When It Comes to Communication, More Is More

By Elena Langdon

Elena Langdon

In our world of information overload, less is often more. This old adage still applies in the world of communications—think website or marketing copy that is best short and sweet. Yet context and preparation is needed when human interaction is involved. The more time and energy you invest upfront, the more time, money, and headaches you’ll save down the line.

Take the example of a Midwestern pharmaceutical company that contacted a local Spanish teacher to help with communication during a visit with South American physicians. All was going well until it came to the specific condition a new medication could treat: COLD, or chronic obstructive lung disease. The teacher, who hadn’t been briefed about the company’s specific focus, spent the day talking about the new “wonder drug” that could cure a common cold. The pulmonologists were not impressed and the company did not win any new business that day.

In your line of business you might not need to communicate with foreigners, but you will most likely work with some sort of communication expert at some point. Below are some guidelines to better prepare for working with any outside expert who specializes in communication, including copywriters, marketing and brand consultants, designers, and trainers.Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge. Click To Tweet

Know thy contractors: Before selecting an outside communications consultant, ask about expertise in your specific setting or field, not just years of experience. For example, if you hire a copywriter for a newsletter or website, look at her portfolio to see if she’s worked in your line of business before. Working directly with the contractor makes this easier, but if you are getting proposals through an agency, many will also provide information on the individual’s credentials and past work.

Explain your audience: Clue the contractor in as to whom they’ll be working with. For example, if you’re looking for a consultant to deliver a workshop on employee engagement, let them know what your corporate structure looks like. Names and roles are especially helpful, as are division, unit, and project names. This will help make the workshop relevant and personalized, even though an outsider is presenting it.

State your purpose: Your team and your counterparts across the table might know why you are discussing a contract, but an external expert brought in for the day won’t. What are everyone’s goals? Are the stakes high and the situation tense? Think of communication experts as extensions of your team and brief them accordingly. If they know your purpose(s), they can better understand you and transmit your message accurately.

Get it in writing: Perhaps this is obvious, but make sure you draw up a contract when working with an external contractor. Some important sections to include are confidentiality, deliverables, and duration of work. Think about licenses, certification, and insurance, too, if there is any risk involved in the work being supplied.

Provide context: Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge, so provide as much background information as possible. Let’s say you need an interpreter to help you sort out an HR problem with an employee who is more comfortable in another language. Inform the interpreter about any previous meetings, the main issues to be discussed, the type of work the employee does, and anything else you think is relevant.

Explain specific jargon and acronyms: Your internal jargon or acronyms might seem like second nature to you at this point, but they probably sound like alphabet soup to an outsider.  A short list or glossary can be helpful so that time isn’t wasted trying to decipher “the BPO merger” or the “quarterly up-queue.” And be especially careful with polysemous words like in the pharmaceutical example above.

Consider your space: If you will be working with someone who will need to speak to your employees or visitors, let them know what the physical space looks like. Will you be sitting, standing, or touring a facility? How many people need to hear the external contractor? Will you play a video or will participants join via Skype or speakerphone? Knowing this information will allow the external expert to better prepare for the situation or even suggest things you haven’t thought about. If working with foreign clients, for example, simultaneous interpreting equipment might be needed.

Make the most of their time: Whether it’s an hourly rate or a monthly quota of deliverables, you are paying for the contractor’s time. Think of ways to shorten meetings, including clear agenda items and committee work that does not involve the contractor. The more focused you are while the external consultant is on the clock, the better.

Send files ahead of time: Always send any documentation that will be discussed a few days in advance. Agendas, contracts, previous meeting minutes, presentation slides—anything that provides context and terminology will greatly enhance communication and save time during the actual meeting or event.

This all might seem daunting, but following these guidelines is the best way to ensure you are fully prepared to work with an outside communication expert. Share your goals, purpose, audience, and insider knowledge in advance and you will save time and money in the long run. Generally speaking, if you follow the rule of “more is more,” then everyone will be on the same page and you will reap the rewards.

Elena Langdon is a certified Portuguese-to-English translator and interpreter and an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org

Mistakes to Avoid When Communicating Change

By Henry DeVries

Henry DeVriesGulp. Suppose the time has come to communicate a major change for your organization. Maybe it is a downsizing, a restructuring, or a switch to total quality management. The change is so important the future of the company depends on it.

