I recently missed the start of a live online talk I’d agreed to give.

It was due to a misunderstanding about the start time, probably arising from me and the organiser being in different time zones. We didn’t use a calendar invitation (always use one), I just received a Zoom link and the schedule for the multi-speaker event, and I failed to notice that the slot allocated to me was not the one I’d proposed in our email correspondence. We were two hours out of sync.

Consequently, at 9:00 on a Monday morning when I was comfortably lining up the day’s tasks at my desk, dressed in my gym gear for the virtual physiotherapy session I was due to have at 9:30, an email popped up in my inbox asking if I had trouble logging into the Zoom meeting. Even then, the penny didn’t drop. I logged in to the event, saw the audience nicely in attendance, and thought “yes, sure I can log in, I’m ready for when my time comes”. As it turns out, it had already come.

Fast forward past the eureka moment, a quick dash back to the event programme and a short period of frantic scrambling, and my potential no-show turned into a 60-min slide deck being presented at break-neck speed in 45 minutes. I had to skip some content and present off camera which I consider a real faux pas for online speaking. Furthermore, my phone rang in the middle of the talk with the physiotherapist chasing me for the missed appointment and the overloaded washing machine kept drumming in the next room with an ear-shattering spin cycle (always do the laundry outside of online meetings).

Not my proudest moment. I don’t take kindly to professionals winging public speaking, even when we are essentially making a voluntary goodwill contribution. You prepare, out of respect for the audience for whom you want to provide value, but also because your reputation matters.

Speaking in a professional peer context is quite an art form. I was reminded of this last week at the virtual GALA Connected 2021 event. At the language industry events, our knowledge sharing is always member-generated, and at times I wonder what motivates someone to spend hours to prepare a free online webinar, publish an article on an association platform, give a talk at a special interest group or do an interview with a podcast host, knowing that the audience may consist of knowledgeable peers and interested business partners but also of competitors? Perhaps it’s about staking a claim. Spreading ideas. Making a difference. Eradicating problems. Benchmarking self.

With virtual meeting opportunities multiplying in the past two years, we’ve been challenged to re-evaluate and rethink our major language industry events. Many old-timers seem more attracted to intimate, organic and egalitarian ways of sharing views (just look at Clubhouse). It’s easy to glance at a speaker event programme and think “what’s new, I’ve heard it all before”. And it’s true, not every presentation is original.

However, it was evident from the talks at GALA Connected 2021 that the language services sector today covers so many evolving services, fast-moving technologies, diverse talent pools, interested stakeholders and hugely different client industries, that we all feel there are corners of our own industry we don’t know enough about.

Originality may be a bit overrated. Not everyone is original in business either. You don’t need a unique business idea to run a successful language services business. In fact, knowing that clients have paid for a similar service before is reassuring. It means that there is demand for your offering and if clients are buying it from others, they may buy it from you too. Most language service companies run their operations on the principle of giving their clients what they want and competing on being either cheap, fast or good at it.

But we must differentiate on other kind of value too. It’s essential for enabling localisation buyers to make informed choices. The way to differentiate here is to explain how we create value added, over and above the baseline value the client can get from any LSP. That value added needs to match at least one of the localisation buyers’ pain points, whether it’s to give them everything they need as a one-stop vendor, be a specialist partner who knows their vertical and becomes part of their community, be a regional expert who helps them enter a specific market, or to transform the efficiency of their localisation operation with technology.

Here in the UK, the Association of Translation Companies is organising a ‘Stand Out – Be Outstanding’ competition that celebrates the language service companies that specialise – and who, as specialists, provide services to their industry partners. We at Sandberg are proud sponsors of the competition, having helped LSPs around the globe for 25 years with localisation into the Nordic languages and English. It was befitting that our Operations Manager Susan Hoare was on the judging panel, since adding outstanding value is something her own teams have been praised for. Their production excellence has repeatedly earned them high client feedback scores like ‘added value provided by this team: 5/5’.

Whether in service provision or public speaking, value added is closely linked with authenticity. It’s not enough to talk the talk – the talk must be substantiated with stellar evidence. Speaking of which, GALA Connected 2021 showcased dozens of language industry professionals who had clearly distilled months and years of personal experience into their inspiring bite-size presentations. Here are a couple of quotes from what they said that I find both insightful and actionable:

“Introverts can be immensely drained by being constantly in video calls. They are not used to looking at their own reflection all the time, it makes them feel they are always on stage.”

“Language service buyers want agility, accessibility, engagement, quality – in this order.

Language service providers offer quality, process, price, agility – in this order.”

“A flat discount for MTPE does not work. And the parameters based on edit distance are even worse, because they introduce unpredictability and still don’t correlate with the time spent by the post-editor.”

“Data services are the shining new thing that can transform our lives and give us purpose for the next ten years. Maybe.”

I for one treasure the curated content that language industry associations and organisations make available to us. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember the days when all the knowledge sharing we had was anecdotal. I continue to enjoy that kind of confidential sharing within my personal networks, but I’ll also persist in contributing to and engaging with the industry’s flagship events.

Conferences, Director’s Cut, Inspiration, Leadership