Recording telephone meetings for transcription

Request permission before recording

It is illegal to
record any telephone conversation without the other person’s consent in some states and territories of Australia. Even where it is legal to do so, for ethical reasons you should ask permission from the other person before recording a telephone conversation or meeting with them. Therefore, if you intend to record a telephone conversation or meeting, I suggest you first either obtain the consent of the people involved, or seek legal advice to make sure you don’t break the law.

Equipment/software for recording a telephone meeting

Many people who want to record a meeting or conversation
are individuals or businesses that just need a one-off recording or occasional recordings. The best method of recording the occasional telephone conversation is by placing a digital audio recorder
next to the speaker-phone and pressing the ‘record’ button. I have outlined a few tips for recording by this method, below.

Alternatively, there are a few Apps available for recording telephone conversations. Some are more useful than others. If you’re going to record using an App, do a ‘test run’ first to make sure the recorded audio quality is good and, importantly, to make sure you are able to save, copy or import the audio files from the App onto a computer, otherwise the recording won’t be able to be transcribed.

Note: call centres or large businesses that regularly record telephone conversations sometimes use more efficient technology (for example, ‘cloud call recording’) to record those calls.

Before recording a telephone meeting

  • You will need a digital audio recorder. For information about the best types of recorders, refer to my previous article in this blogs: Recording clearly audible interviews and focus groups
  • You will need a phone that can be switched to ‘speaker phone’, and good telephone reception/line connection
  • Make sure there is no background noise at your end and that you are not going to do anything noisy (such as shuffle papers or type) close to the recorder
  • The voices coming through the telephone line will be quieter than yours so make sure the recorder is closer to the speaker-phone than it is to you
  • Place the digital audio recorder 10 to 30 centimetres from the
    speaker-phone with the recorder facing the phone
  • Do a ‘test run’ prior to the conversation you want to record to make sure the phone is turned to the correct volume, and the recorder is the correct distance from the speaker-phone. Ask a colleague to be your guinea-pig. Turn the speaker-phone volume to high, turn on the recorder, phone your colleague and get them to speak for a minute. Listen to the recording. If it’s too loud or ‘echoey’ move the recorder slightly further away from the phone and/or reduce the volume. If it’s too quiet, move the recorder a bit closer to the phone. Go through this test-run once or twice until you get the audibility as good as possible.

How to produce a clear recording of your telephone meeting

  • Assuming the other person has already given you their permission to record the conversation, start the recording and again ask the person’s permission to record. (This may be required from a legal point of view)
  • Check that the people at the other end of the line are speaking clearly and you can easily hear what they are saying. If their comments are not very clear, ask them if they can reduce the background noise at their end or speak more loudly. If any words are not clear, make sure you reiterate what they have said so that there’s an audible record of their comments. Ultimately, this will give you a more accurate transcript of the conversation
  • It is essential that you have good telephone reception/line connection. If audibility is poor due to static or background noise, I suggest you hang up and try to establish a better connection because if you can’t easily hear what they are saying, some comments in the recording will be inaudible which will result in more or less ‘gaps’ in the transcript
  • If there are only two people speaking – you and the person at the other end of the line – and the recording is clear, the transcriptionist will be able to identify the speaker of each comment. However, if there are more than two people speaking and you want each person to be identified with their comment in the transcript, you must make sure everyone identifies themselves throughout the conversation, especially if they have similar-sounding voices. If this isn’t possible, try to refer to them by name as often as you can during the recording to assist the transcriptionist to identify who is speaking.

 Recording a Skype meeting

Some people record Skype meetings by simply placing a digital audio recorder next to the Skype/telephone speaker and this method works quite well as long as they have a good Skype connection. I’ve been involved as transcriber in many recordings of Skype meetings where there have been delays caused by Skype not working for one of the participants, or loud static background noise on the Skype line that renders some participants’ comments inaudible. So if you are going to record your meeting via Skype, do yourself a favour: make sure you get a good connection.

Sally-Anne Watson Kane has over 20 years’ experience recording research
interviews and oral histories; transcribing audio recordings of
interviews, focus groups, meetings, seminars and other events; and
editing and proofreading transcripts.

Keep posted for future articles about how to produce clear audio recording and accurate transcripts.

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