In general, the term "conference technology" means every type of technical equipment used at a conference, e.g. audio and video systems, lighting, etc. When talking about events which require interpretation, however, the term mostly denotes the equipment which is used to bring the sound from the speaker to the interpreters and from the interpreters to the audience.
Under this aspect, guided tour kits can be perceived as the most simple kind of interpreting technology, since here, the sound is also transmitted to the listeners by means of a technical device (the wireless microphone used by the interpreter).
If an interpreting booth is used, however, a much more sophisticated type of conference technology is brought to bear. First of all, the conference venue must be given adequate sound equipment, which can either be done by means of an existing, permanent loudspeaker system, or the sound is provided by a portable speaker system temporarily installed by the conference technology supplier. This sound reaches the audience via the loudspeakers in the room and the interpreters in the booth via headphones.
On a control panel, the interpreters can choose the channel they wish to listen to (this function is mostly used when an interpreter depends on the relay provided by a collague), switch between the output channels for their interpretation, toggle their microphone on and off etc.
Interpreter's control panel in the booth
Those members of the audience who wish to follow the interpretation receive a set of headphones connected to a receiver (which is wireless in 99 per cent of all cases), allowing them to choose the desired channel. This becomes especially important in the case of multi-lingual conferences where every listener can pick the channel and the language he or she wants to listen to.
Receiver and headset for the audience
Whenever an interpreting booth is used, a conference technician is also present, who controls the sound via a mixing console. It also is the conference technician who assembles the booth and the sound system before the start of the conference and disassembles everything once the conference is over, who wires the speakers, hands out and collects headsets and receivers etc.
If the event mainly consists of speeches and presentations, while questions from the participants are to be rather limited, the speakers are furnished with clip-on microphones. In this case, questions and contributions from the audience are handled by means of hand-held microphones. If the meeting is instead intended to be fairly interactive, with much dialogue and discussion, microphones are also put up on the participants' tables, so that speakers from among the audience do not have to wait until they are passed a hand-held microphone.
When planning a conference, the organizers should ask themselves the following questions beforehand:
- Does the designated conference room already have built-in interpreting booths?
- Does the designated conference room already have a built-in loudspeaker system?
- Is the designated conference room large enough for the required number of interpreting booths to be assembled there?
- How many language is the conference to be interpreted into?
- What will be the number of total participants?
- How many participants will require interpretation into the foreign language/s?
- How many participants will require interpretation into the main conference language if there are foreign-language contributions?
- What is the character of the event? Will the conference be mostly presentations with no or few question and answer sessions or an interactive event with much discussion or dialogue? Does the programme call for a panel discussion? This information is important in order to be able to plan the number of required clip-on, hand-held and table microphones correctly.