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Find your calling

Nancy Varallo, RDR, CRRI am so proud to say I’m Nancy Varallo, your newly installed NCRA President. I want you to know I understand the trust you’ve placed in me, and I take my job seriously. Our professional organization is a great association, and I am honored to be leading it for the 2013-2014 term.

We call it the profession of court reporting. But are we a profession? The dictionary says a profession is “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and academic preparation.”

A profession is a calling. Do you feel called to court reporting? Well, I do. Before court reporting school, I had studied music in college and taught piano to make ends meet. And guess what? I found out I didn’t like teaching piano. Each week my students went through the motions, showed up for their lessons without having practiced, and sat down at my piano expecting to play perfectly. Really? Where was the effort? Where was the love of playing? The respect for the composers whose music they tried to play? Why on Earth did they expect to succeed, having done nothing to ensure their success?

I’ve never believed that success is a result of spontaneous combustion; I believe you must set yourself on fire! So in 1978, after two years as a music major, I switched keyboards and enrolled in court reporting school — and set myself on fire! Yup! No wing and a prayer for me. I got out of school in just six months.

Six months? That’s on fire! How’d that happen? Well, the simple truth is I fell in love — with court reporting, with the very idea of it. I was determined to succeed.

Today, I’m still in love with this profession. And as your new president, I challenge each of you to set yourself on fire, If all of us did that, we’d galvanize our whole profession, making court reporting, our profession, richer and fuller and more vibrant than ever before.

This profession is filled with men and women who understand that being a respected professional requires staying abreast of technology, continuing education, and daily devotion to the hard work of being successful. It’s an act of love — an expression of respect for yourself as a top-tier professional. You should be proud of your hard-won skills. NCRA is our community — an association whose 100 years of existence is our shared heritage. We are here to be a part of that brain trust. We’re a community. We’re family.

This year, I challenge each of you to take at least one action that encourages a young person to enter this profession. We need more stenographic reporters. Our future depends on it. And an equal-opportunity career in court reporting is a smart choice, especially in today’s difficult economy.

State and local budgets are constrained; services are being cut; our colleagues in the courtroom are being replaced by digital audio recording. Federal rule changes, the inroads of alternative dispute resolution — all have had an impact on us. And new technologies will continue to alter the horizon.

The parade of horribles is sobering. But give up? Not on my watch! We have been successful for 100 years, and we have the tools to adapt to the demands of today’s marketplace. That’s the message I am most anxious to leave with you: Our future is bright. We’re not going to fade away. We have the skills the marketplace values, and that’s our ticket to a secure future.

Court reporters are innovators, another skill highly valued these days. You’d be surprised to learn the novel ways entrepreneurial court reporters are deploying their skills. These reporters understand business, and they have created markets for their talents in colleges and universities, in major league sports and Fortune 500 companies, in hospital emergency rooms, on top-secret government missions, in politics, even in Hollywood. That’s a record of success. They have set themselves on fire!

So put your best foot forward. I urge you not to be distracted by the companies and technologies and people we compete with. There’s always competition. But the marketplace that determines the value of our services is driven by the realtime services we provide — draft transcripts, realtime hookups, classroom CART, captioning, and the new and exciting niche markets made possible by our realtime skills. We are the best at capturing the spoken word and translating it instantly into text. To those of you who are not yet Certified Realtime Reporters, I offer this challenge: Set yourself on fire! Find a mentor. Practice. Bring your skills into the 21st century. Today we have every reason to celebrate our profession and the professionals who make it great.

This column is reflective of Nancy’s presidential speech delivered in August at NCRA’s Convention & Expo in Nashville.