I had the privilege of training the Chinese store managers of Tods’s group in Shanghai this week. It was the first time I have done so using a translator as they didn’t speak English but it was a great experience.

Using a translator does require a change in approach. My usual style is fairly free flowing and animated. When using a translator, changes are needed.

Firstly, I had to pace myself and slow down. Translating is a difficult and tiring job. You need to speak for no more than a minute at a time. Otherwise, the translator will lose some of the key elements; its simply too much for them to remember is you speak for too long. Make your point, then let them speak.

Secondly, I had to tone down my theatrics. Doing some things that I do without the audience having any context makes me look, well, weird.  The translator isn’t going to do the animations so the impact that you get with a native speaking audience is lost.

Thirdly, get used to being shadowed. I move a lot when I present, again its just part of my style. The translator followed me around the room for the first half of the day. I think she was worn out by lunchtime, wherein she tended to stay put.

Fourthly, I couldn’t use humour. Those of you who have heard me speak will know I use humour a lot when I present, both to entertain and inform. Humour is one of the last things to cross language and cultural boundaries.

Finally, get a good one!  The translator is literally responsible for passing on your messaging so they need to get it right. I have no idea what Stella (the translator) was saying but the feedback I got from my Chinese/English speaking staff was she did a good job. It’s a tough job for a translator, it’s worth the investment to get someone who has a good CV in this area. Don’t try and get amateurs to do it (which is why I didn’t use my staff, as good as they are).

I have been asked to come back and train more of the delightful Tod’s team, so it must have worked.

One final comment of which I am aware but will pass it on anyway. Because the educational philosophy in China is more “Teacher talk, students listen” I didn’t receive many questions on the day. As a result I had to ask the questions, but even then I didn’t often get a response if it was a general question to the room. Consequently, you need to “volunteer” people to answer your questions. Not something you tend to do in western cultures but the Chinese are quite used to it.

Happy presenting and wishing you a fabulous 2019!

Feel free to “Pick Our Brains” for 15 minutes. No obligation… we just want people to communicate better.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Useful insights. I would also highlight the difference between simultaneous translation and sequential. With simultaneous translation you can develop a sense of momentum, but less than when everybody shares the same language. With sequential translation, you speak, then the translator speaks. Everything takes twice as long with sequential (or longer), so trim your material back. Also, it is very hard to build as much momentum and excitement with sequential translation.

  • Excellent points! Thank you Lee. I’d add one more that may be relevant for people who are speaking on a topic that contains a lot of specialized words. Share the list of these words with the translator before the event so they have time to ensure they have the correct translations for them. I won’t forget this lesson – learned while speaking in China.

  • Lee Featherby
    March 15, 2019 3:26 pm

    That’s a very good idea, Delia


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