Earlier this month I flew part-way around the world from San Francisco to Rome to give a keynote address at the second-ever National Geographic Science Festival (or rather Festival Scienze). My talk, titled “Unseen Oceans,” focused on some of the underwater imaging systems I’ve developed that help us see the ocean in ways we haven’t before: e.g., the ultra-high speed camera we used on Mission 31 and the fish-tracking camera system I helped develop for NOAA. I also talked about how my ballet training and appreciation of the arts give me a unique perspective on science and engineering. My goal when speaking to the student audience was to show how all sorts of people can get into this career (ballerinas! midwesterners!) and help solve problems facing our ocean and planet.
With those modified, I thought it’d be fairly smooth sailing. But then there was an aspect with consequences I didn’t anticipate. It was my first time giving a talk where the majority of the audience was listening via live translation in headphones. I’ve been fortunate to listen to talks presented like like this at CERN, the United Nations, and the International Maritime Organization, and I always think it’s cool. As a speaker though, I like to feed off the audience’s energy (yeah like a vampire), and ideally look at faces so I can adapt to confusion, boredom, or whatnot. I enjoy it when the talk feels like a dialogue with the audience. With a mostly foreign audience listening via translation, this aspect was very different. A NatGeo freelancer reminded me that jokes and many phrases simply don’t translate. At every pause I heard loudly the audio translations. For the last 2/3 of the talk I spoke at the same pace but with more dedicated pause between sentences so translation could match. My friend Katya, who has translated between Russian and English, is familiar with this and wisely recommended meeting with the translators beforehand, so we could run through the talk and they’d know what words might be awkward. Pro tip! Now I know!
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<- Playing with virtual reality seal at Joel Sartore's Photo Ark exhibit. And that's Sylvia Earle to my left! It was so fun! And aligned with the the vision that my team and I presented two years ago for Future of SeaWorld at the International Business Ethics Competition (blog post here).