When you want to digitally record an interview, meeting, etc., you need to consider both quality of the recording and the size of the resultant file. There is no point having a very small file size (say less than 1MB) if the recording quality is so poor you can't make out what is being said. However, if you go to the other extreme and have the highest quality, then the resultant file size will be HUGE.
We were recently sent three files, recorded by two different people. The first person had obviously been very concerned about file size. So, he had used such a low quality setting that the recording was distorted. On the hand, the other two recordings were crystal clear, but then the file size weighed in at over 1GB each! And all three interviews were approximately the same length.
Ideal settings for AUDIO recordings
Before you start the recording device, make sure you have checked the settings. If you can choose which file format the recording will be saved in, select "MP3". As this is the most common file format, it will be very unusual if the equipment doesn't support it.
Once you have selected MP3, if it allows you to change the "Bitrate" then go for 160Kbps or anything that is around this number. This will give you a recording quality comparable with a CD. So, the recording should be clear, without the huge file size.
If you have an unusual device that only has its own proprietary file formats, you will need to check what the instructions say.
Try and stay away from the "WAV" format, unless you have no other choice. This is a high-end recording format, which doesn't compress the file at all. Yes, you will get the best recording quality but the resultant file size will probably be in gigabytes - especially if it is a long interview or meeting.
What about VIDEO recordings?
Videos are a little more complex. Assuming you are not going to need the recording to be HD quality with Dolby 5.1 sound etc., but you just want a decent quality picture and sound, but not too large a file size, then we would suggest using the following:
MP4 format with 1024 x 576 pixels output, select a bitrate of 1500 kbps which will mean the file size is 11MB per minute.
If the above seems complex, then check the instructions of the recording device, which should give a good guide on different settings depending on what you want to record.
Although you need to hold a meeting with one, or more, people, sometimes getting together in the same location simply isn't possible, and you have to resort to the telephone (or Skype).
You may be doing research and need to interview individuals, or you want to hold a conference call with multiple participants. So, you want to make you get the opinions and views of everyone and decide to make an audio recording of the call. However, there is more to it than just sticking your phone on hands-free and placing the recording device next to it.
(And just to cover the legality of recording a telephone conversation, you don't have to inform the other parties you are recording the call if the recording it purely for your own use, and no one else will hear it. However, it is only polite and always good practice to inform everyone.)
Here are my top five tips for recording telephone meetings or conference calls to ensure you get the best results possible.
1/ Going hands-free makes things "echoy"
While the simplest method for recording a call is to put the phone on hands-free and placing the microphone next to it, if the other participants are also on hands-free, this will make them very echoy, meaning they are much harder to understand. Ideally, it would be best if you could request the others don't go to hands-free, but this may not be possible, or may seem impolite.
2/ Keep still and don't make a noise
If you are recording the call, you need to make sure you sit as still as possible. It is tempting to do other things, or fiddle with an item while the other person is talking, but if that is picked up on the recording, it will lead to disappointment that vital and important information was missed. We have had recordings where the person has been making notes on their laptop while the discussion has been taking place and, unfortunately, the only sound we could hear for most of the one hour recording was the researcher tapping away at their keyboard (so, it's a good idea, to not use the laptop or PC for recording the conversation, unless you are not going to be using it for anything else at the time).
I know with a long interview or meeting, you may want to have something to eat or drink, but again, the packaging or cup and saucer, etc., can make a lot of noise, so try to either hold off until after the meeting, or have the items placed some distance from the microphone. When you listen to the recording you want to hear what the other person said, not the scrunching of the packet of biscuits you were eating from, or the stirring of your tea.
3/ Find a quiet environment
Pretty obvious, but we have still transcribed telephone interviews where the person doing the recording was in a noisy environment, or was sat next to an open window which looked onto a busy main road, meaning the noise of the traffic and roadworks were picked up on the recording and making the other participants hard to hear.
Try and find a quiet room and either close the windows, or sit as far from them as possible. It may also be a good idea if you have been able to find an empty room to use, that you put a note on the outside of the door saying you are recording a telephone conversation. This should stop people just wondering in and chatting without realising (again, something we have had to deal with on many occasions).
4/ Don't interrupt or speak over the other participants
Although we never intend to do it, it is all to easy to suddenly jump in with a comment or point about what someone is saying, while they are still speaking. Of course, with recording a telephone conversation, your voice is going to be louder, drowning out what is said by others.
Let the person finish what they are saying, and give them an extra second or two, just in case they are only pausing before carrying on.
5/ Make sure notification sounds are switched off on your PC, laptop and mobile phone
This is especially important if you doing a Skype call and are using the PC/laptop/phone for recording the conversation. There are lots of audio alerts that can be set up to remind you of different events: when you receive a new email, if someone sends you a message on social media, reminders from your electronic calendar, someone texts you, etc. While the occasional beep isn't much of a problem, if you are someone who gets a lot of these, then you may find not only does it affect the recording of the conversation, but, if heard by the other participants, it puts them off what they are saying and interrupts their flow, as they wonder if there is a problem.
So, where possible, switch your phone to silent, and turn off all other notifications on your PC or laptop. It will save you having to keep explaining every couple of minutes.
Following the above tips will help to ensure that when you record a telephone conversation, what is said by the participants is recorded, and not drowned out by noises that would have avoided easily with a little forethought.
