The Challenges of Transcribing Group Conversations

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Have you ever tried to pick out one speaker from a group discussion? It might sound simple, but it’s trickier than you think! There can be a lot of overlapping words, different volumes of speakers, inaudible sections, background noise and rustling, all of which makes getting an accurate transcription of what’s actually being said a challenge. But whether it’s a meeting, a presentation, a conference, a panel discussion or a podcast, there are times we need to know exactly what was said by who. So what are obstacles faced by professional transcribers like us and how do we overcome them?


Depending on the setting, group discussions can get noisy. Speakers get excited, talk over each other, and it can be difficult to separate them out. This gets more and more complicated the more speakers there are. This is entirely normal – people talk over each other, finish sentences and interrupt each other all the time – but a transcriber needs to be able to separate all of this out and make sure everything that is said has been recorded accurately. This is one of the biggest challenges we can face, as multiple people talking at once can mean the whole section becomes inaudible, and it’s impossible to tell what anyone is saying. Thankfully, overlaps don’t tend to last very long, usually a few seconds at most.

Here is also where the different types of transcription can be helpful. If you’re looking for verbatim transcription, then speaker overlap can take time to unpick and be difficult to read on a page accurately. But intelligent transcription allows us to remove some of the overlaps that are unnecessary, for example, people apologising for interrupting at the same time or making filler sounds like um and err over each other. This gives you a much cleaner transcript without losing any of the essential information.

Identifying Speakers

When you’re listening to a recording of a group discussion, it can sometimes be very easy to tell the speakers apart. If one is a man and one is a woman, if one has a very strong accent and another is very softly spoken, you can usually separate them out so that you can attribute the right thing to the right person. But if there are multiple people with similar voices it can be incredibly difficult, and when they all speak at once it can feel impossible. If you know you need a transcription of the discussion, there are some things you can do to make this a little easier. Asking everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning of the recording is one, but it isn’t always a practical option. You can also provide your transcriber with information on any identifying features of speakers – who has a dialect or accent for example, can go a long way. A few other tricks professional transcribers will use include paying attention to the really little details – what side of the recording device is each speaker sitting? Is there any environmental context that could distinguish the speakers? Are there any volume differences from one speaker sitting further away than another? What filler sounds are made – does person one ‘um’ and person two ‘er’? Are there any context clues in what’s being said? All of these things can help build a picture of who is who in a group setting and make it easier for us to identify each speaker for the transcript.


This issue is essentially a combination of the previous two, but it’s incredibly important. Between having multiple speakers and overlapping speech, getting an accurate record of who said what and when is much more challenging. But for some settings – like legal hearings, HR meetings or even brainstorming sessions – having an accurate record of events is essential, and even one word out of place could potentially damage someone’s career. Thankfully there are technologies we can use to help make this easier, from pedals to stop, start and slow the audio, to software that can help us label speakers. Using a professional transcription service means you will have a polished and accurate transcript of your group discussion to refer back to every time.

At McGowan Transcriptions, group transcriptions are one of our specialities, and has been since we first opened in 1993. We can provide you with strict verbatim, intelligent verbatim or edited transcripts of discussions with a fast turnaround time, using our standard transcription templates, or one of your own if you prefer. Our experienced team have provided audio transcription services for groups and businesses of all shapes and sizes in a wide variety of industries, and we would love to help you too. If you would like to find out more, just fill in the form here to get your free, no obligation quote.