Even when using the conference venue’s in-house recording facilities, there are still factors you need to consider which will maximise the chances of a clear recording and which it would be prudent to discuss with the company you use. Their answers to these questions will also enable you to judge if the recording company knows its stuff!
1. Seek professional help when recording conferences or seminars. With multiple speakers in large rooms or individual speeches from a podium, it’s vital to seek professional help to ensure that everything is clearly recorded. A venue specialising in hosting conferences will often have its own in-house recording system and be able to advise you on the best recording option, or they can usually recommend an audio visual company whom they regularly use. Don’t skimp on this essential step – it will be a false economy.
2. Use recording equipment that is fit for purpose. Digital recorders produce an excellent sound quality which will cut down on transcription time, minimise the number of inaudibles and reduce costs. Not all conference venues have made the switch to digital, so you may not have complete freedom of choice, but at least most will be using superior quality analogue recorders with multiple microphones and should be able to produce a broadcast quality recording. The ideal solution is to connect noise canceling lectern microphones or lapel mics to professional recording equipment via a direct feed. Roving microphones will also be needed to capture any audience participation.
3. Choose an uncompressed digital setting – most digital recorders offer recording settings ranging from SHQ (stereo high quality) down to LP (long play). SHQ produces the largest file size but the best quality. HQ is a good compromise but LP produces the poorest quality. Don’t compromise on quality just to save memory space. Use the highest uncompressed quality level the recorder offers – issues over file size and length of time to transmit the digital files are trivial compared to the production of a good quality recording.
4. Decide on a suitable digital audio level and file type – 8,000kHz is only really suitable for dictation. 44,100kHz is the highest end of the range and produces exceptional recordings but there is a trade off in larger file sizes. Ensure the digital file type chosen is compatible with transcription software. File types such as WAV, MP3, WMA and DSS tend to be the most popular.
5. Test the equipment – this may not be an issue if you’re using a specialist venue as they will generally have a rehearsal and test equipment before the conference. If you listen to any test recording they make, try to do so through earphones. This is how a transcriber will hear the recording.
6. Ensure that all speakers and panel members have individual microphones, whether that be a lectern mic or an individual lapel or tie-clip. While a speaker is giving their presentation, ensure all the other panel members’ microphones are turned off, or you’ll capture any off the cuff comments! Lapel microphones pick up voices very clearly, but can also pick up rustling clothing so brief the speakers accordingly. Another option is to use a noise canceling microphone which will cut down on a certain amount of background ambient noise. For any conference breakout sessions or forum discussion formats, one microphone for every 2 people is recommended. Don’t try and cope with one microphone in the middle of a large table and push it towards each person as they speak. It will only record scraping noises! For multiple microphones, a mixer will be needed to connect all the microphones to the recorder.
7. Minimise background noise – whether it be chatter from the audience or equipment interference, if it’s loud enough, it’ll drown out the speakers’ voices. Ensure that cups on the top table are not placed too near microphones. Close windows – noise from traffic, roadworks and planes will all impact on your recording. Unless you use a noise canceling microphone, most mics are not as selective as the human ear and can’t filter out extraneous noise in the same way. They record everything they hear and the loudest noise will dominate.
8. If you are not the conference organiser but still need to record the conference you’re attending, consider contacting the conference organisers for a transcript afterward. If time doesn’t allow for that option, the only way you’ll have a chance of recording anything is to put a microphone on or near the podium. Even then, there will be issues over feedback from the sound system and distance from the speakers, even if using digital equipment. Do not use a portable recorder – balancing a Dictaphone or standard tape recorder on your knee while sitting in the audience won’t pick up the speeches from the conference platform. All that will be recorded is the noise nearest the recorder. You may be able to hear a speaker clearly from the middle of an audience, but the recorder will pick up every other background noise, whether that’s you scribbling notes, a neighbour coughing, or the person three rows back having a sneezing fit. Needless to say, this won’t produce a recording that’s possible to transcribe.
9. Do not use mini tapes or micro-cassettes for conferences. A Dictaphone is only suitable for recording dictation not distant voices. Recording in a large room with background noise, no external microphone and feedback from other electronic systems is a waste of time. The equipment is being asked to record in an environment for which it was never designed.
10. Turn off the time-stamp bleep. Some recorders come with an option to insert a bleep at intervals. Please turn this off. Each time the recorder inserts a bleep, it will drown out any voices and will result in an incomplete transcript. Transcribers are experienced in inserting time stamps on the transcript where required without any electronic help.
We deal with tips for the successful organisation and facilitation of conferences in another article – Conferences: Ten Guidelines for Successful Facilitation.