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Dear all: in our little corner of the world, we've seen, over the past few years, more and more UN conferences that claim themselves "paperless". While our staff are all for the savings this kind of new ways of conferencing make, we are also worried about its impacts on our way of work in the booths. More often than never, documents are not available, some times partially so, some times not at all. As some colleagues put it: when they do it paperless, I'm clueless and ergo, speechless. Yet this is a trend that is going to stay and spread.

I'm wondering if aiic could come up with some recommendations for this new form of conferencing, to provide guidance for interpreters, and also for conference organizers, just like what we did with remote conferences?

It's important to make the organizers be keenly aware of the importance of documentation to interpretation. With the remote conferencing, we have already been stripped of the that "in the same room" dimension of interpretation, and now comes this paper-less thing.

Off the top of my head, I think we need contemplate over:

  1. What are pitfalls of having no paper documents in your booth? Can iPad, kindle or a screen in your booth replace paper docs?
  2. How to convince conforgs to deliver to interpreters critical if not complete documents, prior to and during conference? sometimes we read this in their somewhat annoyed look: "everyone else goes well w/o paper in this meeting, why can't you?"
  3. How to cope with conferences where documents are not forthcoming?


asked 05 Mar '12, 08:34

tribush's gravatar image


edited 05 Mar '12, 08:51

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

thanks for your interest in it and your reply.

when asking the question, the image I conjured up in mind is a roomful of delegates, each with a laptop/tablet in hands, and documents being discussed about are to be found at a designated site for you to download.

Putting aside environment issues (trees, electricity, bandwidth etc.) , my question was: is this kind of meetings that we, as interpreters, are willing to work for? Navigating through windows folder structure to find the right document you are after is a world apart from having them handy on your desk.

I'm ok with doing away with mailing out docs and just carrying a memory stick to my meeting. But when I go in my booth, I'd expect documents delivered in paper.

(07 Mar '12, 12:29) tribush

It's only a personal opinion but I really believe you'd do well to quickly revise your expectations. Paperless has been quite the holy grail for some time but it's now becoming a fact of life in many companies and organisations. Insisting on paper in the booth when everybody else is doing without is a sure way to disqualify the profession in the eyes of clients. If you need paper in the booth - I do too, depending on the subject and meeting - get yourself a printer and schlep your own paper copy to the booth.

(20 Mar '12, 09:01) Vincent Buck

The brief answer to the question whether I insist on a full set of documents (which, if I remember correctly, was the reason for this question):

I don't insist on having a full set of hardcopy documents in the booth. Similar to Msr I do, however, print out the main documents like agenda etc. Unfortunately I don't have any answers to the other three sub-questions posted above, just some thoughts on coping strategies.

The slightly longer answer concerning my personal approach to the more practical aspects:

Even at the risk of sounding slightly nerdish: I am a great fan of alphanumeric sorting, loosely based on the ISO 8601 date format YYMMDD which, for my taste, offers many advantages in terms of structuring my preparation time.

I guess it depends on your market (i.e. whether you are working for an organization that might have its own sorting system in place). But as someone who primarily works in the private market, I personally find it slightly overwhelming if several people send in last minute power points entitled "Presentation Berlin", especially if we are a large team working in several slots. So first of all I try to create various folders (one per conference day) using YYMMDD. alt text

Then I rename the files (per day) based on YYMMDDHHMM+Name of Speaker Which then gives me a list of the speakers' documents in the order of their appearance at the conference.

What I like about the Mac is the possibility to change the color in which files are being displayed. If my colleagues or the consultant interpreter were able to agree on a workload distribution in advance I may also be able to mark the files based on our team rota (in this example the presentations submitted by "my" speakers are marked in red, my two other booth mates are yellow and green).

alt text

Depending on time, I will still try and read my colleagues' docs indicated in yellow and green in the example shown (you never really know whether the work load distribution will actually pan out/speaker slots being subject to change due to plane delays etc.) but I find this approach helpful in coping with increasing volumes of data coming in last minute presentations/zip files. Due to the increasingly short term nature of our work reading the whole set of conference documents before an event may not always be feasible: A few years ago, for instance, I would have been gobsmacked by a 30 MB zip file containting 30 files the night before the conference. Now, however, this seems to be increasingly commonplace (although it hasn't happened to me this year, so I'll keep my fingers crossed;).

