When WFH also extends to multilingual meetings, participants in those events will confirm that the experience is miles from the one at an on-site event.
No fancy coffee machine outside the meeting room, no appetising buffets during the breaks, no networking over dinner, no friendly ladies or gents handing out receivers for those who require interpretation. Everyone needs to be their own equipment provider right now.
Interpreters, too, have had to invest in their own professional gear to be able to shift their work to RSI platforms – although many have even gone above and beyond the exacting entry requirements to optimise their workflow which involves lots more task than before, and to ensure the best possible experience for their listeners, as well.
The problem – and trust me, it is turning into a serious one, leaving many interpreters with hearing damage that was rare under controlled conditions on site and that could end their professional careers – is that platforms do not actually produce the sound they transmit as loss-free as possible, it is everyone who unmutes their microphone. While the listeners of the interpretation are largely getting a sound that is equivalent to that at the international meetings of yore, floor listeners (among them interpreters) in turn are all too often not getting the same level of service, especially in settings without technicians at hand who can assess what simply isn’t good enough and intervene.
Let me focus on one issue today that is quite easily fixed but shockingly frequently ignored: integrated microphones. No professional RSI platform would allow an interpreter to use one. So how come this is exactly the kind of sound quality that listeners, including interpreters, get to hear from the floor?
Everyone knows by now that interpreters are some kind of magicians who can hear, understand, analyse, put into another language, rephrase, and speak at the same time – but only that which they can hear. And as they are not just listening but also doing all these other things, their sound needs to be extra clean. Makes sense, right? In fact, so much so that there is even an ISO standard for the sound quality for distance interpreting.
Built-in microphones don’t deliver ISO20108-compliant sound. They are also usually so well hidden that most speakers who use them unfortunately seem to have no idea how to address them. Most don’t even notice when they hit them, potentially hurting the ears of anyone unfortunate enough to be listening to them (which is ironic, seeing as anyone who takes the floor does so for others to hear them).
Hand on heart, do YOU know where the microphone on your device is? Don’t worry if you don’t, I had to look it up myself – not for me (I already have a professional USB mic, remember?) but to illustrate that finding integrated microphones can be like an Easter egg hunt. I started with one of my own devices, the MacBookPro 15 inch 2018. 👉
How about others? Let’s take a Dell. 👇
I guess you can see now that none of them are truly ideal presentation microphones, no matter the claims of ‘professional sound’ by the manufacturers. None of them directly face the speaker nor have a special recording pattern to exclude noise from elsewhere in the room (which interpreters’ microphones must have), so all of them are at least as good if not better at picking up all kinds of other noises near the microphone – like clicking pens, typing, ringing or vibrating phones, touchpad clicks, and coffee cup clanging on saucers – than a voice half a meter away and around a corner – and trust me, they do! Not to mention one of my pet-peeves: paper copies of presentations placed on top of the mic which manages to rustle horribly AND block the speaker’s voice at the same time. 🏆
So when giving professional presentations online, why not simply do it with equipment that does them justice? And even if you don’t believe good sound helps get your message across, it might still be a good idea to get to know the equipment you have and use it properly.
Your listeners will thank you. 🙏