Copy Tip: Recording and Transcribing Interviews

Taking notesLast summer, as I interviewed Ed Gandia over the phone, he gave me a simple suggestion that I knew would completely change my life as soon as I implemented it.

Specifically, Ed’s advice was to always record interviews and have them transcribed in order to increase your writing speed and efficiency. Generally, his advice was to outsource tasks that can be done by someone else, in order to focus on your high value skills.

His tip caught my attention because I was in the act of furiously writing down everything he said during our interview. “If only I had figured out this recording thing before the interview began, I wouldn’t have to type out page after page of my insanely sloppy notes,” I thought, feeling a tad embarrassed.

Recording interviews allows you to focus on the questions and the conversation, send the tape off to a transcriptionist, and have a pre-rough draft delivered to your inbox in a couple of days.

When you get great advice, however, it’s not always easy to put it into practice. Here are the steps I took to make this a natural part of my writing routine.

Change the way you see yourself

At first I couldn’t picture myself recording a call and transcribing it because I prided myself on capturing what people said in my scribbled notes and spending hours typing everything up. My self-image as a writer revolved around interviewing with pen and paper even though it caused me unnecessary, hard work.

Interviewing with pen and paper also caused me to ask people to slow down and repeat things, to feel flustered when I couldn’t spell something, and to fill in the blanks when I failed to write down the full quote. I used to feel like I was holding on for dear life.

Recording and transcribing interviews gives you a chance to be relaxed, in control, and present in the conversation.

Others will see you differently as well: You’ll come across as a trusted business advisor rather than a frazzled entry-level employee. Clients, prospects, and interview subjects see you differently when you record interviews.

View it as a business decision

B2B copywriters can earn high hourly rates when they spend their time concentrating on what brings the most value to their clients.

Typing up an interview is not the most valuable part of the job. When you pay someone to transcribe your recording, you can skip hours of low-pay work and move on to crafting headlines, learning about the industry, and creating effective marketing pieces.

From a business standpoint, this is clearly a job that needs to be outsourced.

Decide what tools to use

Recording a phone call with www.freeconferencecall.com is easy, and doesn’t require any equipment. When you set up an account, they give call-in instructions for you to send to the person that you will be interviewing. When you both call in to the number, you will be connected in the conference call. Once everyone is ready, you can press *9 and begin to record the call. When you want to end the call, you press *9 again. Finally, you can download the mp3 from your account page. For an additional fee, they will transcribe your call as well.

iPhone and other smartphones have several apps that allow you to record in-person conversations, lectures, and meetings, as well as incoming and outgoing phone calls.

CastingWords (www.castingwords.com) is an online transcription service. You pay by the minute, and there are three price tiers depending on how fast you want the files. They accept audio files in several different formats.

Some writers hire a Virtual Assistant to transcribe their calls. This option might be good for people who want personal service.

Practice using the tools before you try them with paying clients

The first few times I used www.freeconferencecall.com, I interviewed friends from AWAI and recorded the conversations. I was glad I recorded the calls because they were fast talkers who were ready to share a lot of relevant information. I would have given myself carpal tunnel syndrome trying to keep up!

When each interview was over, I went to www.freeconferencecall.com to download the audio file. I posted a headshot of my friend on my website with an introduction, uploaded the audio file onto my WordPress site, and shared the link on Facebook, LinkedIn, and on the AWAI Facebook page.

Introduce it in a work situation where you are comfortable

When I had an article assignment to interview an author about her creative process, I decided to record the call and have the conversation transcribed.

I arranged to have the interview using the special instructions from www.freeconferencecall.com. This time, I sent the 40-minute recording to CastingWords.

While I waited for the transcription, I thought about the different themes of the interview. Without writing anything down, I imagined how I would organize the information.

When the transcribed document arrived, I was shocked to see that it was 6,000 words long! I have never captured that much of an interview writing longhand.

