Sunday, August 26, 2012

Organising a conference involves everything from booking the venue, arranging the audio visual elements, recording the event and engaging the chairperson, panellists and speakers. Usually, part of the post-conference service entails providing transcripts of the conference proceedings, including conference papers, breakout sessions, workshops and Q&As. However, not all conference organisers appreciate that booking a transcription service in advance is equally important.

As conferences usually result in a substantial length of recording, it's beneficial to contact the transcription company as early as possible before the event. This allows the transcriber to reserve space in their schedule in advance to ensure the quickest possible turnaround of the transcripts so that any post-conference deadlines can be met.

Conferences take a substantial amount of time to transcribe. It's a common misconception that one hour of recording can be transcribed in an hour. Far from it! We speak much faster than we can write or type; otherwise there would be no need for shorthand or stenographers. It takes one hour to transcribe 15 minutes of clearly recorded speech and, therefore, a minimum of four hours to transcribe a one hour recording. It can take longer depending on a number of factors, including the quality of recording, the clarity and speed of the participants' delivery, whether they speak in coherent sentences, if accents are a consideration, as well as the level of background noise and the amount of industry specific or technical terminology involved.

So if a conference lasts for a day, producing about six hours of recording, after deducting the time for lunch and any breaks, it will take a minimum of 24 hours to transcribe. Obviously, it will take any transcription company time to produce a quality transcript, even with a network of experienced transcribers. If the conference lasts for two or three days or even longer, you can appreciate just how long it could take. And this assumes a high quality recording with clear speakers and minimal background noise. Anything of less than superb quality may take even longer to transcribe.

If you wait until after the conference and start searching for a transcription service only when you have the recording, it may take quite a while to find a transcriber with enough space in their schedule. Most professional transcription companies have a long list of regular customers and to suddenly find a large block of free space available at short notice is unlikely. Most are not sitting around twiddling their thumbs! It can be very time consuming ringing round and a client may have to settle for an inferior service or wait longer for their transcripts. So book your transcription service in advance, in the same way as you would the venue or speakers. The transcription company can then reserve space in their schedule, line up the required number of experienced transcribers, acquaint themselves with the subject matter for the conference beforehand and be ready to process the recordings as soon as they arrive. This ensures a prompt and steady delivery of any transcripts post-conference.

So what factors do you need to consider when choosing a transcription company? Ensure that conference transcription is one of their core services. Transcribing conferences is a specialist discipline and requires a wide range of experience to ensure that the transcripts produced are accurate, meticulous and consistent. The company chosen should have years of experience in transcribing lectures, presentations, keynote speeches, breakout sessions, roundtable discussions, plenary sessions, workshops and Q&A sessions. Check out their website to see if they know their subject area and read their testimonials to judge the quality of their service. Find out if they offer a discounted conference transcription service for charities and universities.

It is important to ascertain that the transcription company can handle the selected recording format. Hopefully, most companies will be recording in digital format as this produces superior sound quality. Digital files mean that recordings can be uploaded to the transcriber quickly, rather than waiting for tapes to be sent by post. Digital also allows more than one transcriber to work on the recordings - unlike physical media such as tapes which have to be copied to digital before they can be split between transcribers, all of which introduces extra delay.

Providing the transcriber with an agenda, a list of speakers and delegates, as well as any presentations or handouts supplied by the speakers is helpful, together with any supporting material on the conference. Every conference covers a specialised area with its own terminology and keywords, such as brand names, companies, scientific terms and individuals, which may only be obvious to anyone inside the industry or organisation. A good transcriptionist will be able to search for most of the unusual words by using Google, but time will be saved if you've already provided the relevant material.

So what else do you need to consider? You need to decide what type of transcript would be suitable. There are generally three transcript styles available: Complete Verbatim, Intelligent Verbatim and Edited Transcript.

The most popular choice for conferences is Intelligent Verbatim. This ensures a full, accurate transcript, but omits all the 'ums', 'ahs', repetitions and verbal habits which people develop, such as excessive use of 'you know' and 'kind of'. These meaningless fillers add nothing to the context of the transcript and take longer to transcribe. It makes sense to cut all that out, but leave the rest exactly as spoken, to retain the overall style of the person speaking. This also makes for a much easier transcript to read, and significantly cuts down on transcription time and costs.

Complete Verbatim is a transcript of absolutely everything said, including every repetition, verbal quirk or instances where people drift off in mid comment with no logical end to a sentence. It endeavours to capture the conversational 'style' of the person, plus any dialect patterns and emotions where applicable. This obviously increases the transcription time and can also make for a very tedious 'read'! Most of us don't talk in completely coherent sentences, so this tends to be the least popular of the transcript style options, particularly for conference proceedings.

A good halfway house is an Edited Transcript which is very useful, particularly for breakout sessions and Q&A sessions, where the content is critical but the verbal quirks of the speakers don't need to be included. Any incorrect grammar, non-standard English or mistakes are corrected and sentences are tidied up where it's sensible to do so.

Part of the project management service which should be provided as standard by transcription companies is that all conference recordings are listened to at least twice, so that the transcript is checked and proofread against the original audio. Ideally, that 'second listen' should be by someone other than the original transcriber. This is particularly important with a lengthy recording such as a conference, where many transcribers could be contributing. This ensures that all typos are picked up, as well as clarifying any missing or unclear words. These 'inaudibles' may have come about simply because that particular transcriber's recording contained an unclear name or a speaker who muttered, whereas in a different speech, that same name may have been clearly heard by another transcriber. With a supervising 'ear' and brain both re-listening and proofreading every transcript, these corrections and gaps can be filled in. Not all transcription companies offer this service. So check all claims of re-listening and proofreading carefully to ensure that this is not just the responsibility of the freelance transcriber, while any project manager doesn't read any of the transcripts or listen to the audio at all.


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