In our world of information overload, less is often more. This old adage still applies in the world of communications—think website or marketing copy that is best short and sweet. Yet context and preparation is needed when human interaction is involved. The more time and energy you invest upfront, the more time, money, and headaches you’ll save down the line.
Take the example of a Midwestern pharmaceutical company that contacted a local Spanish teacher to help with communication during a visit with South American physicians. All was going well until it came to the specific condition a new medication could treat: COLD, or chronic obstructive lung disease. The teacher, who hadn’t been briefed about the company’s specific focus, spent the day talking about the new “wonder drug” that could cure a common cold. The pulmonologists were not impressed and the company did not win any new business that day.
In your line of business you might not need to communicate with foreigners, but you will most likely work with some sort of communication expert at some point. Below are some guidelines to better prepare for working with any outside expert who specializes in communication, including copywriters, marketing and brand consultants, designers, and trainers.
Know thy contractors. Before selecting an outside communications consultant, ask about expertise in your specific setting or field, not just years of experience. For example, if you hire a copywriter for a newsletter or website, look at her portfolio to see if she’s worked in your line of business before. Working directly with the contractor makes this easier, but if you are getting proposals through an agency, many will also provide information on the individual’s credentials and past work.
Explain your audience. Clue the contractor in as to whom they’ll be working with. For example, if you’re looking for a consultant to deliver a workshop on employee engagement, let them know what your corporate structure looks like. Names and roles are especially helpful, as are division, unit, and project names. This will help make the workshop relevant and personalized, even though an outsider is presenting it.
State your purpose. Your team and your counterparts across the table might know why you are discussing a contract, but an external expert brought in for the day won’t. What are everyone’s goals? Are the stakes high and the situation tense? Think of communication experts as extensions of your team and brief them accordingly. If they know your purpose(s), they can better understand you and transmit your message accurately.
Get it in writing. Perhaps this is obvious, but make sure you draw up a contract when working with an external contractor. Some important sections to include are confidentiality, deliverables, and duration of work. Think about licenses, certification, and insurance, too, if there is any risk involved in the work being supplied.
Provide context. Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge, so provide as much background information as possible. Let’s say you need an interpreter to help you sort out an HR problem with an employee who is more comfortable in another language. Inform the interpreter about any previous meetings, the main issues to be discussed, the type of work the employee does, and anything else you think is relevant.
Explain specific jargon and acronyms. Your internal jargon or acronyms might seem like second nature to you at this point, but they probably sound like alphabet soup to an outsider. A short list or glossary can be helpful so that time isn’t wasted trying to decipher “the BPO merger” or the “quarterly up-queue.” And be especially careful with polysemous words like in the pharmaceutical example above.
Consider your space. If you will be working with someone who will need to speak to your employees or visitors, let them know what the physical space looks like. Will you be sitting, standing, or touring a facility? How many people need to hear the external contractor? Will you play a video or will participants join via Skype or speakerphone? Knowing this information will allow the external expert to better prepare for the situation or even suggest things you haven’t thought about. If working with foreign clients, for example, simultaneous interpreting equipment might be needed.
Make the most of their time. Whether it’s an hourly rate or a monthly quota of deliverables, you are paying for the contractor’s time. Think of ways to shorten meetings, including clear agenda items and committee work that does not involve the contractor. The more focused you are while the external consultant is on the clock, the better.
Send files ahead of time. Always send any documentation that will be discussed a few days in advance. Agendas, contracts, previous meeting minutes, presentation slides—anything that provides context and terminology will greatly enhance communication and save time during the actual meeting or event.
This all might seem daunting, but following these guidelines is the best way to ensure you are fully prepared to work with an outside communication expert. Share your goals, purpose, audience, and insider knowledge in advance and you will save time and money in the long run. Generally speaking, if you follow the rule of “more is more,” then everyone will be on the same page and you will reap the rewards.
About the Author
Elena Langdon is a certified Portuguese-to-English translator and interpreter and an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.
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