I recently had the unusual experience, for me, of participating in a meeting which was recorded and for which I then produced a transcript. My initial reaction was that actually my voice sounds a lot better to other people than it does to me! The meeting, however, could have been a master class in how NOT to conduct your meetings if you want a good quality transcription from them.
So, what went wrong? There were twenty people in the room, so it was never going to be easy but I would usually recommend having as many microphones placed around the room as possible to pick up everyone’s voices or at least have your recording equipment placed centrally. What I would never suggest would be recording that many people on a handheld voice recorder with one microphone at one end of the room, but that’s exactly what happened and, to give the manufacturers, Olympus, their due, it actually did a very good job of clearly recording voices both close by and from the other side of the room.
Normally if a meeting is being recorded it’s a good idea for the person conducting the meeting to ask each person present to introduce themselves. This gives the transcriptionist a chance to match voices and names in order to attribute what is being said to a particular person. However differentiating between twenty people, even if they had been introduced on the tape, is a Herculean task at the best of times. Luckily at this particular meeting it was only necessary to identify the two main participants by name and, as I had been present and as they both had distinctive voices, this was fairly easy to do.
One point which may seem obvious but is often hard to remember in practice is that it’s much easier to hear what is being said when only one person speaks at a time, however, this rarely happens in normal conversation. Step back and observe a conversation between two people – they will interrupt each other or speak over each other to get their point heard. An experienced interviewer can often compensate for this with practice and allow their subject to speak; in meetings, having a competent chairperson goes a long way towards keeping order and ensuring only one person speaks at a time. In this particular meeting there were a lot of people all trying to get their point across at the same time and it was not well chaired. At one point there were effectively two different conversations going on at once and the recorder only managed to clearly record the one nearest to it.
Despite all these setbacks I still managed to produce a reasonable transcript of the meeting. I didn’t feel it was my best piece of work, but it was the best that could be expected under the circumstances. However, it took significantly longer to transcribe than it would have done if the meeting had been well managed.
Have you experienced similar, either as a transcriptionist or through attending a poorly chaired meeting? Do you have any advice? I’d love to hear your comments.