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The Perfect Storm was a biographical disaster drama film from 2000, based on real events and Sebastian Junger’s 1997 non-fiction book of the same name.

In it, Captain Billy Tyne and his crew, on a fishing expedition aboard the Andrea Gail, get caught in an unusually destructive storm, hence the name of the movie. Based on actual events, the movie recounts a conflict between man and nature, although the real-life Andrea Gail and the bodies of the crew were never recovered – all that was found were some fuel drums, an empty life raft and some driftwood as remaining wreckage, washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia. Not exactly a happy ending. The skipper goes down with his ship, but the beauty of this story lies in the changing relationship between the crew members, each with their own individual personality, all hardened by the life at sea but now reunited by a common purpose to conquer the storm and to survive against all odds. All hands on deck was the only way out.

In 2016, I wrote a book on the transformation of onsite to online interpreting and one of the chapters was entitled ‘A Perfect Storm’. Although at the time, I was aware that the impending transformation would not be easy, nobody ever expected C-19 would become the greatest accelerator of remote simultaneous interpreting. From a human perspective, there are many similarities with the C-19 storm we are going through today.  Starting March 2020, there was an avalanche of onsite meeting cancellations. It was total disaster – the brute force of nature that left everyone humbled, hoping for fast redemption.

The first shock wave took us all by surprise, and most of us were happy that we survived. We were grateful, applauded the heroes who took care of us and rediscovered the importance of sticking together in times of need without looking down on others. After all, we were all in the same boat, confronted with the same exceptionally violent storm. After a short lull in apparently calmer waters, we were again confronted with a second wave that suddenly rose ahead of us. This proved that the first wave was not an isolated event and would permanently change the way we organise and handle meetings with technological readiness, mental resilience, and flexibility.

However, the second wave was no surprise, and the WHO continues to caution us that even with vaccination and improved medication, the worst of the pandemic is far from over. It is becoming evident that instead of large onsite meetings, the market will now be dominated by hybrid meetings, connected rooms, and working from hubs at home or at work with the online support of remote interpreting platforms.

Unlike the unfortunate fate of the Andrea Gail, I would like to send a positive message of hope in a bottle washing up on the shores in 2021. What the perfect storm has helped reinforce is the invaluable importance of the timeless values of trust, cooperation and goodwill to get us back on board doing what we love most in our mission of breaking language barriers – and that is to let our voices be heard again – loud and clear.

With this New Year’s message of hope, I also wish to express my gratitude to all interpreters in these dizzyingly transformational times, as well as to our technology partners who threw us a lifeline in times of need. They will make a world of difference to get us all back on board and navigate us successfully through this perfect storm.

Eric Bauwelinck – Ceo Mastervoice

Temse, 31 December 2020