While "Keep calm and carry on" might be a bit overused these days, it's still a powerful message, and it especially applies to interpreting. Whether you are a conference, court, community, medical, diplomatic o especially military interpreter, keeping cool under pressure is very much an essential part of the job. This usually isn't a problem for experienced interpreters, but if you are a relatively new interpreter, how do you go about controlling your nerves?
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- Be prepared. The best way to control your nerves is to prepare for the assignment as much as you can. In theory, at university and in workshops we learn that we always have to request material ahead of time, but the reality of our profession is another: you might request materials and only get them half of the time, which can be quite frustrating. However, the internet and all the lovely resources at our fingertips have really changed the way we can do research. For instance, Judy was recently hired to interpret at a high-level court hearing, but the attorney never gave her any detailed information. He did, however, give her the name of the plaintiff, and Judy used that information to look up his case in the public court records system. Those records don't include a copy of the actual complaint, but at least Judy knew what the charges were. It's a start, and unfortunately, in this profession, you have to learn to work with incomplete information. Dagy recently had a difficult conference interpreting assignment, and never received the PowerPoint presentations, even though she requested them repeatedly. She decided to make the best of it and used the basic agenda that she had to read up on the legislation that would be discussed.
- Put on your power suit. This might go without saying, but we still see plenty of interpreters who are not dressed as professionally as everyone else in the room. In addition to the fact that professional dress is mostly required, wearing a good suit (your lucky suit, perhaps) also usually does wonders for your self-esteem. We both have a few suits that we know fit well and that will make us feel strong and confident. We'd feel less confident in yoga pants. What you wear really can change your attitude. When in doubt, wear a suit. It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed, and first impressions go a long way. You can put everyone else in the room at ease by walking in with confidence and well dressed.
- Fake it if you must. We are not suggesting that you should fake interpreting skills that you don't have. Please be sure to only accept assignments for which you are fully qualified, but sometimes nerves can still play a huge part (they certainly do for us once in a while). Even if you are nervous, it's important to not show it. Take a deep breath, sit with a straight back (or stand up straight if you are in front of an audience), focus on positive body language, and trust your abilities. The first few minutes might be challenging, but things usually do get easier with time. Be sure to warm up your voice beforehand. Naturally, your assignment shouldn't be the first thing you interpret that day, so do a few short interpreting exercises just before you start or before you leave home.
- Put others at ease. You probably interpret all the time, but remember that some of the people in the room might never have worked with an interpreter before, so the situation might be stressful for them, too. If it's appropriate, take a few minutes to assure them that you are there to bridge the linguistic barriers, and if there's time, briefly explain how it all works. Judy recently went to an administrative hearing that included an in-person committee, committee members on the phone, a plaintiff on the phone, and an attorney on yet another phone. It was a formidable challenge for all parties, and early on, one of the committee members asked Judy if she could interpret in the following format: "He said.... she said..." Judy explained to the committee member that best practices in our profession dictate interpreting in the first person, and that put him at ease. We think educating both clients and the public about how interpreting works is very much part of our work.