Public Outreach Presentations: Change Perceptions Outside our Industry

This past fall, Veronika Demichelis and I had the opportunity to speak about translation and interpreting at Rice University. My hope is that in sharing our experience, you will be encouraged to seek out or accept similar opportunities. It’s important to bring greater awareness to the general public about our industry and to educate potential buyers of translation and interpreting services. We each have a role to play in that.

The opportunity

Located in one of the most diverse cities in the country (Houston), Rice University offers a class called Multilingualism. Rice linguistics professor Dr. Michel Achard teaches this course and approached Veronika about presenting to his students because of her volunteer efforts with the Houston Interpreters and Translators Association, where she serves as VP of Professional Development. Since our experience attending the Offshore Technology Conference together last May had gone so well (read about that here), she invited me to join her for this presentation. This was especially exciting for me because not only would we be presenting at my alma mater, but most of these students were majoring in Cognitive Science, which was one of my two majors. What a small world!

This course was focused on the challenges faced by governments and society as a result of multilingualism. Veronika and I were asked to discuss how translators and interpreters solve some of these problems. Additionally, we saw the students as possible future buyers of translation and interpreting services and felt the presentation could have a real impact in whatever fields they will later choose to dedicate themselves to. It’s always good to have allies.

Preparing the presentation

Have you ever attended a lecture/presentation/conference session and left disappointed because the presenter hadn’t spent enough time preparing or didn’t have you in mind while preparing? How about when the presenter shows up with a few points written on a napkin? Ack!

Here are a few tips to consider when preparing your public outreach presentation:

  1. Get to know the audience and think about how our industry can solve some of their headaches.
  2. Spend time both brainstorming and whittling down your list of topics so that you can focus on quality and not quantity. A good presentation takes time to prepare.
  3. Avoid writing your full script on your PowerPoint slides whenever possible.
  4. Consider using information from the ATA’s Client Outreach Kit (read here for more information).
  5. Practice your presentation beforehand.
  6. Ask questions of your audience and be receptive to audience questions.

We wanted to ensure everyone would walk away feeling like their time was well-spent. Before the day of the presentation, we chatted with Dr. Achard for an hour on Zoom and were able to get a deeper understanding of his class, his students, and his goals for our presentation, as well as learn about some topics he was interested in us exploring.

Objectives

Dr. Achard wanted us to introduce the students to the fields of translation and interpreting. Additionally, he hoped that our presentation would give the students some ideas for the research project they were going to carry out later in the semester. Knowing his goals helped us immensely.

We talked with the students about how translation differs from interpreting and we discussed the variety of different environments translators and interpreters work in; the different types of assignments that translators and interpreters are asked to work on; and the skills, education, and tools translators and interpreters use to perform their jobs successfully.

Our hope was that when multilingual issues come up for these students in the future, they will know how to and why they should find professional translators and interpreters to help them.

In line with Dr. Achard’s objectives, we discussed with the students how interpreters and translators can solve some of the challenges found in societies where residents speak many different languages. The two of us were able to give several impactful examples of challenges that hospital administrators, medical professionals, and non-English-speaking patients face every day in Houston. The students also learned about some of the difficulties LEPs face in the legal system and that courts face in dealing with the wide variety of languages found in Houston. I also spoke about some legislation that a local Texas representative had drafted last year that would have reduced the passing score required to become a Licensed Court Interpreter in Texas. ATA, HITA, TAJIT, and others opposed this legislation and worked to successfully defeat it.

Conclusion

Veronika and I enjoyed the chance to educate these college students about our careers. The students asked several great questions and walked away with a new perspective on some important issues. Veronika and I are hoping that we can leverage the hard work we put into preparing this presentation and use it to do more public outreach in Houston. We do not want this to be a “one and done” effort.

I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Rice students so much that I decided to sign up as a volunteer associate at my former residential college. The Linguistics Department also recently invited me to join an Alumni Panel. What unexpected outcomes!

While we don’t know whether any of the students left our session inspired to become translators or interpreters, the truth is that I was inspired to turn my dream into a reality after attending a similar outreach presentation in Tokyo while I was wrapping up my time working on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme.

You just never know how much you can impact others and I encourage you to get involved in sharing our profession with your community. This brings greater awareness to our industry, helps prospective clients know what to look for when hiring language professionals, and is an interesting way to network and learn.

Author bio

Jessica Hartstein is an ATA-Certified Translator (Spanish>English, French>English) and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Spanish-English). She holds an MA in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies from the University of Leeds and graduated Cum Laude with a BA from Rice University.

Prior to working freelance, she held full-time, in-house translation positions at a marketing firm in Luxembourg and an oil and gas engineering company in Houston. Jessica specializes in legal, medical, asylum, and oil and gas translation and interpreting projects. She has been fortunate to have lived abroad in Spain, China, Japan, England, and Luxembourg.

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