Employees are mustered to the cafeteria where the CEO makes an impassioned speech worthy of a field marshal. Following the call to arms, the communications campaign launches an offensive on several fronts. All locations are bombarded with videos. Special editions of the employee newsletter sound the battle cry. Platoons of senior executives fan out to deliver the message on a more personalized basis to the troops.

But the war is already lost. Why? Because this approach is wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only will it fall flat, it is positively harmful.

Ask employees what information source they prefer. According to a study by the International Association of Business Communications, nine out of ten employees said they want to hear it directly from their supervisor. The mistake that dooms most campaigns seeking to win support for new business goals is the failure to let supervisors explain the change to front-line employees.

To achieve optimal results, campaigns to communicate potentially unpopular changes to employees should be viewed as an applied science. Unfortunately, this do not happen at most large companies. Case studies, surveys and research clearly show that the best practices for a major change are to communicate directly to supervisors and to use face-to-face communication, which includes storytelling.Workers want to work for someone who is connected and has a degree of power within the organization. Click To Tweet

The rate of major change is accelerating rapidly in business today, and many executives will be called upon to make major change communications decisions as part of a senior executive team. Knowing the four biggest mistakes of change communication will increase their chances of success.

Mistake 1—Many well-meaning CEOs attempt to improve change communications by going the direct route: These CEOs naturally want to talk directly to the front-line employees, usually supported by the advice of senior human resources executives and consultants. Unfortunately, it is a mistake that is wrong for two reasons.

First, it can be viewed as a mere symbolic move, and today’s disillusioned worker has little love for the empty gesture. Second, and more damaging, these campaigns can weaken the relationship between front-line workers and supervisors. Workers want to work for someone who is connected and has a degree of power within the organization. They want to know their supervisor has some pull, and is not viewed as powerless.

Mistake 2—Other well-intentioned senior executives push for equality in the workplace: They believe supervisors should sit shoulder-to-shoulder with front-line employees to hear the big news.

Again, a mistaken strategy because it is evidence of senior management’s failure to recognize the supervisor’s superior status. This reduces the supervisor’s perceived power and weakens his or her effectiveness as a force of change. What many senior executives fail to realize is that the only communications with the power to change behavior is the kind between a supervisor and a direct report.

Mistake 3—Applying the strategy that more must be better, executives in charge of change campaigns use ink by the barrel: They think the solution is more employee reports, posters, news bulletins, video scripts, team briefing outlines, brochures and guidebooks. This too is the wrong approach, because the critical communication is the type that happens face-to-face between a supervisor and front-line employees.

Energy and resources should be directed toward producing supervisor briefing cards which will arm them to answer the key questions that are in the minds of their staff.

Mistake 4—Not giving supervisors a persuasive story to tell can be a tactical error: Storytelling helps persuade on an emotional level. Stories are the building blocks of company culture.

If there is already a true story to tell about how the change will benefit the company, so much the better. If not, at least give supervisors a narrative to tell about how success can be achieved in the future. Every story starts with the name of a character who wants something. Make your main character likable or the victim of undeserved misfortune so the listeners will root for them. To make them likable, describe some of their good qualities or attributes.

Heroes need help on their journey. They need to work with a wise person. This is where your organization comes in. Be the voice of wisdom and experience. The hero does not succeed alone; they succeed because of the help you provided.

Finally, give the listeners the moral of the story. Take a cue from Aesop, the man who gave us fables like The Tortoise and the Hare (the moral: slow and steady wins the race). Don’t count on the listeners to get the message. The storyteller’s final job is to tell them what the story means.

The Bottom Line on Communicating Change: While other forms of communications should not be abolished, the emphasis should be on making supervisors privileged receivers of information. The strategy is to empower the supervisors.

When the future of the firm is on the line, ultimately it’s the CEO’s job to make sure change is communicated the best way possible. After the employees get the skinny from the supervisors, then the CEO can talk to all to reinforce the message.

The wise CEOs will use their supervisors, and properly arm them, to ensure success.

