Which interpreting mode?

Simultaneous interpreting is the preferred choice for any audience in a formal conference. Meanwhile, consecutive interpretation is a better solution for business meetings, visits and document work.

If you wondered which interpreting service is suitable for your event, here‘s a little guidance regarding the available options:
Event type Audience Interpretation mode
A full-day conference, many speakers, different topics  Typically 100 or more. Simultaneous
A half-day conference, a single speaker, structured presentations on the same topic Typically up to 50 Simultaneous (preferred) or Consecutive
A press conference or a briefing Media Simulteneous (preferred) or Consecutive
Meetings (audits, inspections, review meetings, negotiations, etc.) Typically up to 20 Consecutive
Site visits, excursions Typically up to 20 Consecutive
One or two distinguished guests who need to follow an event in a language they do not understand One or two persons Chuchotage
On-stage ceremonies (opening and closing ceremonies, awards, launch presentations), up to an hour Typically 100 or more Simultaneous (preferred) or Consecutive
Sales presentations Typically up to 50 Simultaneous (preferred) or Consecutive
TV shows, live broadcasts Nationwide Simultaneous
Court/arbitration hearings Variable Simultaneous (preferred) or Consecutive
Teleconference Several people Telephone

Simultaneous preferred except small groups and document work

As a rule, if there is an audience, simultaneous (SIM) is always preferable to consecutive (CON) interpretation. There are a number of reasons for this:
  • SIM comes live and has no effect on the duration of the speech, whereas in CON mode the presentations are broken up by interpretation, almost doubling presentation time.
  • In SIM mode, the audience are able to enjoy the natural flow of the event, whereas in CON mode interventions by the interpreter may become an unwelcome distraction to the audience as they have to switch between listening to the presentation and then to interpretation, and so forth. People start getting bored quickly.
  • Some people in the audience may understand the speakers and not need interpretation, and CON mode would force them to listen to what they already know for a second time.
  • For the same reasons, the SIM mode conveys a prestigeous VIP atmosphere, whereas CON tends to look more like hard work in comparison.
  • In SIM mode, the interpreters are  invisible professionals working in the background, whereas in CON mode they innevitably steal some stage glory from the speakers, and keep doing so at regular intervals.
  • In case of challenges professional interpreters use a number of coping strategies to catch up with the speaker, and these are almost always invisible in SIM mode, but may be noticeable in CON. 
CON can be used instead of the preferred SIM mode, but one has to be aware that it places a number of serious constraints on the event and invariably worsens the audience's experience in comparison with SIM.

However, CON is preferable to SIM is liaison work is smaller groups (e.g. audits, inspections, meetings, as in checking paperwork or visiting a site) where a lot of two-way communication takes places between the parties. In those settings the interpreters convey the information faithfully to all parties and help them clarify each other's statements, which may be more complicated in SIM mode.

To sum up, the simultaneous interpreting mode has the following benefits:
  • Superior audience experience
  • Live interpretation, no time constraints
  • Greater flexibility for interpreters
  • The speaker, not the interpreter, is centre stage