By Susan Tomai
This week Oratorio traveled to the Middle East once again, conducting a spokesperson media training program for a Gulf region government client. We’ve run training sessions in that fascinating part of the world more than a dozen times over the past four years, but this time was different: for the first time, the entire five-day training program was simultaneously translated from English into Arabic.
This was a novel experience, to say the least.
In all of our previous training sessions in the region, the participants had been top-level managers who spoke English well. This time, only a handful of the 30-plus government officials did. So every word we spoke about message discipline, interviewing skills, media relations and everything else we cover in our sessions went into our microphones and directly to the ears of a translator sitting in a windowed booth a few feet away, who then repeated the words into Arabic for the participants - and then did the same in reverse when it was the participants’ time to speak. This requires a lot of patience on the part of both the trainers and the participants, but once everyone got into the rhythm of it, everything worked well.
The lesson here is that even though cultures are different and the news media operate differently around the world, there are universal truths about what works in a media interview: staying on message, storytelling, branding the name of the organization, starting and finishing on a strong note, and so on. Whether the client is a government agency spreading a message about the importance of wearing seat belts, or a pharma company educating citizens about diabetes, the tools and the goals are much the same - no matter what language is spoken.