Henry DeVries, CEO of Indie Books International, works with consultants to attract high-paying clients by marketing with a book and speech. As a professional speaker, he teaches sales and business development professionals how to build an inventory of persuasive stories. He is the author of Marketing with a Book and Persuade with a Story! For more information, visit www.indiebooksintl.com

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Arriving at the Right Type of Language Professional

By Anne Connor

Business people don’t have to communicate with extraterrestrials (yet), but they can still learn a few things from the sci-fi thriller Arrival. The blockbuster film put a language professional in the leading role. Hollywood star Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics professor asked by U.S. Army Intelligence to help communicate with an alien species that has arrived on earth. However, the film blurred the lines between the three professions of translator, interpreter, and linguist, reinforcing some common misconceptions most business people have.

To “arrive” at the right language professional, you have to understand your needs. Click To Tweet When you do, it’s helpful to know the difference between the types of professionals involved in the process. Who do you call for a meeting with a new or potential overseas client for your small business or when you need to localize your ecommerce company’s website for foreign markets? Who do you contact when you receive medical records from an employee who required medical attention while on an overseas business trip or a contract from a foreign country?

Put simply:

Translators help you with written material, like contracts, letters, brochures, and websites

  • Before pushing that “Would you like to translate this?” button for the material that your advertising people spend weeks refining, remember that the nuanced language geared at persuading others to buy your products or services is best translated by a human who specializes in your company’s line of business.
  • If you’d like to create a professional-looking brochure or web page in other languages for new target markets, the last thing you should do is trust that task to an automated translation tool instead of its flesh-and-blood counterpart.
  • Should you be in a position to apply for an international patent for your product, you will definitely want a human patent translator specialized in your field to do that work instead of trusting a machine translation into languages unknown to you. Not doing so may lose you the patent if something in the application is mistranslated.

Interpreters help you with spoken language in business, legal and medical settings

  • Say a potential client wants to visit your facilities before deciding to place an order for your products. What a great impression you would make if you hired an interpreter to accompany you both on a guided plant tour so that all questions and answers could be handled in each party’s dominant language, putting everyone at ease. Hiring the same interpreter for a preliminary or follow-up telephone or videoconference meeting would go that extra mile toward sealing the deal and keeping this client’s business for years to come.
  • Well-informed business owners and managers also hire interpreters for employee health and safety training meetings that include limited-English-proficient workers. This helps them meet OSHA compliance requirements and keep their operations running smoothly and without interruption from preventable accidents.
  • Conference interpreters ensure that all attendees at an international business or medical gathering understand the presenters’ messages and are able to ask questions about the presentation’s content.

Linguists analyze language (including structure, history, and more)

  • To decipher an unknown extraterrestrial language, the linguistics professor in Arrival works with the aliens to learn the basic concepts of their language—the individual words and what they mean, building a lexicon as she goes. In the end, she has to use a complex, computer-assisted analysis to break the code and understand how the alien language works. This is neither translation nor interpreting, but linguistics.
  • In the real world, linguists help translators do their jobs by developing and updating the terminology-management software that allows those translators to work more quickly and efficiently, resulting in lower costs for their client and ensuring consistency throughout the entire translated document or website.

One thing that translators, interpreters and linguists all have in common is that they draw upon their extensive experience to solve linguistic “puzzles.” The stakes might not be as high as saving the planet from potential annihilation, but the work of all three professions is vital all the same, helping:

  • businesses communicate beyond borders
  • governments avoid conflict
  • healthcare providers make lifesaving decisions, to mention only the tip of the iceberg.

In order to “arrive” at the right language professional, you have to understand your needs. In the movie, the producers understood they needed a language expert as their protagonist, even if they mixed up the terms for how she went about helping them communicate with the aliens. What they did get right was to demonstrate that language professionals all draw upon:

  • extensive language study
  • expertise in the field
  • research skills
  • their ability to learn and utilize the latest technologies to solve linguistic “puzzles.”

Anne Connor is a professional Spanish and Italian-to-English medical and legal translator and an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org

To Translate or Not to Translate

Five Tips for Knowing When You Need Professional Translation

By Matt Baird

Matt Baird“A little knowledge goes a long way.” That’s what Michael, the owner of a fast-growing company, said to his business partner when discussing the process of taking their US success into international markets.

