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Voice-Activating Your Office

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One of the most significant additions to this version of Office is that it recognizes voice commands and can take dictation. Rather than clicking through a stack of menus and dialog boxes to get what you want, you simply tell your Office applications what to do, and they carry out your every command. In this chapter, you'll learn how to set up your computer to take advantage of the speech recognition features, and how to train Office to recognize your voice and carry out your commands.
This sample chapter is excerpted from Complete Idiot’s Guide to MS Office XP.

In This Chapter

  • Look, Ma, no hands—typing via dictation

  • Making sure your computer can "hear" you

  • Installing the Office speech recognition feature

  • Training Office to understand your spoken words and commands

  • Hand writing a document in Word

It's no coincidence that Office XP has built-in speech recognition and was released in the year 2001. Ever since Bill Gates saw the futuristic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, he must have had a vision of creating a computer that could understand voice commands and take dictation. Sure, he didn't call this new version of Office "Hal" (after the talking computer in the movie), but if he weren't fighting so many legal battles already, I'm sure he would have toyed with the idea.

Be that as it may, one of the most significant additions to this version of Office is that it recognizes voice commands and can take dictation. Instead of clicking through a stack of menus and dialog boxes to get what you want, you simply tell your Office applications what to do, and they carry out your every command. Do you want this page printed? Say, "File, print, current page, Okay," and your printer spits out the page. Do you need to type a document while you're getting your weekly manicure? Switch to dictation mode and start talking.

In this chapter, you learn how to set up your computer to take advantage of the speech recognition features. You also learn how to train Office to recognize your voice and carry out your commands.

First, You Need a Microphone: Hardware Requirements

Although you don't need a professional recording studio to start using the speech recognition feature, you do need a fairly powerful computer equipped with a sound card and a high-quality microphone. To ensure your system is properly equipped, read through the following checklist:

  • Processor—Pentium II 400MHz or faster. Don't try speech recognition on anything slower than a Pentium 400MHz machine. I tried running speech recognition on a computer with an AMD K6 300MHz processor with 96MB of RAM, and I could type about 10 times faster than speech recognition could take dictation.

  • Memory—128MB RAM. Don't even try to run speech recognition if your system has less than 128MB RAM.

  • Sound card—Most computers come equipped with a 16-bit SoundBlaster-compatible sound card or better. A 16-bit sound card is sufficient for voice commands and dictation.

  • This Might Take a While

    Setting up your hardware and training speech recognition to recognize your voice can take more than an hour. If you're in a rush, skip this chapter and come back when you have some time.

  • Close-talk microphone—Your Karaoke microphone might work fine for belting out a few bars of "I Did It My Way," but it's probably not the best choice for speech recognition. You need a close-talk microphone that's designed to block out background noise. Otherwise, Office won't be able to understand a word you say. If your system has a built-in microphone or a microphone that sits on your desk, you must buy a new microphone that can handle dictation.

Positioning the Microphone

Get a microphone with a headset mount and position the microphone about one inch from the corner of your mouth. Don't position the microphone directly in front of your mouth, or it will record all your heavy breathing. Try to mount the microphone in the same position each time you use it.

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