I read the transcription, pulled out the most useful information, and pasted it into a separate Word file. I organized the information, wrote transitions, and trimmed the quotes. I took out sentences and ideas that wouldn’t appeal to the audience. When I handed it in, the editor asked me to cut another 100 words so it would fit within the layout.

It was one of the easiest articles I’ve written, because I didn’t have to “come up” with anything and still had enough surplus information to write at least two more articles.

Stretch your boundaries and look for new opportunities

After using a recording and transcription to complete an “easy” assignment, it’s time to incorporate it into other areas of your business.

Try using these tools when you’ve landed a challenging assignment (especially if you have to interview a subject matter expert), when you are on the phone with a prospect, when you’re working through writer’s block, or when you’re on a roll and your ideas are coming out faster than you can type them. 

7 Responses to “Copy Tip: Recording and Transcribing Interviews”

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  1. Nancy Ross Brewer says:

    So, Mandy, the question of “how” occurred to me when listening to the recent teleconference with Ed Gandia about Outsourcing – when he recommended recording interviews. Great minds, and all that! Thanks for the answers and options.

  2. Julie Wuthnow says:

    Thanks for the great article, Mandy. I’ve recently learned the value of this myself, and I’ll find it difficult to work without this now! As you say, there is so much more detail that you capture, and it’s also a great way to capture quotes from your interviewee to include in the copy and give it more personality. And definitely worth outsourcing the transcribing!!

  3. Lydia Mills says:

    I’m so thankful I ran across this article (via your post in Facebook) because it’s something I’ve been wondering about recently. Thanks for the details!

  4. John Keyser says:

    This is great! I’m not yet ready for my first client, but knowing that I don’t have to deal with the stress of writing everything down while listening is wonderful.
    Thanks for this one!

    John

  5. Thanks for your tips, Mandy. I’ve been recording interviews and phone calls with clients for years, and I couldn’t work without recordings. I use a small Olympus 520 digital recorder that I carry with me so I can record all kinds of conversations. For phone calls, I use a special microphone that goes between my ear and the headset of my phone.

    Olympus makes many different models of digital recorders, and their model numbers change all the time. I’d be sure to get one with removable memory cards so you don’t have to worry about filling it to capacity.

    A few cautions. In some states it’s illegal to record a conversation without the consent of both parties. To be safe, always ask permission.

    A second caution is to be sure you’re not sharing confidential information with the transcription service. I work under non-disclosure agreements (or NDAs) with several of my clients. Use of a transcription service would violate those agreements unless I first get the service to sign an NDA my client has approved.

    If you use a device like the Olympus, you can load the recordings on your computer and play them using iTunes. You can also edit them, using any of a variety of good audio editing tools. On my Mac I use a great tool called WavePad. If you first edit out the parts you don’t want transcribed, you can save some money on transcription fees.

    Thanks again.

    Dave

  6. Randall Stark says:

    Great article Mandy. I have recorded meetings and notes for years, in my regular job, but neglected the tools for my writing clients.

    After reading your article, I recorded a meeting last week with a client. It was so much easier, to stay engaged with the conversation flow, because I didn’t worry about missing anything. I still had a notepad, for creative doodling, but the outcome was 100% more productive.

    Yesterday, I received an email from my client, requesting a copy of the session. When I mentioned the transcription service, she replied “Add it to my billing”!

    Thanks again.
    Randall

  7. Scot Martin says:

    I was a half-step ahead of you, Mandy, on my first interview I wrote for my blog. I recorded the call on freeconferencecall.com, but then I transcribed it myself–which took a 25 minute phone call and turned it into a two-hour drudgery of listening, writing, and rewinding. For my next case study, I recorded it and then paid for a transcription. That was well worth the money. The only problem was I interviewed two customers simultaneously but didn’t identify who was speaking and thus made the transcript a bit confusing. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but I’ve got to figure out a better way to handle that should it arise again. Thanks for writing this.

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