Conferences - Ten Guidelines for Successful Facilitation
Conducting conferences successfully can make the difference between an accurate transcript which allows the production of complete conference proceedings or one riddled with 'inaudibles'. These guidelines offer advice on facilitating a conference and ensuring a clear recording.
1. Minimise the effect of any noisy environment - if chatter from the audience, panel members or equipment interference from air conditioning or laptops is loud enough, it'll be captured on the recording. Nearing lunchtime, noise from the neighbouring room as the venue staff set up lunch may also be intrusive. Check with the conference venue beforehand that they'll take measures to minimise this. Try not to leave windows open - however hot the day may be, windows need to be closed. Noise from traffic, roadworks and planes will all impact on the recording. Most microphones are not as selective as the human ear and can't filter out extraneous noise in the same way we can.
2. Be firm in 'controlling' the participants, including questions from the audience. You may need to brief any inexperienced speakers that they should wait for the audience hubbub to die down before beginning their presentations. Even with lectern or lapel microphones, the background noise can often be more intrusive on recordings than we realise at the time. Voices can easily be swamped by extraneous noise, especially when speakers are softly spoken. Although it may be difficult to interrupt, if delegates (or panel members) begin to go off at a tangent, you may have to steer them back on course.
3. A restless audience should give you a clue as to whether a speaker is audible or not. On some recordings we've heard, the keynote speaker was speaking barely above a whisper and the facilitator was afraid to interrupt as they were a VIP. Invariably, people don't realise they're speaking softly - we rarely 'hear' our own voices. If a guest speaker regards taking part in a conference as important enough to set aside time, the chances are they will want their contribution heard. If you or the audience can't hear what they're saying, the chances are that the transcriber can't either on the finished recording.
4. Ask delegates to introduce themselves - during the Q&A sessions, ask the delegates to introduce themselves with their name and company. If you provide the transcriber with a delegate list, it'll then be possible to accurately ascribe any questions to a speaker. Remember that transcribers can't identify voices they've never heard before.
5. Do ensure that any questions or comments from the audience can be heard. Some delegates start speaking before the roving microphone arrives. If a speaker has a quiet voice, that may be difficult to hear and won't be picked up by the recording equipment, however sophisticated it might be.
6. Ensure that all speakers and delegates have turned off mobile phones. This may be difficult to enforce with a large audience but if you can at least ask the speakers to do so, that will help enormously. Text messages or voice mails emit a radio frequency which is inaudible to the human ear but the recording equipment will pick up this buzzing noise. Turning mobile phones to 'silent' or 'vibrate' mode is not enough - they'll still buzz!
7. Brief the transcriber on exactly what needs to be transcribed, whether you need a complete verbatim transcript or if an edited version will suffice. Your transcriber will be able to clarify what transcript options are commonly used for conferences. Provide the transcriber with an agenda, a list of speakers and delegates, as well as any presentations or handouts supplied by the speakers. It's also useful to provide any supporting material on the conference, as this will help to establish 'key words' that may not be in common usage but are particularly relevant to the conference topic.
8. Assist with clarification - if any speaker or delegate shows the audience photographs or documents, (anything that isn't on a Powerpoint presentation and, therefore, unlikely to be available for reference later on), it would be a good idea to say what 'IT' is for the benefit of the recording, or make a note of it. You may remember what 'it' is at the time but will you later on when it comes to analysing the transcript?
9. Consider the top table 'environment'. These tips may sound obvious but there are certain things to consider about the recording environment which can be forgotten during the atmosphere of conference itself. As well as common sense things such as preventing the microphones from being knocked, there are other issues which can interfere with the clarity of a recording. Try not to allow crockery near the microphones. It's tempting to have tea or coffee on the top table or to allow panel members to bring cups back after any coffee breaks. If these are too near the microphones, the 'clattering' may drown out any voices. Similarly, don't shuffle papers or write near any mics if it can be avoided. As this may be the source of the nearest noise, that's what the microphone will pick up.
10. Encourage panel members not to speak over each other. In an animated discussion, particularly with a large panel of speakers, there can be a tendency for several people to speak at once. It may be useful to point out that, if they do this, then both their contributions will be lost. And if they persist in the heat of debate, you may have to diplomatically ask each speaker to repeat themselves for the benefit of the recording. Such a gentle reminder is often all that's needed!
We address more technical recording issues relating to conferences in another article.
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