What is it like to speak publicly to a group of teachers in another language?
Until I started to work overseas, I had very little understanding of where, how and if educational issues could translate into another context when talking about your setting.
Public speaking overseas…
If you ever find yourself speaking publicly overseas, there are many things you will need to consider. This post not only shares the dilemma but also what it’s like to speak publicly in your language and have your material translated into the spoken language of your hosts. For context, I was visiting Belarus for the first time and had been asked to lead a keynote with 200 teachers and business leaders as well as two workshops for approximately 50 teachers each.
I write this to help others who may find themselves working in this situation for the first time. Here I share the process I used to prepare my content for another audience, what advice I would give and what I would have done differently. In this example, I was presenting my teaching and learning ideas in English and my resources and spoken word were translated into Belarusian. You can download my 5-Minute Keynote Plan which is the process I used for public speaking.
- Ignoring the travel arrangements, once the event was agreed, I spoke on at least three occasions with key organisers – and for at least two hours apiece.
- Set aside enough time for discussion, factor in the use of technology and a method for recording.
- I used eCamm Recorder to record any video calls to playback at another time.
- It was a good deal of work to make sure that the client was happy – and that I had sufficient information!
- The first meeting was to discuss possible ideas, logistics and content.
- When someone asks you to speak at an event, one hopes that people ask you ‘because of your work, reputation or research’. It is therefore useful to ‘check’ if this is the case before accepting the work.
- In the initial communication, I would avoid too much-written detail and opt for video conversation. This ensures context is truly captured. Offer guidance on topics and suggest how you would best meet the audience needs. Of course, the programme and audience will play a large part in what you can and cannot do. Be explicit.
- I typically ask for any photographs of the venue. This allows me to imagine the space I will be working in and position myself in terms of movement around the room and engagement with the audience.
- For example, at this particular event, there was a pillar from floor to ceiling in the middle of the room, right in front of the stage. Microphones, IT connections, video recordings and timing were all discussed…
- At the end of our first phone call, I spent at least two or three days thinking about what materials and ideas I could offer. I then shared some exemplary material with the client and arranged a follow-up phone call.
- One week later, my material was refined and then I shared the material once again. This was followed up by another video call to walk through all the materials. I waited two or three weeks before sending over my final materials.
- A top tip: I used the organiser to ‘walk through’ all of my ideas and materials from start to finish to understand how the concepts would be transferred from English to Belarusian. As soon as we considered timing and translations at a deeper level, I cut my resources by 30 per cent.
During the event
- I took part in as many activities and workshops as possible. I also took some private time to myself to gather my thoughts, grab a drink of water and reflect. After speaking on stage, many people will want to say ‘Hello!’, grab a photograph and exchange contact details.
- Large conferences offer a ‘green room’. On this occasion, there wasn’t one, but the venue did find me a quiet space for 20-minutes so that I could eat and drink some water. It is vital you protect some time to refuel.
- In the photographs above you can see me on a question and answer panel, having content translated ‘in-ear’ and me speaking on stage. You cannot see the translations on the images, but all of my resources were translated.
- I like to use my own devices. After my experiences of working in China where most of my resources were ‘filtered’ by web proxies, I stripped back as many potential hazards as possible and had plenty of ‘plan B’ options. At one point, I had my laptop and clicker, my phone with a countdown timer display, an in-ear microphone for translations (which I didn’t need until questions), a wrap-around-microphone headset and the clicker for the venue/translator slides. I coped, but there was too much to consider.
- In-ear headsets were used to translate my voice to the spoken language and vice-versa when the audience asked me a question. This was a great addition to the success of the event. I wouldn’t expect this all the time and I do suspect it costs, so it is definitely worth adding to the list of ‘things to consider’ when planning.
- My interpreter was very talented – Yuri Burdenkov is one of the leading specialists in his country for translations.
Feedback / Do Differently
- Speak slowly – give time for the translator to catch up. They may be incredibly talented, but even their working memory will be limited as they listen to you and speak in synchronisation. My interpreter found some of the words I was familiar with, particularly quirky ( cultural or educational) phrases left the translator with no choice but to skip the content.
- My translators suggested that it would have helped if they were part of the planning call to help understand the context of the material and how the content would be presented.
- I hadn’t realised that my laptop would not be connected to the screen. The reason for this is because my slides were connected to pre-loaded translated content on the devices at the venue. Their screens were also being live-streamed to YouTube as I spoke on stage.
- Below you can see me being interviewed for Belarusian television.
Good teaching and learning ideas are easily translated into another language; be prepared to work slowly so that concepts are well understood.