So in the event of a last minute mega zip file my coping strategy would be prioritization of the material:

  • I would first focus on "my own" speakers

  • the ones before and after my slot (in case I have to take over from my colleague if speakers speak for longer than the time they have been given/Q&A sessions end up being behind schedule).

  • time permitting I would read the folder "miscellaneous" created for parallel sessions

I found that this approach helps me structure my time not only during the conference but also before the conference/preparation.

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answered 10 Mar '12, 02:13

Tanja's gravatar image


edited 10 Mar '12, 02:57

Your tips and suggestions are just wonderful. As I also work with Mac, two questions:

1) Do you create a folder on your desktop to contain all the other folders? 2) What is the red big dot on the first row?

Thanks again for sharing and taking the time to describe your personal document management system.

(10 Mar '12, 14:37) Vero

Oh, thank you! Glad you found it helpful:) re. 1) Being a "one-trick-pony" I use the same system for all my other folders, too: I have one folder per year (YYYY). Inside this "annual folder" (which will be my working folder for the year) I then use the same system to structure my subfolders (YYMMDD) i.e. the example shown above. re. 2) You are right, the big red dot is slightly misleading. It does not mean anything, it's just where my cursor was when I took the screenshot:)

(11 Mar '12, 06:38) Tanja

+1 Exactly how I do it. The only difference is that I omit "YYMMDD" if all documents are already located under the folder "YYMMDD". But indeed, "HHMM+Name of Speaker" is a very useful way to keep a well organised set of documents and IMO it would be nice if all consultant interpreters not only "handle" documents (see but also rename them based on this pattern.

(20 Mar '12, 06:47) Delete ♦

I'm going to be completely practical in my answer:

  • If you're going to use a USB-key, make sure that you have some kind of protection on it, it is the easiest way to have your computer invaded by nasty worms and so on.
  • When I get my documents for a mission, I load them in a separate file. Sometimes documents have a file number and a different number on the list of documents, make sure that you include both data when you file them
  • When I prepare a conference, I put all the relevant documents side-by-side and I prepare trilingual documents with all the relevant pápers. It takes time but the payoff is fabulous and it is a fantastic way of preparing a conference and a glossary!!!
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answered 09 Mar '12, 12:45

Vicky%20Massa's gravatar image

Vicky Massa

+1 for reminding us never to plug in somebody else's memory stick into our computers without scanning it for viruses first.

(09 Mar '12, 14:12) Vincent Buck

Great question and good feedback from colleagues so far. I often look at this from an ecological angle and I just cannot stand the huge amount of documents that are printed needlessly. At least that's often the case in the institutions I work at. I pretty much rely on my iPad for meeting documents (or an app called GoodReader, to be more precise). I use it to download all the documents, to manage them and to annotate them (highlights, notes etc.). Works great for me, but your mileage may vary.

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answered 21 Mar '12, 15:39

Alexander's gravatar image


...I can only share how I handle this, I'm sure we all have our own way :-) - and believe you me, it's not just UN conferences that are going/have gone paperless.

1)SOME paper documents I do miss in the booth... and those I print out, use for prepararation and take in with me, ie agendas, lists of participants, chair's bumph and/or guidelines and voting scripts ... that is to say anything that I know I will benefit from being able to take notes on; eveything else I download and make do with in virtual form, we do want to save trees... also, if docs must be distributed, try to cut down on numbers, ie share one set or two per booth, in relevant languages, instead of asking for three or four per booth, in all languages :-).

Plus opening up a virtual file for a meet in one's computer (that we can now take into the booth/on assignment as opposed to some years ago when we couldn't) that one can then subdivide and reorganize according to one's preferences, upload docs received and complement with virtual copies of Inet pages and one's own notes on text or excell docs etc has proven to be very useful.

2) A modicum of confusion here, methinks: we can and should continue to strive to get docs... just not necessarily on paper :-); even for those last minute ones only available on the spot, oftentimes one's willingness to accept a usb-key has made the difference between having some time to go through them or only getting them - once printed out, photocopied (if the equipment is available, that is... and not on the other side of the moon) and distributed - when too late for all practical purposes.

