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Live Human Captioning: Improving Attendee Experience at Our Virtual Event

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Last Updated on 8th June 2021 by Cate DeRosia

With one event under our belt, the all-volunteer team behind WordFest Live is trying something new for the July 23rd event: live sessions. This move to live sessions also comes with the need for live human captioning and an added sponsorship opportunity. 

Here’s a quick look at the how and why:

Moving to Live Human Captioning at WordFest Live

The first event’s live element came through the live interaction across the platform and live Q&A elements for most talks.

But out of an abundance of caution with the initial event, we chose to use pre-recorded sessions. After all, who knew what might go wrong putting on a global 24-hour event for the first time, right?

That choice gave us some stability and control that was vital to the quality and success of our first event. It also allowed us to see how we could move forward with live sessions in the future.

And while we were all excited by this opportunity, it also came with its own problem to solve: How were we going to manage captioning?

With recorded sessions, we were able to apply the captioning ahead of time and hold to the integral inclusive element of our event. We could monitor the quality to the best of our ability, and while not perfect, our initial captions were effective. 

Sponsoring Human Captioning at WordFest Live

However, the move to live sessions threw our previous plan for captioning out the window. And, unfortunately, none of our volunteers are up for the challenge of spending 24 hours live captioning speakers from around the world.

This means committing to the cost of by professional stenographers.

As you may imagine, live captioning a 24-hour technical event with speakers from all over the globe is not simple and it is not cheap. To cover this vital cost, we’ve divided it into six (6) dedicated Live Captioning sponsorship packages

This allows a variety of interested companies to partner with us to improve the overall impact and accessibility of our event. Many hands make light work, and many budgets can easily make this a reality.

Live Human Captioning vs. AI Captioning

You might be wondering why we don’t just use some of the automated solutions available, and that’s a fair question.

The plain truth is that as far as Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come, it’s still not effective for captioning events. Particularly events with technical terminology and speakers from very diverse locations.

Laura Byrne, content specialist at Bet Hannon Business Websites and a co-organizer of the Montclair Meetup, sums it up succinctly:

Yep, I have feelings on captioning. CRAPTIONS are the worst (ie: when AI doesn’t understand your dialect or technical terms, or the live human has no knowledge of the industry and can’t accurately record.)

I wholeheartedly endorse [professional] captioning, they are hands down the best.

Technical Accuracy

Professional stenographers with experience in the tech industry can move with minimal delay through the presentation allowing for more of a real time experience for everyone involved. Not only does this provide more value to the audience, it increases the overall enjoyment.

And while community enjoyment matters, WordFest Live is also committed to enhancing the educational experience of attendees that have come to learn about WordPress.

Stephanie Brinley, owner and Branding Specialist at Flightless and a former lead organizer of WordCamp Jacksonville, notes:

Human captioning is especially important for technical presentations because computers are bad at guessing technical phrases.

Having the technical aspects correct, makes it easier for people to take notes and follow-up because they know what was actually said, even if it’s not on a slide.

The flip side is bad/auto captioning can be a distraction.

Jen Swisher, Jetpack Happiness Engineer at Automattic and Organizer of WordCamp US, backs this up with:

You can’t beat a human in understanding specialized vocabulary. Humans that caption regularly in a specialized field will understand and be more accurate than a machine.

Why? Because these humans both build a familiarity with the subject matter and can learn the nuances of that specialized field in a way that — so far — only people can. 

Attention to Nuance

Nuances matter, and they can be easily lost in an AI translated presentation. A computer can generate a word based on what they thought they heard, but even with pre-programing, they often miss subtle differences that can have a big impact on overall meaning.

Jen Swisher goes on to mention the advanced preparation humans can put into their captioning:

Humans can also review slides and session abstracts beforehand to pre-program their captioning equipment to use the correct spellings of specific vocabulary. For example, anything to do with the technical stack for WordPress.

With automated solutions, some programming can probably be done beforehand, but there’s so much value to being able to interface with a human before the event to clarify anything so that the captions are accurate during the event. 

All of this moves captioning from not just providing quality technical information, but also creating a more engaging conversational flow and more accurate representation of what the speaker intended the presentation to be.

Katie Richards, Community Coordinator at Pantheon and Passionate WordCamp Attendee, shares her observations:

I have nothing specific to say about human captioning other than its superior. I’ve been doing some work for the WP Speaker Diversity team on cleaning up their AI captions for past workshops over the last few months.

They’re not terrible, but the misattribution of statements to the wrong person and run-on sentences make it difficult to read.

No one wants to diminish their event — and any speaker’s presentation — with poorly captioned versions of the sessions.

Live Human Captioning Benefits All Attendees

Without a doubt, captioned sessions aid anyone with hearing difficulties. Anyone living with a loss of hearing will have a more full experience at an event that provides quality captioning. 

But they’re not the only ones who benefit.

Captioning services at your event improve accessibility, allow online participation with minimal overhead, and provide an immediate record of each presentation.

This enables parents and caregivers — anyone sharing a space — to keep up even in distracted environments or during quiet times, and visual learners can retain more by reading the words on the screen. 

Beyond that, live human captioning also helps overcome the challenges of language differences. Accents, dialects, different speech patterns, and localized vocabulary can all be challenging for AI to handle, often with humorous, if not embarrassing, results.

Human captioning helps smooth out these bumps creating a less distracting environment and providing a useful alternative to everyone involved.

As Brian Richards, Events Producer at WPSessions, puts it:

Captioning is an important part of delivering experiences that are accessible to everyone. At this point, I can’t imagine running an event without them!

I personally appreciate videos with captions because they help me to focus better, but there are plenty of situations I can think of that make them more necessary than many people think. Perhaps someone is in a loud environment, or they missed what a speaker said, or they’re a non-native English speaker, or they have any level of hearing loss.

Some of these situations are temporary, some are permanent, and captions ensure that none of these reasons exclude someone from experiencing the event.

For an event that has so much invested in it, this choice can create sweeping evergreen value.

Conclusion

In the end, our all-volunteer team has taken on the added responsibility of finding sponsors for our live human captioning. We’ve put too much effort into creating a quality, inclusive festival of WordPress to give it less than our best effort in this area, too.

The benefits are simply too great to avoid. Live sessions need live captioning and live captioning benefits everyone. It’s as simple as that.

So, come on board as one of the six to help us make this a reality and help us make this event as beneficial and engaging as possible for all involved. 

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