In-person, virtual and hybrid: the IUCN Congress in Marseille

Initially planned for June 2020 and then postponed to January 2021, the IUCN Congress was finally held from 3 to 10 September 2021 in Marseille, masterfully organised by Live! by GL Events in a hybrid format. Despite the public health situation, the Congress successfully brought together 6,000 people on-site and a further 3,500 on-line, representing around 160 countries.

Hybrid session of the IUCN Assembly

For Calliope, which had organised the interpretation for the three previous World Conservation Congresses, including the green congress in Hawaii in 2016, the switch to a hybrid format presented an additional challenge. To cover the Summits on 3 September, then the dozens of Forum sessions from 4 to 7 September, and finally the General Assembly from 8 to 10 September, as well as numerous press conferences in parallel, a team of 50 interpreters was required.

As a result of the health restrictions, the Chief Interpreter, Danielle Grée, ensured that all the interpreters had a health pass and worked in individual booths at all times. Furthermore, an impressive hub of 24 booths equipped with traditional consoles was created especially for the fully virtual or hybrid meetings. In total, the Congress required more than 60 double booths.

A number of lessons have been learnt from this collective tour de force, complementing our advice in a previous post on how to turn a face-to-face conference with interpretation into a virtual or, as in this case, hybrid event.

Interpreting hub for hybrid or virtual sessions

Make it clear in advance which languages can be used

  • Tell all your speakers and participants, including those joining the event on-line or who have pre-registered, that they can speak and listen in different languages
  • Give interpreting receivers to all the speakers on the podium
  • Explain to speakers who are not on-site how to listen to the interpretation.

Send the speeches, presentations and other relevant documents to the interpreters

  • For each session, send an up-to-date agenda to the interpreters and inform them of any changes which could affect how they divide up the work
  • Send them a link to any pre-recorded videos or clips, together with the script, if there is one
  • Give them access to the “Speakers’ Preview” or any other repository where the presentations are stored.

Ensure that communication flows smoothly between all the parties involved in the event

  • Between the production team and the interpretation technicians
  • Between the technician in each room and the interpreters’ team leader
  • Between the moderator of each session (whether on-site or virtual) and the interpreters’ team leader.

Take account of technical constraints

  • Virtual meetings are tiring, the participants will have a limited attention span. Schedule short sessions of a maximum of 2 hours and plan plenty of breaks. Bear in mind also that more interpreters will be needed if there are several sessions in the same day.
  • If you are creating a hub with several booths be sure to choose a quiet location. The microphones pick up all ambient noises, disturbing listeners.
  • If presentations are shown during virtual sessions, don’t forget to embed the image of the speaker next to their slides.

To optimise sound quality, ask remote speakers

  • To connect with an Ethernet cable, which is more stable than WiFi
  • To use an external microphone rather than their computer’s inbuilt microphone, the quality of which is always mediocre (use a headset with inbuilt microphone or a unidirectional desktop microphone)
  • To keep their webcam on when they are speaking (seeing them helps listeners to understand their message).

Recommendations from the EPO © on the type of microphone to use for remote interpretation


There is no denying that hybrid multilingual conferences are complicated. Everyone knows how to organise a face-to-face symposium, or a purely virtual meeting, on Zoom for example. Meetings in a hybrid format require more preparation time, more technical expertise, more flexibility and more adjustments. Don’t underestimate the challenge. At Calliope we can provide advice and support. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

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