How to Handle Live Closed Captioning – and the Challenges

April 16, 2021 BY KELLY MAHONEY
Updated: April 19, 2021

Technological innovation has paved a new way to conduct business, education, and life in general – particularly in a world forced to adapt to virtual substitutes during the pandemic. And most of the time, the technology we use is very helpful! Like virtual meeting platforms, live closed captioning software, and even just the Internet. 

…Until that technology doesn’t work. The unfortunate reality of our tech dependence is that sometimes, things just don’t work the way they’re intended to – which means having a backup plan is just as important as your original plan. 

As closed captioning and transcription experts, we’ve learned a thing or two about live closed captioning during virtual events and conferences. This means we’ve also learned what to do when live captions aren’t working! Here, we’ve compiled a list of tips (and backup plans) to help you navigate any challenges you might face when captioning your live event.


💡 3 Tips for Online Conferences & Events


If possible, create a script to follow ahead of time.

Script iconIf the format of your live event permits, try writing a script ahead of time and following it throughout the event. Include all of the “big stuff,” or the important information critical to your audience’s understanding – this way, any real-time deviation won’t significantly change a viewer’s overall comprehension. 

Be sure to introduce any other speakers by name, as well! This allows your audience to differentiate between speakers, and best practice would call for testing each speaking participant’s microphone and audio quality prior to the start of the event. 

By starting your event following these simple steps, you set your audience up with a basic level of understanding. Even if you don’t have live closed captioning, creating a script in advance and ensuring a standard of audio clarity & quality works as a substitute if the event format permits. 


Verbally describe any visual media.

Audio description logoIf your live event includes presentation of images or videos as visual aids, be sure to verbally describe the purpose and content of each one. The description doesn’t need to be long, but it should be enough that your audience can understand whether the media is for visual effect (purely decorative) or communicates meaning (i.e. infographics, visual data, and so on). 

Avoid using language like “As you can see here…” or “We can all see…” throughout the course of your event, because some people might not be able to see! Audio description primarily benefits blind and low-vision users, and making a point to include verbal descriptions of visual cues can be helpful to someone who may be listening to the closed captions or the transcript via a screen reader at a later time. 

Live closed captioning often won’t include these descriptions, so it’s always a good idea to incorporate audio description into your presentation. But how do you decide what information is important enough to describe? The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) has created a description key that explains how audio description works, creates guidelines for standards of quality, and clarifies what exactly should be described.


 Watch the webinar: How to Create Accessible Presentations ➡️  


Present with live closed captioning using Google Slides.

Google Slides logo on yellow backgroundWhen using the Chrome browser, Google Slides allows presenters to turn on automatic captions to display a speaker’s words in real time. Using your device’s microphone or an external microphone, automatic closed captions will populate that allow you to adjust the sizing and position. 

While this is a great resource for live captioning, it’s worth noting a couple of the feature’s limitations. Currently, Google Slides is only offering live captions in U.S. English and, once activated by the presenter, the viewers do not have the ability to toggle captions on/off from their end. Because of this, Google recommends notifying your audience of the source of live captioning before getting started. 

Another heads up: live captions are not stored through Google – despite this, it’s still a fantastic (and free!) live captioning solution for those who don’t already have one. This just means that if you’re planning on distributing the captioned presentation at a later time, be sure to make a recording during the original live presentation.


Send out a recording of the event ASAP.

Speaking of making a recording… you should! Whether your live event is hosted via Zoom, Google Meet, or another video conferencing software, captions can be added retroactively to a recorded presentation. Thankfully, this means that even if you couldn’t provide live closed captioning at the time of your event, you can always add captions later! 

Recording your live event has more benefits than just accessibility, including things like audience retention, lead generation, and creation of derivative content. On top of distributing a recording of the event, you can also provide participants with any supplemental materials that were used during the event (like PowerPoints).


 Check out our Toolkit for Live Captioning Events 🛠  


Include an external link to live closed captioning.

Another alternative if the software of your choice doesn’t support live closed captions is the option to link an external URL. This method functions similarly to a plug-in solution, where the external URL will include the code to stream live captions for your event on a separate page.

In fact, 3Play offers this external linking capability, among our other live captioning solutions. If you choose to use this method as an alternative to live closed captioning, it’s best to share that external URL with your audience ahead of the event and ensure it’s visible on the same page that viewers are watching from.


Want to learn more? 


Get started with live closed captioning solutions, discover the 3Paly plugin with link to plugin page

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