4 Ways to Effectively Identify Speakers in Audio Recordings

In creative writing classes, they say that you need to give each fictional character their own voice so that the reader can tell who is speaking even when they’re not directly identified. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always work that way. In real life, people’s voices and patterns of speech are influenced by their upbringing, their place of birth, and many other cultural touchstones, and many successful businesspeople use the technique of mimicking or mirroring their colleagues to increase rapport, so when you record a room full of people talking business, there is no guarantee that their voices will be distinct enough for a stranger listening to tell them apart. That is why speaker identification is an essential part of any good transcript. You need to take steps to ensure that all the voices at your event are readily identifiable, because if your transcriptionist can’t tell them apart, your readers won’t be able to either.

How can you make this happen? There’s no one method that fits every budget and every type of event, but fortunately numerous options are available for every setup, and you just need to pick the one that works best for you. Following are four easy ways to improve the quality of your transcript by identifying the speakers who are being recorded at your event:


1. Coach the Speakers and Moderate Your Event

Speaker identification is key to producing a good transcript.

Click to enlarge image.

This is by far the cheapest way to ensure that your speakers are identified. You elect one person to moderate the conversation and to control the flow of it from speaker to speaker. This moderator introduces the topics for discussion, prompts each speaker (by name) to begin, and follows up on impromptu interjections.

For example:

“Thank you for joining us, ladies and gentlemen. I’m John Smith, and I will lead this discussion about the company’s environmental efforts. Richard Jones, would you like to start with a comment?”

“Thanks, John. Yes, I’d like to say that I think we’re doing a very good job with recycling.”

“Actually, I’d disagree.”

“Sounds like Debbie has another point of view. Would you like to expound on that?”

As you can see, it’s easy to recognize every speaker when they are being named, either before or after they speak, by the moderator. On the other hand, this does take away from the natural flow of the conversation, which may not be suitable for every event, and it is only effective if all of the participants are aware of the format of the meeting. Therefore, it’s important that the speakers are coached on this method beforehand.


2. Hire a Note-Taker to Attend the Event

This one is surprisingly simple. Employ a note-taker to sit in sight of all of the participants in the room. The note-taker will assign a number to each speaker, and then write down a string of numbers in the order in which they speak, along with their first few words. This is provided to the transcriptionist along with the audio recording, giving them a perfect reference to use for any speaker whose identity is unclear. Depending on the complexity of your audio recording, your A/V technician may be able to take these notes for you as part of the recording process. Unfortunately, if the number of speakers is too large (or unknown, if a large audience is invited to participate) or if the note-taker can’t see all the speakers, this method loses its effectiveness.


3. Include Speaker IDs in the Audio Itself

You’ll need to set this one up in advance with your A/V technician and many event planners swear by it. When creating a stereo recording of your event, use the left audio channel to record the proceedings and, in the right audio channel, set up a microphone for the technician, so that they can quietly ID each speaker as they begin. For example:

So we just started recycling all the batteries in our office, and that’s going well. One.
Where do you take them for recycling? Two.
There’s a little co-op place in Brooklyn that— One.
Oh, I know that place! Three.
—takes batteries and electronics at no charge. One.
That’s terrific. We need to do that in our office as well. Two.
The speakers are all cleanly identified by the technician and, if the stating of numbers ever interferes with the proceedings, the transcriptionist can just temporarily turn off that audio channel. Again, however, this method is only effective if the technician can see and keep track of all speakers, and it will most likely come with an additional service charge. There are even more advanced systems based on this method that can provide you with a graphical display of your moneyslot speaker list, with each name/number lighting up as they speak, but just like the board-game version of Battleship, that would be an expensive way of doing something you can achieve on your own for a lot less money.


4. Use Video Recording Instead of Audio

This method can be either the most expensive option or the least expensive. Obviously the most fool-proof way to ensure that your transcriptionist can identify all the speakers at your event is to let them see the event, so if you have the budget you can add a video recording to the proceedings as well, and then any interjections can be easily identified just by checking whose lips are moving. Video might seem like such a foolproof option that you can’t afford not to arrange for it, but before you put down your deposit, consider a cheaper method: in this day and age, just about everyone has high-quality video recording available on their smartphone, and the sound recording capabilities of your phone are more than sufficient to create a usable reference file of your event. Find yourself a good vantage point to see all the speakers, point your phone’s camera at them, and press record. (Don’t forget to stay quiet while you’re recording; you’re the closest one to the phone’s microphone!)


All of these methods have their pros and cons, and you’ll need to look at the specs of your event to see which one makes the most sense, but whichever method you use, the cost will be amply repaid by the clarity and usefulness of your transcript. If you want your readers to get the most out of the experience and the perspectives of your speakers, make sure they always know who is speaking. As usual, we’d love to hear your experiences on this topic. Please leave your comments and questions below, or send us an email. Thanks, and good luck!


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11 Response Comments

  • GJuly 4, 2016 at 5:43 AM


    • Ubiqus USAAugust 19, 2016 at 12:59 PM

      Hi, G – Thank you for reading!

  • JaquelineJuly 7, 2016 at 5:17 PM

    You’ve got interesting thoughts here.

    • Ubiqus USAAugust 19, 2016 at 1:00 PM

      Thanks, Jaqueline! We’re glad you think so.

  • RianDecember 5, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    Very interesting post here.

    • Andy ZiatsDecember 21, 2016 at 11:12 AM

      Thanks, Rian! It’s an interesting subject with a lot of effect on transcripts, so it’s one that we take very seriously. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • AlanJanuary 7, 2017 at 12:37 AM

    Really interesting. Stuff that not many people know.

    • Ubiqus USAJanuary 17, 2017 at 7:15 PM

      Hi, Alan! Thank you. We thought this would be a useful topic to cover.

  • Yilliang PengFebruary 27, 2017 at 4:22 PM

    Thank you so much for the information on transcripts! I think as technology increases, people often forget the importance of transcripts. Whether it be vocal transcripts of visual transcripts, identifying the speakers could really improve the quality. Thanks for the information!

    • Andy ZiatsFebruary 28, 2017 at 2:55 PM

      Very good point! It’s very true that transcripts remain an integral part of the record-keeping process, and whether it’s audio, video, or text, you can’t skip any steps if you want your records to be useful. Otherwise, what’s the point of making them? Thanks so much for reading!


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