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Ethics & Role:

Situational Studies:


Interpreting for Award Ceremonies and Banquets

by Jennifer Hawkins

Decmeber 14, 2001

Imagine yourself, graduated from the program and ready to journey through the freelance world. You are asked to interpret for an awards ceremony at the Hilton in the World Trade Center, Boston. Do you know how to prepare for an assignment of this nature? Do you know the necessary protocol for a stage-interpreted assignment, what is needed by the interpreter and what is necessary to create a successful environment for all? I will be answering these questions and more in the following research paper. By the end of this paper you will know what to do if you are ever faced with a question as, "Are you available to interpret for an awards ceremony next Wednesday?" Not only will you learn specific behaviors to execute during award ceremony environments, but also the majority of the information you will read also applies to other interpreted environments.

My research is comprised of interviews with interpreters, Deaf clients, published literature as well as my own personal anecdotal experiences. Each source helped me to construct a clear understanding of what is needed to establish a successful environment for all participants involved. This research is separated into four separate categories; Pre-assignment, Discourse, Logistics and Other Pertinent Information. At the latter portion of my paper, you can view the questionnaire that I used while interviewing interpreters, examples of seating arrangements, my classroom scenarios and a bibliography.


When you are first approached with an assignment of this nature, finding out what day, the time and where the event is taking place are the first basic questions you want answered. In addition, it is important to ask if a team interpreter will be provided. Many award ceremonies tend to be longer than an hour and you will need that support of the second interpreter. Another piece of information you will want to know is who the ceremony is for? This includes the purpose of the event as well as who the Deaf client(s) are. If the referral agency has information about the Deaf client(s), they will give you that information at the time of the request. If there is not much information provided about the client, you can question your team about being familiar with the client(s).

After you receive information about the assignment, to prepare yourself further, you may want to do research of your own. Now with the World Wide Web at our fingertips, every piece of information is available to us in our own homes. Perusing the web sites of the company or companies putting on the event would give you (the interpreter) a base knowledge of their purpose and goals. This will provide you with background knowledge regarding what you will be interpreting while you are at the site.


Discourse is an element that you can prepare for during the pre-assignment work. As I said previously, you can familiarize yourself with the company that is putting on the event as well as become mentally prepared for your assignment.

Upon arriving to the assignment, you will first want to request an agenda or program (they tend to have these at the sign-in table or set around the room.) This is important for a few reasons. First, you can get an idea of how the ceremony will be conducted: are there any intermissions? Who will be distributing the awards and in what order will they be distributed? Are there video clips? (Etc.) Secondly, you can consider at this time discourse ideas. With the agenda/program in hand, you can find out the following: any frozen text (anthems, songs, and/or quotes)? Award categories? Recipients' names? Sponsor names? (Etc.) Thirdly, it is important at this time to familiarize yourself with any acronyms that are not familiar. It is important to read or skim through the entire program (from beginning to end) to prepare for the assignment.

You not only need to find out what will be interpreted, but you must realize in this type of environment there is a different manner in which to interpret. Stage work is different from your daily meetings and interviews. When you interpret on stage, you will have to open a fulcrum that you are not use to, which are your shoulders. In doing so, this allows your signs as well as the signing space to be bigger. This not only will ensure your client(s) to see you, but also this helps to match the affect of the speaker. You must remember the speaker is talking loud enough for all the audience members to hear, therefore, you must sign "big" enough for your client(s) to see.


There are three different categories within logistics that I find important to bring to your attention.

1) Placement of the interpreter and consumer(s): If the placement of the consumer is not in a visible line of sight to the interpreter, the assignment will certainly not be successful. It is important to discuss with the contact person (or someone who is in charge) about your needs as the interpreter as well as advocate for the needs of the client(s). If a different seating arrangement is possible for the client(s) to move towards the front, that would be ideal. If not, the interpreter must look at what his/her options are. Can you (the interpreter) stand on stage and ask the client(s) if they can see you? Can you move to the other side of the stage or do you have to move closer to the client at floor level? You must try anything that you can to make it possible for the interaction to ensure success.

After you find a placement for the client, whether they moved him/her or not, you must now prepare the placement of your team. If you are on stage, will your team be able to sit in front of you at floor level? Will they have to sit behind you on stage? Will they be seated off to the side of the stage? The ideal situation would be for your team to be in an easily accessible location for you as the working interpreter to view, but sometimes you run into this impossible situation. Also seating the team in a visible line of sight to the client(s) would allow for the support interpreter to voice if the client were to engage in comments or questions during the assignment.

2) Lighting: Once you have established a place for the client(s), team and yourself on or off stage, you must now analyze the situation for lighting. The lights must not be directly behind the working interpreter or facing directly in the face of the interpreter. A light from the side or from above would be most practical. If you are not on stage and you are interpreting from the back of the room; you may have to request additional lighting to accommodate your communication needs.

You must also consider the dimming or blacking out of lights for video clips, intermissions, etc. Discussing with the contact person about these foreseen predicaments before the ceremony begins would allow for preparation on your behalf. The more prepared you are the more successful the interpreted assignment will be.

3) Safety Issues: I cannot emphasize enough that safety is a number one priority. If you are not safe, you obviously will not be able to continue your interpreting assignment. Checking your surroundings is important. You will want to look for objects like stage decorations (including flowers, plants, flags, and balloons), podium location, steps (where and how many), wires, chairs (sturdy and secure) and microphones. I include microphones because if a microphone is set up near you while interpreting, coughing, sneezing, sniffling, or make noises with your mouth while interpreting will be heard by all. In addition, breathing and sighing can be heard through the microphone as well if done to loudly. Don't get me wrong, I am not telling you to not breathe, just try to avoid making disturbing sounds. Unquestionably, not breathing is a safety issue, so please definitely breathe.

I also feel climate belongs under this category. I interviewed an interpreter who interpreted for a college graduation/ceremony outdoors. She unfortunately did not have any sunscreen available to her and interpreted three hours (on and off with her team) facing directly into the sun. She did learn her lesson during that assignment to be prepared at any time for an outdoor-interpreted event. To the other extreme, another interpreter working indoors was too cold; therefore, a sweater would have definitely come in handy (If you know what I mean?) Therefore, the moral to these two stories is 'be prepared and you won't be burned or embarrassed.'

Other Pertinent Information:

I covered quite a bit of information in the other two categories, but there are a few items that did not seem to appropriately fit. The following mainly focuses on professionalism. When you behave in a professional manner, your appearance in any situation will be more positive. A few hints of behaving professionally are punctuality, attire, attitude, preparedness, request of payment, etc. Professionalism is not limited to the few attributes I previously listed. As an interpreter, you must also be aware and prepared to educate na´ve individuals about your job as a sign language interpreter and what your needs are as well as advocate for the Deaf consumer(s).

Although the topic of my discussion focused on award ceremonies, the majority of this information is applicable to an array of other interpreted situations. I hope my research was helpful and you are able to digest all of it. For those of you who are preparing soon to be a part of the freelance world, just remember the better prepared you are the smoother your assignment will go. Good luck and rememberůbreathe.


Proper Citation of this Document

Hawkins, Jennifer. "Interpreting for Award Ceremonies and Banquets." American Sign Language Interpreting Resources, 14 December 2001.