When VR will work and when it won't...
It sounds so simple: get some voice recognition (or, more accurately, voice-to-text) software, get it set up, then play your audio recordings of dictation, interviews, meetings, focus groups, seminars, etc., into the microphone and let the computer do all the hard work of the actual transcription...
Ah, if only life were that simple.
Sadly, computers aren't at the stage where they can do all the typing for you. Yes, there are instances where they can be a big help, but we are still a long way off before you can let the computer do all the hard work.
Dictation is probably the one area where using voice recognition software will save you a lot of time, but you still have to dictate direct into the computer, or if recording the dictation in advance, make sure you do all the punctuation, layout commands etc.
If you have a modern smart phone, with either Android or Apple operating systems, then you may already have played around with voice recognition with their respective virtual assistants ("Ok Google" for Android and "Siri" for Apple), however, you may not have yet tried dictating using your phone. Now, when I send texts or post messages to social media, most of the time I have dictated what I want to say instead of tapping away at a virtual keyboard. And this same technology can be used for dictation of letters, reports, etc.
Admittedly, it takes some getting used to if you have never done dictation before (and not everyone is comfortable with it), remembering to say "comma", "full stop" (or "period"), "new paragraph", and so on, takes time. Admittedly, these could be inserted after you have dictated the text, but that only works for relatively short pieces. If you had a 10-page report, that you had to go back through and put in all the punctuation, layout etc., then it will become time-consuming and may have been quicker to type it manually in the first place.
You also have to understand that the software won't be 100% accurate, and does take some training. Although you can speak at pretty much your normal speed, it does help to say the words clearly. And it may still get punctuation wrong, e.g. you want a comma inserted and instead the software puts the word "comma" in. But, aside from these problems, it can save a lot of time.
However, where voice recognition doesn't work is when it comes to recordings of interviews, meetings, focus groups, etc. Even the producer of the top-selling voice recognition software, Dragon Naturally Speaking, admit their software isn't designed for multiple participant recordings.
Voice recognition software isn't trained to recognise more than one voice for dictation and, even if it could, the resulting document would be very hard to read. There'd be no punctuation or formatting either, so a simple piece like:
John: Hello, Jane, how are you? I hear you won a big contract yesterday. Well done!
Jane: Hi, John. I am very well thank you. Yes, I did. I was surprised the contract came in to be honest, but I had been working on it for months...
If you played that into voice recognition software and it could understand what was being said, it will come out as:
Hello Jane how are you I hear you won a big contract yesterday well done hi John I am very well thank you yes I did I was surprised the contract came in to be honest but I had been working on it for months...
Again, this isn't so much of a problem with the above, but imagine if that interview had gone on for an hour. You'd have lots of pages made up of one long sentence, which would then need extensive work to get the formatting and punctuation correct. Now think how much worse it would be if it was a five-person focus group?
So, if you have recordings of interviews, focus groups, etc., you are still going to have to transcribe them manually for now. Or, better still, save your time (and tired fingers), and hire someone else to do the transcription work for you.
For some interviews or meetings, making notes (or taking Minutes) is fine, however, there are certain times when having an audio recording would be far more beneficial. It ensures accuracy and, should the need arise, it can be used to ascertain exactly who said what.
The main types of interviews to consider recording are:
If you, or someone else, is making handwritten notes of what is said and by whom, there is the chance information can be missed, especially if there are several participants or the interview becomes heated. If the note-taker is also involved in the meeting, then the task becomes even harder.
It is far better to have an audio recording of the interview ensuring that every word that is spoken (and by whom) is picked up. This way all participants are involved fully and can forget about needing to capture any salient points. If the plan is to have a typed version, then the recording also ensures the resulting document will be accurate.
Certain meetings, like disciplinary or grievance interviews can be highly emotional and people do forget what they have said. At a later date, if there is a disagreement over whether a person said something or not, with handwritten notes there's no proof as to accuracy. If a recording is made, it can be played back to check.
In one follow-up meeting we transcribed, the subject of the disciplinary action complained that the transcript of the previous meeting hadn't recorded accurately what they had said. They were determined to prove the process was biased and even the typist of the transcript was against them. The interviewer was able to access the audio recording of the previous meeting and the relevant sections were played back to the person. The interviewer also went on to explain the transcripts were typed up by an outside agency, not connected with the company. precisely to ensure there was no bias.
Focus group and brain-storming sessions should also be recorded. You have a large number of participants who will, at times, interrupt and speak over each other. While, admittedly, listening to the recording and trying to hear all that was said in these situations would be hard, attempting to take handwritten notes at the time of the meeting would be almost impossible.
So, making an audio recording ensures you have the best chance of capturing all the ideas that come out of the brain-storming or focus group.
Want to download the PDF of this?
If you want to keep this article for future reference, or to pass on to colleagues who may be interested, why not download the PDF? It even fits on one side of an A4 page, so why not pin it to a noticeboard where others can see it?
Recording an interview, meeting, focus group or brain-storming session (from this point forward I will use "meeting" to represent all of these) is a great way to ensure you have an accurate record of everything that was said by the participants. However, you need to do more that just stick the microphone on the table. A little forethought will make the difference between being able to hear every word or people were too quiet or drowned out by background noise, especially if you're planning to do a transcript of the recording.