His partner couldn’t agree more. Sales were up, and they both knew why. Michael had decided to have his sales training materials translated and adapted for each market by professional translators who specialize in marketing and sales.

This was a brand new concept for Michael. He had never seen the value of translating internal documents. In fact, he’d never been involved in the translation process at all, leaving those types of tasks and decisions to his staff. Plus, his international sales teams communicate in English, and everybody understands one another. So why should he care?

Deciding what material to translate and whether you need professional translators with subject-matter expertise is not always easy. But taking the time to understand and make those decisions can pay off. Here are five tips that can help.Asking the right questions can make all the difference. Click To Tweet

1) Does it really need to be translated? This is the first and most important question decision-makers need to ask themselves. Pull your team together to decide what you actually need. You’d be surprised which parts you can cut right from the get-go. Companies have been known to trim hundreds of pages off their documentation by consulting translators, who can help flag the parts that don’t apply to foreign markets. Michael and his team agreed that the company’s sales training workshop was key to their success, so that’s what they focused on.

2) Is it “for-information” or “for-publication?” Next, ask yourself this: how important is style, or is technical accuracy more important than a polished shine? Chances are if you are trying to sell or persuade, or if image is important to you, accuracy alone will not suffice. An inexperienced translator may deliver a translation that is accurate yet overly influenced by the original language, resulting in clunky sentences and awkward vocabulary. An experienced specialist can ensure your translations read like original content written by a native speaker. Be aware that some translation suppliers sell for-information quality at for-publication prices. So, be sure to clarify that point up front. Though Michael’s translation was for internal purposes, his sales training materials needed a for-publication level of quality.

3) How big is my audience? One approach is to calculate how many people will be reading your content. Are you preparing a nationwide ad campaign or an in-house memo? Would an awkward or even flawed translation affect your corporate image and sales? Might it even lead to legal liability issues? It’s vital to have your glossy magazine ads and other widely read external communications professionally translated. For in-house documents with limited circulation, you may want to choose a less expensive option.

4) How technical or specialized is it? You may think that technical content is easy to translate. It’s not poetry and the terms are in the dictionary, right? Think again. The more technical and specialized your subject matter, the more your translators need to know it inside and out. Poorly written technical content often means the translator was in over their head. And though your bilingual engineer may seem like the obvious choice, they likely lack the years of training and practice necessary to transfer information between the two languages in writing, especially if translating into their non-native language. But your bilingual employees are great assets! Have them work with the translator to create a bilingual glossaries of technical terms and/or put them in direct contact with the translator for questions. Michael took the time to talk to the translators selected for his job to double check whether they were at home in the sales world.

5) How important is it? You may only have a target audience of one, but if that one person is vital to your business—or is the future of your business—then do-it-yourself or for-information translations simply won’t do. Imagine you’re a start-up looking to pitch your products or services in non-English-speaking markets. A sub-par translation would give a terrible impression of your company. And you might not even know how bad it is if it’s a language you do not understand. But your potential market will!

Michael discovered that a great translation—even for internal purposes—can have a huge impact on your bottom line. So, plan ahead and take charge from the start by studying your options. Look for translation talent with subject-matter expertise, and involve them in the planning stages. Get your own people involved so you know what you need. And take control of the controllable: avoid ambiguous language and produce in-house glossaries.

Translation, like language itself, is a nuanced business. Knowing what to translate and whether you need a professional translator is not always easy. Asking the right questions can make all the difference. Business owners, executives and other decision makers ignore these questions at their own peril. Getting it right will determine the success or failure of what you’re doing—whether it’s a high profile marketing campaign intended for millions or a highly nuanced message aimed at your internal sales team.

Matt Baird is a professional German-to-English translator with over fifteen years of experience. He also serves as a speaker for the American Translators Association, which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.

The High Cost of Cheap Translation

Why You Shouldn’t Skimp When Leaping the Language Barrier

By Stephanie Tramdack Cash

You pay for the best product development and manufacturing. Your legal and administrative people are top-notch. You choose your advertising and marketing partners with utmost care.

