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Ted on Tech: Keeping your video meetings alive

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If there’s one side effect of the pandemic that can be considered positive, it’s the almost universal adoption of videoconferencing. I’ve been using videoconferencing in various forms for decades and there’s one constant I’ve noticed: Within minutes of concluding the video meeting, I’ve pretty much forgotten a good portion of what was discussed.

As I’ve aged, it seems that more and more stuff goes in one ear — and doesn’t quite even make it out the other. They just go to The Land of Lost Memories. That probably wouldn't be as much of a problem as it is if I were better at taking notes. I’m not.

The answer I came up with is simple. Record the videoconference, then either go through it again, starting and stopping as I make the notes I should have been doing in real time, or, alternatively, if the video is clear, and not too long, send the video out to a transcription service. When the transcription comes back as a Word document, I print it out and use a highlighter to note points or quotes I want to use.

Easy peasy

In many cases, recording a video conference or presentation is simple. Almost every video-conferencing solution has a record button, often somewhere at the bottom of the screen. Some videoconferencing solutions, like Zoom, require the host to record the meeting. I always try and have a backup so I can record the meeting/presentation on my side. There are several software applications for Windows that I’m aware of, but the one I’ve used for years is Camtasia, from TechSmith.

The first time or two that you use Camtasia, it can be intimidating. There are lots of buttons and sliders, and several channels that you can use to record video and audio separately. I don’t usually bother with these if all I want to do is wind up with a transcription. Most of these are there because Camtasia is not just a video capture application, it also allows extensive editing of the video after it is recorded, with cuts, transitions and special effects.

If you don’t think that you’ll need to do as much editing, TechSmith also has an enhanced screen grab application called SnagIt. SnagIt provides video recording in addition to screen shots, but does not offer the enhanced video editing that Camtasia provides. Windows has its own screen grab tool, and if screenshots are all you need, the free app GreenShot is terrific as well. I’ve been using SnagIt for decades, and it has a terrific editor that lets you do blurs, add arrows and call-outs, add a border, an image or screen shot, and much more. It’s not free, but for many users, the price will be well worth it.

Can you hear me now?

Once you’ve got the video captured, there are several things you can do with it. As I mentioned earlier, if you are budget-constrained, but have the time, you can simply play it back, starting and stopping as you go, and take the notes that you didn’t take while the conference or presentation was actually taking place. I’ll be honest. I usually don’t have the patience to do this, and I generally have a day or two before I have to act on the information discussed or presented.

So, in most cases, off it goes to a transcribing vendor. There are a few that do the transcribing for free, such as otter.ai (which limits the length of the transcription to 40 minutes for the free version). Depending on how long the video is, and how much I’m willing to pay, I prefer to use Rev.com. It’s fairly expensive, at $1.25 a minute, but I’ve found it to be somewhat more accurate than the others I’ve tried, especially when one or more of the participants has an accent. Rev.com farms the transcribing out to actual humans, so in most cases, they can identify individual speakers, oftentimes by name if they’ve introduced themselves. With the automated transcription services, accuracy on these types of recordings ranges from OK to absolute gibberish, but as in many things, if you’re fortunate, you get what you pay for.

The one caveat to consider is that many video-recording apps, including SnagIt and Camtasia, save the file in a proprietary format. The file will need to be converted to a more common format, such as MP4, before it’s sent out for transcribing. That’s not difficult to do, but if you forget to make the conversion before sending the file, it will be rejected as being in an unknown format.

Getting familiar with a video recording and editing application, such as Camtasia or something similar, is worth spending a bit of time on. Once you’ve become even semi-proficient in its use, you’re ready to produce your own video for instruction and promotion. And that’s a great capability to have.

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