How to organize a transcribeathon

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A transcribeathon is an event where volunteers get to learn how to transcribe TEDx talks and then spend a few hours transcribing talks from the local TEDx event. Transcribeathons are typically organized by volunteer TED Translators and Transcribers in close collaboration with their local TEDx team. The participants usually don’t need to have any previous transcribing experience.

Note: this article is written from the point of view of a TEDx organizer or volunteer. If you are a volunteer TED Translator / transcriber and you wish to organize an TED Translators workshop or a transcribeathon, check out the OTP Workshop Kit!

The benefits of a transcribeathon

Transcribeathons benefit your TEDx event in several ways:

  • They are an excellent way to give your TEDx community a way of “participating in TED’s mission”
  • They allow you to get your community engaged between your main events
  • They allow you to start collaborating with the local volunteer TED Translators and Transcribers (which you can continue in the future through translations, etc.)
  • Since previous transcribing experience isn’t necessary, you can appeal to a big section of your community who wants to help promote a talk from your event that they loved
  • Transcribed talks get indexed in Google, giving them and your event more exposure
  • Only talks with a transcript can later be translated (and possibly considered by TED for further distribution)

Who can organize a transcribeathon

You should try to collaborate with the local volunteer TED Translators and Transcribers and Language Coordinators (you can find a list of local TED Translators / Transcribers groups here). Invite them to help you put it together, coach attendees in transcribing, and provide on-site support for beginners.

You should always prepare to provide support as well. Learn how to transcribe and try it on your own, or designate team members to do it and then instruct the attendees.

Who can participate in a transcribeathon

Anyone who has a laptop and is dedicated to helping you spread your talks can participate in your transcribeathon. It’s very important to have someone experienced on hand, but you can start by teaching the attendees how to transcribe with a short intro, OTP tutorials and some exercises. It’s a skill most people can pick up in 20 minutes, with some additional support from more experienced participants.

How to schedule the day

Below, you will find suggestions on how to structure a transcribeathon. For more ideas, read some stories from similar workshops all over the world.

Start with an ice-breaker/meet and greet. The main organizer or someone on the team should give a short talk about the TEDx program and the local TEDx event, the story so far, the motivation the team has for doing TEDx and their plans for the future. Also talk about what TED’s volunteer translator / transcriber program is and how much overlap there is between the TEDx and TED Translators / Transcribers communities in terms of their motivations and sense of mission. Tell the attendees why you want to get your talks transcribed and how important their role is, and explain the structure of the day.

Next, do a presentation on transcribing. Ideally, this should be delivered by an experienced volunteer TED Transcriber. If you can’t find one who would be willing to do it, become an expert on your own, as much as possible: study the guidelines and tutorials, transcribe something on your own and get a good teacher you know to help you create a good presentation. Talk both about the standards and guidelines for subtitles (e.g. max subtitle length) and how to use the Amara interface (e.g. first transcribe the text, then go to the synchronization step). Include the tutorials on transcribing and subtitle length/reading speed, and leave time for Q&A (note: if the tutorials do not have subtitles in your language, contact your Language Coordinator for help). Do the Limits of Compression exercise.

After a coffee break, share the link to your talks sheet (see below), talk about your priority talks, and ask participants to go over the list, select a talk, check it out (read the description, watch a little of it) and mark their choice in the sheet once they’ve made their pick. Tell everyone to watch the whole talk at least once before they begin transcribing.

It helps with the attendees’ morale if they see you’re going to be working on a transcript as well. However, let them know that you (and/or volunteers experienced in transcribing) are here whenever they need help. Agree on a time the transcribeathon will be officially over; the hands-on transcribing part usually takes between 2-6 hours. It is OK if the participants finish their transcript at home, but the more they get done at the event, the more “invested” they will be in actually completing the subtitles.

Logistics, equipment and venue

You should take at least a month to organize the transcribeathon. Here are some suggestions on logistics.

Prep your talks

Make sure that all the talks from your events have been properly added to Amara, using this guide. We recommend putting all of them in a sheet like this one, created by the TEDxWarsaw translation team (to make your own, go to File/Make a copy). Look up every talk and update its status (some of them may already be transcribed). If you’re having trouble looking talks up on Amara, you can try a Google search (go to, enter the search phrase and add; remember to always check if the talk has been added properly.

Decide on some talks that you want to prioritize for transcription, and tell the attendees why these talks are a priority for you. Using or a similar service, create an easy-to-type link to the talk sheet so that you can easily share it at the event. It will be a lot easier to find and take the transcription tasks if they don’t need to look every talk in Amara.

Make sure every user has an Amara account on the TED team

In your pre-event communication, ask that every person interested in attending the transcribeathon set up an Amara account on the TED team at least a week before the event. You can share a link to this tutorial, which explains how to sign up properly. These accounts are not approved automatically, and the TED Translators team needs up to a week to process them. Without a properly set up Amara account on the TED team, your attendees will not be able to participate and transcribe your talks.

Tech requirements

A transcribeathon is usually a no-budget event, but it can’t happen without meeting a few tech requirements.