And then you pick the lowest bidder for your translations. There’s a good chance you’ve just made a costly mistake.

A nationwide big-box retailer went shopping for translation services for signage and advertising work. It settled on a large translation agency offering an impressive pitch and attractive prices. The retailer announced that henceforth all translation work had to be sent through the chosen translation firm.

Pleased with the decision, the retailer had no way of knowing the product would never match the promises. In the translation world, size does not translate into quality. Economies of scale are slight. Like the smallest agencies, the chosen large firm routinely sends projects to freelance translators. The quality of the people they enlist has everything to do with the rates they pay and, consequently, the fees they charged the retailer.

When the retailer’s staff began receiving the finished translations, they could tell the quality was awful. They realized, though, that sending the texts back to be improved would be cumbersome, costly, and ineffective. And they were not allowed to contract work out to anyone else.

So what did they do? They sent the work to a high-quality boutique translation agency to translate all over again – naturally at a higher price than for the shoddy version. And how did they pay for it? They buried the extra translation jobs in the corporate budget for graphic design.

So the retailer paid for the translation twice. At the corporate level, things looked normal enough. Higher-ups had no idea that the graphic design budget—hard to audit, after all—was being cannibalized to pay for the massive translation gaffe. Was graphic design quality compromised by this move? Of course. Safety illustrations and other crucial items were produced poorly—or not at all. But everything was on budget and viewed from above; all appeared to be working smoothly.

The folks on the front line at your company may not have as quirky a story of “cheap” translation to recount. But in other ways, a low-ball translation provider can end up costing you money, quality, management time, image, and reputation. Here are a few commonplace problems:

  • Bait-and-Switch Tactics: an agency may show you resumes of the professionals who will be translating your texts. The paths that bring people to a translation career vary greatly, and no single set of criteria guarantees an excellent translation. However, you can look for certain things: academic degrees, serious language study, and in country work experience. But beware – unscrupulous agencies solicit resumes of people with skill levels well above what the agency is willing to pay for, show them off to unwary clients, and source the translations from others who will settle for far less money. In some cases, they even “harvest” resumes from the internet for this purpose.

    So how do you know? Find out whether the agency head or representative is a translator (many are not), and quietly assess on your own whether that person takes language, the profession, and your service needs seriously. Ask questions and trust your gut. Ask for and check references of satisfied clients in the same language combination. If you find the agency trustworthy, you may want to ask for a specific translator from the resume lineup.

  • Secondary Review: The agency’s offer may sound like a good deal, but there may be no proper review process in place. This low-bid “envelope changer” receives the translation, gives it a quick once-over—or not—and sends it on to the client.

    Good translation providers always budget for a second person with similar skills and expertise in your field to perform a careful edit of the translation, often paying a third or more of what the translator receives. Some top-notch firms go beyond this “four-eyes” principle to six eyes – a third person may have a final look-through to make sure all is in order. If you are working directly with an independent translator, expect that person to price in review by a respected colleague.

  • Not Machine Dependent: The agency or translator may be over-reliant on machine processes. While machine translation and specialized translation software have made great strides, there is widespread agreement among top translators that these are only aids and occasional shortcuts to a quality product. They do not in any sense replace the need for thorough engagement with the text by both translator and reviewer.
  • Clunky Writing may detract from your message. Good translators are always honing their writing skills on and off the job. They read widely, with attention to good writing, and focus on the skill in professional development sessions. Even good writers who embark on a translation career find it takes time to learn to make a text flow. When this skill is lacking, your translation may have the inescapable sound of—well, a translation. Subtleties crucial to your message may disappear. In a marketing text or in any high-level communication, this may mean missing the boat entirely. The saving of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars on translation may translate into a sacrifice of millions in potential revenue.

You need a team of intelligent, highly trained professionals for your translation work. They have experience in your industry in addition to their foreign-language expertise. They are fine, polished writers, translating only into their native languages despite their near-native fluency in other languages. Keep all this in mind when you go shopping for language services. The result will be worth the price.

Stephanie Tramdack Cash, CFA translates French investment management and strategy documents. She is an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.