Voice projection for interpreters: use your microphone voice...and watch those terminations!

Post date: Oct 01, 2013 12:31:21 PM

I worked with an interpreter recently who had a superb "microphone" voice. Combined with precise delivery of content, it made for an excellent consecutive interpreting performance at the closing meeting of a one-week assignment.

It struck me that, as interpreters, we should take that "microphone" performance into the everyday grind of meetings and presentations. Keeping our delivery clear, our phrases precise, and our terminations sharp makes for a much clearer message. It's always tempting, when the content is complicated, the meaning potentially unclear, and the audience small, to reduce the volume, keep the phrasing vague, and draw out the terminations (ending in "er..." or the dreaded "so..", like a footballer who can't think how to end a sentence and is waiting for the interviewer to interrupt).

In fact, it is at times like these that the client/audience most needs our ability to understand the source language and deliver the message accurately in the target language. Delivering a clear message when under pressure is what we are supposed to be able to do.

So the next time you find yourself mumbling, or "fudging", or not terminating your segments properly, imagine you are performing over a microphone in front of a large audience, and tell yourself that every audience, regardless of its size, deserves that level of performance. I don't mean you need to yell - obviously volume should be adjusted appropriately. But your voice is your main asset, and you should use it to maximum effect every time. I'm no specialist in voice projection, but I find that trying to speak so that I can feel the vibrations from my head down through my vocal chords to my diaphragm helps to project my voice, regardless of volume. In fact, this approach allows me to speak very quietly and still be heard. Try feeling those vibrations, and I hope you will see what I mean.

See also other blogs on this issue. I can be quite boring about the issue of voice projection. I just have to use my microphone voice to make sure that people don't fall asleep when I'm telling them about it.

Here's a photo of me trying to get the volume right, and keep those terminations crisp, in a "small-audience environment". In about 1984, judging by the haircut. Actually, this illustrates the problem reasonably well. I'm quite close to the client (the only English-speaker in the room), so I need to speak clearly but not too loudly. This is precisely the kind of environment I'm talking about, where it's tempting, when the content is complicated, to mumble and "fudge".