WiFi connection

Find a venue with a reliable WiFi connection that will be able to support the number of participants you’re expecting, all working online. The transcription tool, Amara, requires internet access to work, and with a patchy connection, attendees could even lose some of their work.

Laptops and headphones

Every participant must have a laptop, and headphones/earbuds (without them, they will disturb the other participants who are trying to listen to the talk they’re working on). Because the transcribeathon usually requires a few hours of using one’s laptop, provide access to power outlets (you can bring a few power strips).

Screen and projector

You should screen the tutorials on transcribing and subtitle length/reading speed. Make sure to enable captions in the tutorials (they’re an integral part of them). If you don’t have a screen with a projector or a big TV, you can ask the attendees to watch the tutorials on their laptops.

A projector and screen can also be useful during your intro to transcribing, since that will allow you to display slides with screenshots of the interface you want to explain to the attendees.


Make sure the venue is quiet (the participants must be able to hear the talk) and dark enough to let everyone see the interface on their laptops. Since a transcribeathon is usually a long event (between 4 to 8 hours), make sure there is food and drinks available (they can be paid options if you can’t afford to sponsor catering, or you can make it potluck-style, asking attendees to bring and share food and drinks).

Post-transcribeathon follow-up

The transcribeathon can be a lot more beneficial to your event if you try to find ways to stimulate the attendees’ dedication after the event.

Make it a challenge

Consider adding a challenge/game structure to your event. For example, you can offer prizes for everyone who completes their subtitles within two weeks (only subtitles up to TED’s standards should be eligible).

Show appreciation

Find ways to show your appreciation for the volunteers who transcribed your talks. Blog, Facebook and tweet about the event and their work, and consider adding a transcriber section on your website, adding the names of every volunteer who has completed their subtitles (see the TEDxWarsaw website as an example).

Check up and offer support

Two weeks after the event, look up the progress of every transcript on Amara. Ask the volunteers who seem to be lagging behind if they need any help.

Consider setting up a Facebook group for the participants, to promote mutual support, and regularly check-in on how they’re doing. Also make sure that all the attendees join the local TED Translators / Transcribers Facebook group, where they will find even more support and a sense of community.

Find reviewers

Ask the experienced volunteers who attended the transcribeathon for help with reviewing the transcripts once they’re done (motivate and incentivize them). Consider reaching out for reviews in the local TED Translators Facebook group, but try to limit your requests to one or two at a time, and explain why getting the subtitles reviewed is important to you.

Organize more transcribeathons

Recurring transcribeathons put your TEDx event on the volunteer community’s radar, and they are also simply a way for you to get more talks transcribed. The attendees of concurrent transcribeathons quickly become your transcription team, and even if you run out of talks to transcribe, you can extend your scope to talks from other TEDx events, or organize translateathons and reviewathons until the talks from your next event are up for transcription.

Write a report on OTPedia, send TED a report

To share best practices with the rest of the community, consider writing up a report from your transcribeathon on OTPedia. You can browse the reports here. To learn how to create an OTPedia article, consult this guide and consider using one of the existing reports as a template.

Consider sending a report directly to the TED Translators team at TED ( Stories about collaboration between the TEDx and TED Translators / Transcribers community are regularly shared on the TED Translators blog.

Other marathon events: translateathon, reviewathon

Similarly to a transcribeathon, you can organize a translateathon or reviewathon to accelerate getting your talks subtitled. One important difference is that the participants must have some previous experience.


Getting a non-English talk transcribed increases its global exposure, but you can improve the likelihood of your talk getting translated into multiple languages or getting picked up for distribution by TED if you get the local-language subtitles translated into English. Bilingual native speakers are often hard to find, but you can target non-native communities with exceptional English skills, like teachers of English as a second language or translation students. Finding a native-speaker reviewer should usually be enough to ensure that the translation is good enough in spite of having been created by a non-native speaker of English.

Of course, a translateathon can be focused on languages other than English. For example, many TEDx events include talks in both the local language and English, and getting the English talks translated will allow you to reach a bigger part of the local community.

Just like at a transcribeathon, start by explaining the TEDx program and the TED Translators / Transcribers program, and tell the attendees why getting the talks translated is important to you and how it will help spread the ideas in the talk in real ways. Instruct the attendees in the technical aspects of volunteer subtitling with TED, and show the tutorial on subtitle length and reading speed as well as the short tutorial on translating talks.


Subtitles cannot be published until they have been reviewed by another volunteer TED Translator or Transcriber. Since subtitles often wait months for a review, organizing a reviewathon may accelerate the time necessary for subtitles for your talks to get published.

At a reviewathon, the participants need extensive experience in subtitling for the TED Translators program. At least 90 minutes of transcribed talks is required for a volunteer to review a transcript, and 90 minutes or more of translated talks is required to do a review of a translation. You can try looking for suitable volunteers in your TEDx community and in the local TED Translators / Transcribers Facebook group. At the event, don’t forget to talk about why getting the talks reviewed is important to you, and play the Learning Series tutorial on reviewing.