VoiceBox, Part of Wolfestone Group

It’s nearly a year to the day since we launched our Live Captioning service. Since then, we’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the UK’s largest companies and marketing and communications agencies, providing professional live captions for events, conferences and meetings all over the world. As word has spread and people have begun to see the enormous benefit that a live captioning service brings, we are receiving more enquiries than ever about this latest addition to our service. We’ve put together this guide to cover as many of the questions that people have about live captioning as we can.

What are live captions?

Live captions are a type of closed caption, which simply means they can be turned on or off as the user requires. The subtitles you might see on a movie, or on a television programme are all types of closed captions. (Open captions, by the way, are they type that can’t be turned off, and are burned into the screen. You can find out more about the difference between open and closed captions here)

Now, the big difference between most closed captions and live captions is, as the name would suggest – that live captions are written in ‘real time’. Most subtitling for television and film is carried out via a painstaking process of reviewing the transcript and reworking it so that the subtitles retain the meaning but still meet the strict character limits. As you can imagine, this is a role that requires a high degree of skill and linguistic ability, especially when you consider that industry standard only permits a 1% error rate. But doing this live…? Can it really be done?

How is live captioning done?

In short, by highly trained professional stenographers. Using a special palantypist machine, they can type up to 300 words per minute. When you consider that the average typist does about 40 per minute, that’s pretty impressive! Importantly, the average rate of speech is between 100 and 150 words per minute, so that leaves the live captioning professional with plenty of time to check their spelling – and maybe even have a sip of tea! As they write, the words appear on the screens your audience are using to view the event.

Performance with live captions

We have over 100 of these highly trained stenographers on our books, making us one of the largest providers of live captioning services in the UK. Our team can work remotely or on site as required – get in touch to discuss your needs.

Why use live captioning?

Live captioning is hands down the best way to make your event more accessible. While live captioning isn’t a legal requirement for live events in the same way it is for television, it’s worth bearing in mind that around 5% of people have a hearing impairment of some kind, and so using live captioning services for your event will help them participate fully.

Live captioning can also help those who do not speak English as their first language, as seeing the words on a screen can help them understand a word they may have otherwise missed.

A further bonus of using live captioning is that a transcript can be provided afterwards, so it can be reviewed at attendees’ own pace following the event.

Can I use technology for live captioning?

Yes, you can. There are a number of automatic translation tools that can produce a text version of the live words on the screen. These might be better than nothing if you are on a budget. However, it is worth bearing in mind that, despite the continual improvements in automatic translation subtitles, accuracy is still only around 80%. We’ve already mentioned that industry standard is around 99% accuracy, so if live captioning services are within the budget for your event it’s certainly worth the extra cost. As well as the grammatical errors that auto caption tools can make, the machines do not have a sense of context – a problem which can lead to some humorous (if embarrassing) errors.

What kind of events is live captioning suitable for?

Live captioning is useful for any events at which it is essential for attendees to have an understanding of what is going on in real time. Conferences, where people may want to discuss the topics of the presentations or ask questions; university lectures likewise; sales presentations… this list goes on.

In the current climate (summer 2020, for future reference) where live events have largely been forced online, live captioning also has a valuable part to play. Read more about how live captioning can help make video conferences more accessible here.

Video conference with live captions

We have provided live captioning services for all these events and more – get in touch to find out how we could help bring more accessibility to your event.

What is the process of live captioning for my event?

The beauty of live captioning is that the work itself is mostly done at the same time as the event, so there’s not the usual worry about deadlines that can happen with other writing projects. However, there are a few decisions you’ll need to make beforehand to make sure everything runs smoothly.

The first one is around the technology you will use to enable people to see your captions. Will they appear on a big screen, or people’s tablets and phones? Will you make them available to everybody, or only those who specifically request live captioning prior to the event? If you’re unsure of the best digital medium for the live captioning of your event, our team will be happy to talk you through your options.

Secondly, while the live captioner is skilled at listening to, and replicating, the audio elements of any event into text, a little context always helps, particularly if the speakers are likely to use industry jargon or specialist language. Providing your live caption service with any materials relating to the event in advance can help them research any key terms they might need to know. Of course, there’s also the small matter of choosing your provider.


At Voicebox, we have the largest team of professional stenographers currently working in the UK, and we have provided live captioning services at events for some of the UK’s most well-known brands. Get in touch to see how we might be able to help you.

Get in contact with a member of the VoiceBox team today to chat about your requirements.