor or historical references that the audience may or may not get.

Having your speech prepared in advance and talking with the interpreter prior to the day of the presentation will help ensure your multilingual speech goes smoothly.

During the Presentation

When giving your presentation, remember to focus on your audience and speak to them directly, not to the interpreter. This helps with communication and gives your audience the impression you’re talking directly to them – which you are. Maintain eye contact with the audience and not with the interpreter while you are speaking. However, when it is time for the interpreter to speak, it is a good idea to look at them, that may, by your actions, you are directing the attention of your audience appropriately.

Allow for space between you and the interpreter. This will allow the audience to focus on you or the interpreter depending on who is speaking and will help reduce the possibility of distractions.

Even though your presentation will be interpreted into the native language of the audience, many members of the audience will still focus on you and what you’re saying and only rely on the interpreter for eventual clarification if needed. For this reason, remember to speak slowly and clearly.

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