Not only can you talk to your PC, but it can talk to you, too.

    It is well known that when we type information into a computer, even the fastest and most accurate of us can muster only around 25 to 40 words per minute without error. Yet when we speak, the average person can talk at a rate of 120 words per minute or more, depending on how fast they speak. Potentially, speaking into a computer instead of typing could mean a productivity boost of 300% or more. However, the frustrating part of using speech recognition software has been the lack of accuracy. It has also been a time-consuming and often difficult process for practitioners to "train" the software to recognize their voice.
    With the release of Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking 9, those issues may be solved. The newest version of this flagship software program boasts more than 99% accuracy, and with a major improvement to its recognition software Nuance claims that training the software is easy with no need to read scripts to get started. Beyond simply dictating into a word processor like Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 also can be used to control functions on your computer, such as opening and closing windows, printing, etc. This newest version also can be used with Bluetooth headsets, a real bonus if you also use such a headset for your cell phone (for instance).
    One of the lesser-known aspects of this software is the ability to capture a conversation on a digital recorder or similar handheld device and then transcribe that conversation from speech to text automatically. Nuance has added the transcriber agent to this version of the software. The transcriber agent places a folder on your computer's desktop to place digital dictations (in .mp3 or .wma format) from a handheld device, and have them transcribed automatically to streamline the dictation workflow. Dictating notes from a client meeting, or a letter to a client, now is easy, fast and accurate using this method.
    If you have a networked office environment with the possibility of staff using different computers, Dragon now supports placing user profiles on the network so you can use the software from any location in your office.
    What makes Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 so useful is its seamless integration with Microsoft Office Suite or similar programs. Not only can you dictate directly into a MS Word document, you can also use Dragon to write e-mails and to work inside MS Excel, PowerPoint or other programs to speed up your work or that of your staff. Dragon naturally Speaking 9 comes in three versions, Standard ($99.00), Preferred ($199.00) and Professional ($899.00).
    Microsoft provides a speech recognition program within the Office Suite of programs. To use this feature in MS Word, for instance, you first click on Tools, then click on Speech. If your microphone is connected it will walk you through a brief training program to recognize your voice. Once installed, a language bar will appear with several buttons. There is a button to turn the microphone on and off, and there are buttons for voice command and dictation modes. You can perform common tasks within MS Word such as changing formats and fonts, by speaking commands into the microphone. In dictation mode you can speak various punctuation marks, symbols, etc. to insert them as text into a document. These voice command and dictation functions not only work in MS Word, but also apply to all the other Office suite programs, such as Access, FrontPage, Outlook, Publisher, PowerPoint and Excel.
    Looking at the dictation process, a relatively new product offering from Panasonic offers ample storage of digitally recorded conversations. Panasonic offers Model RR-US500 (MSRP $149.95) that can record more than 66 hours in mono or more than 33 hours in stereo. The recorder is bundled with Panasonic's advanced voice editing software. Thanks to the voice-activated system, recording takes place when a voice is detected, which cuts out dead air space and conserves recording room on the recorder. The included software permits you to edit and transcribe recordings with its text-to-speech and speech-to-text functions. You even can translate and pronounce your recordings in five different languages with the speech pad function. Though the software is not as comprehensive as Dragon's, it is still a functional choice to consider.
    Another digital recorder choice might be Sony's ICD-BM1 model. With a massive recording time of up to 347 minutes on the supplied 16 megabyte memory stick, this model certainly has more than ample capacity. It is also compatible with Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking, and has connectivity with a USB port to your computer or laptop for speedy copying of audio files. The Sony model also has voice e-mail functions, incremental rewind (for easy searches) and includes a carrying case, and sells for $299.99. Another model from Sony, ICD-BM1VTP2 includes Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred Voice-To-Print Software at no additional charge. It retails for $349.95.
    Yet another digital recorder from Philips, model 9450, is a powerful addition to efficient work flow environments. It offers full system integration and many advanced, user-oriented features for faster and more efficient work flow. Some of those benefits include:
    The 9450 VC recognizes work-type codes or client ID numbers spoken by the author and transforms these into file headers. The author gets immediate visual feedback via the display. Up to five ID numbers or two different work types can be assigned.
    An exchangeable multimedia/SD card provides simple, efficient data transfer and flexibility when on the move. MMC or SD cards up to 2 GB can be used.   
    Direct download to a PC.
    Fully automatic or with user-defined settings.
    Automatic e-mail creation.
    Compatibility with most speech recognition systems.
    However, at $449.00, it is expensive when compared with similar models.
    Some smartphones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) have voice recording capabilities allowing you to combine functions within a single device. With either, you may be able to record a conversation or note and dictate a letter or memo and then e-mail that recording to a member of your staff for transcription. With speech recognition software that can translate the voice recording into text, it is an easy task for the staff person to then cut and paste that text into an appropriate place. Examples might include the body of an e-mail to a client, the body of a letter, or into a note file attached to a history record for a client within a client relationship management program (CRM software) such as Junxure-I, Goldmine, ProTracker and ACT for Advisors.
    If you own one of the newer Pocket PC versions of smartphones or PDAs, Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 operating system software offers Voice Command. This feature contains a number of benefits including:

    Users can take full advantage of incoming caller ID without ever looking down at the screen. Incoming call information is announced as calls are received. Users who think they may have missed a call can simply ask, "What calls did I miss?" and Voice Command will recite the time and phone number.

    Users can, by voice, start any program in the Start menu or programs folder, such as Inbox, Calculator or Solitaire, and can get signal strength, battery level, time and date. Voice Command will even alert users when the battery is getting low to ensure strong battery life on the go.

    Whether in the car, at the airport or walking down the street, people will enjoy true hands-free phone conversations without ever having to manually dial a number. They can simply say any name from their contact list. Voice Command will even announce incoming calls.

    Regardless of their location, users can simply ask their Pocket PC about the next appointment or calendar for the day, and the time, subject and location of each entry will be read aloud.

    If you wish to purchase Voice Command as a separate add-on, it is available through many retail partners such as CompUSA, Circuit City, Amazon, Fry's and others. Or, you can download it from (The suggested retail price is $39.99).

David Lawrence, AIF (Accredited Investment Fiduciary), is a practice efficiency consultant and president of David Lawrence and Associates, a practice-consulting firm based in Lutz, Fla. ( David Lawrence and Associates offers a variety of consulting services including technology consulting related to the financial planning process and investment management.