Recording telephone conversations

Sometimes, when you need to hold a meeting with one, or more, people, 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 and you want to audio record the call.

(Just to cover the legality of recording a telephone conversation, at the time of writing, 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.)

Following these tips will ensure you get the best recording 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 appear impolite.

Unfortunately, in this case, there is little that can be done, so, you will need to work extra hard on the next tip, to try and keep the recording as clear as possible.

2/ Keep still and don't make a noise
You need to make sure you sit as still as possible. Remember, the microphone is going to pick up any noise you make, as this is going to be louder than the person on the phone.

We have had recordings where the researcher has been making notes on their laptop during the call and, unfortunately, the only sound we could hear for most of the one hour recording was tapping of the keys (so, it's not a good idea, to use the laptop or PC you are using for taking notes, etc, to also record the conversation).

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 call, or have the items placed some distance from the microphone.

3/ Find a quiet environment
We have 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. The noise of the traffic and roadworks were picked up on the recording and making the other participants impossible to hear.

Either close the windows, or sit as far from them as possible. It is also a good idea, if you have been able to find an empty room to use, to put a note on the outside of the door saying you are recording. 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 other participants
Although we never intend to do it, it is all too easy to suddenly jump in with a comment or point about what someone is saying, while they are still speaking. Of course, your voice is going to be louder, drowning out what is said by others. It is also rather rude if you keep trying to finish what the other person is saying.

Let the person finish 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 or are using the PC/laptop/phone for recording the phone conversation.

There are lots of audio alerts that can be set up to remind you of different events. While the occasional beep isn't much of a problem, if you are someone who gets a lot of these, then you will 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 thinking. (We had one recording where every few minutes the Skype call notification kept sounding. In the end the person was asked to switch it off, and this was during a disciplinary meeting!)

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. It is also a good idea to ask everyone else to do the same.

Following the above tips will help to ensure what is said by the participants is recorded, and not drowned out by noises that would have avoided easily with a little forethought.


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