Anyone who has recruited and coordinated teams over, say, the past 20 years, cannot be thankful enough for no longer having to get reams of paper from the post office - too thick to fit in the mailbox, photocopy them and mail them out again across the land... and then do it all over again, and again, and again... :-).

3) Well... if feasible (some subjects won't be...and if unfeasible, refuse!) by researching, asking for a briefing, turning our willingness to accept such hardship into brownie points to our credit :-) and, personally - because I do not want to develop frustration ulcers - by saying over the mike, as often as necessary, that the interpreters regret not having been given docs but will nevertheless bravely do their level best in the circumstances :-).

Best of lucks all, in this brave new world :-)!

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answered 07 Mar '12, 07:34

msr's gravatar image


edited 07 Mar '12, 07:51

Thanks to this question I was motivated to learn about “paperless conferences” and what we mean by it. The first thing that comes to my mind is that by “Paperless conferences” we do not mean “Documentless conferences”. It is already a fact that conference materials are delivered online, which saves printing costs and guarantees the access of interpreters to the material to prepare ahead of their assignment.

Something of importance to note is that content managers/owners should be prompted to meet deadlines concerning the provision of online handouts, which I think should be easier than in the case of handouts in paper format. And interpreters must remember to print out their desired handouts and bring them to the event. In my case, I always need the agenda within easy reach to locate names of speakers and sessions on the fly and fast. And, of course, bringing my laptop to the event with all the documents already downloaded and stored in the disk, and having Internet connection for last-minute ones, is of the essence. If no documents are available in any form or format, interpreters must demand that they at least be provided the theme of the conference and (if possible) the name of the speakers. No problem with the theme, you run Internet searches and will get thousands of documents from where to build your glossary. As to the speakers, you can google them or enter their names in youtube. Many times you will find previous lectures or interviews of those speakers, which paves the way to doing a good job since you get a glimpse of the way he/she speaks, the words or phrases used more frequently by that person, the speed etc.

If we are to discuss “fully paperless conferences”, attendees should probably be given a memory stick with all the conference materials. But, in that case, they will need to bring their own laptops to the event. And, now, the question that is triggered in my mind is: what about the energy footprint in that case, where you may have 500 computers connected at the same time to powerful servers and the Internet?

As you see there are many things for interpreters to consider, as usual. So, I agree that AIIC might start working on some recommendations to provide guidance for this new type of interpreting.

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answered 07 Mar '12, 11:59

Vero's gravatar image


edited 07 Mar '12, 12:04

I am right now preparing a mission for an international organization: paper documents... none except for the list of documents and the agenda... the rest will be stored on my laptop and, once I have all the documents in their side-by-side format I start highlighting the terms that seem important, acronyms, technical terms, terminological quirks proper to this organization, etc. All that will go into my Excel glossary which, in turn, will be transformed into an Interplex glossary for expedience and ease of use. For those not yet availing themselves of the Interplex software (see the latest issue of Communicate!), you're missing out on something very, very good.

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answered 20 Mar '12, 07:59

Vicky%20Massa's gravatar image

Vicky Massa

Many thanks, Vicky. Here is the link to interplex:

(20 Mar '12, 12:35) tribush

I agree it is more comfortable to have the papers on your desk. But the question is: what happens if you do not? Interpreters are like fire-figthers. we should always be prepared to put out the fire that may be break any minute.

We should be aware, and make others aware, that this is a new trend and that we may be obliged to work paperles in the near future. If it is of help, what I do is open all the documents in my computer and minimize windows, or have them arranged by order of appearence and, of course, team work is of the essence. Having your partner sift through documents in your computer while you interpret will make a world of difference.

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answered 07 Mar '12, 13:10

Vero's gravatar image


Hello, I fully agree with my colleagues that for the past years there is a trend that conforgs do not provide with any deliverables for conferences referring that speakers abd participants didn't provide any papers. Well, I just request them at least to provide me with the agenda and list of speakers(their names and titles), and sometimes get papers just 2-3 minutes before the speach is delivered. So, I have to get with me all possible tools that can help me, i.e. notebook, binocular (to see presentations from the boost) if necessary, etc. But such negligible attitude to interpreters is terrible. -:))))

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answered 29 Mar '12, 10:11

zakhirash's gravatar image


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question asked: 05 Mar '12, 08:34

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