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Just do it

Thinking of competing in speed or realtime contests? Just do it, say the pros.

By Annemarie Roketenetz

Many of the 2015 Speed and Realtime contestantsA major highlight at the NCRA Convention & Expo is always the Speed and Realtime Contests, and this year in Chicago will be no exception. As past and new contenders begin to gear up for the competitions, the JCR recently put out a call to previous champions in both divisions to find out what motivates them to compete as well as to share tips and strategies they rely on when prepping for the challenge.

What about the Speed and Realtime Contests attracted you to participate?

Knowing I am a competent reporter is one thing, but wondering if I could hang in there with those who have participated in the contests is what motivated me to enter. It’s something I had always wanted to do and I found myself at a time and place in life where I could go for it.

Juli LaBadia, RDR, CRR, CRC

2015 Speed Contest Winner

Wilmington, Del.

The contests are fun, and the people you meet are usually great.

Dee Boenau, RDR, CRR, CRC

2010 Realtime Contest Winner

Sarasota, Fla.

I wanted to experience that upper level of competition in my own head and push myself. I had realized how far I’d come in practicing so seriously for all my certifications and what a better reporter I was every day because of it and realized that the practice, if nothing else, would make me a much better reporter!

Michelle Kirkpatrick, RDR, CRR, CRC

National Realtime Contest qualifier

Broomfi eld, Colo.

I wanted to be able to test my skills and read about the speed and realtime contests and was always curious.

Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR

NCRA Speed and Realtime Contest qualifier

North Brunswick, N.J.

Never had any interest in speed contests, but I wanted the bragging rights of doing well in the realtime contest.

Mirabai Knight, RDR, CRR, CRC

Realtime Contest qualifier

New York, N.Y.

Once you participate one time, you’re hooked. It’s like an addiction. I missed an annual convention a few years ago, and the worst part was not getting to compete!

Donna J. Karoscik, RDR, CRR, CRC

Realtime Contest qualifier

Pickerington, Ohio

Just the personal challenge of keeping up with such an elite group of colleagues. Knowing I qualify actually gives me confidence that I can handle just about any assignment in my everyday job.

Patricia Orsini Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI

Speed and Realtime Contest qualifier

New York, N.Y.

Because machine shorthand is a skill, I have looked at speedbuilding as a sport or game since I first started learning theory. The NCRA Speed and Realtime Contests are the Olympics, and having the opportunity to participate is an absolute thrill.

Jeffrey Weigl, RMR, CRR, CRC

Speed and Realtime Contest medal-winner

Edmonton, AB, Canada

When I sat down to practice for the contest, I gave myself permission to write for speed. It was as if I had thrown off the shackles, a very freeing experience. This put me on a quest to write short and conflict-free.

Donna M. Urlaub, RMR, CRR

Speed Contest medal-winner

Chicago, Ill.

How far in advance do you begin to prepare to compete?

When I first started competing, six months in advance. As my baseline speed over time got better as a result of competing over the course of years, I started about three months in advance.

Alan H. Brock, RDR, CRR

2003 and 2011 Speed Contest Winner

Boston, Mass.

This year, I started in March but only because I was on vacation in February. Last year I did not start nearly soon enough! And my results showed it.

Michelle Kirkpatrick

I’m always preparing. I maintain practice for the simple reason that if I don’t, my accuracy starts failing. And my consumers deserve better than that.

Kathryn A. Thomas, RDR, CRR, CRC

Speed and Realtime Contest qualifier

Caseyville, Ill.

About a month before the contest.

Patricia Orsini Nilsen

About a month and a half out, I will begin to get back into speedbuilding one or two times a week, which really amounts to just trying to recover the speed that I have inevitably lost over the course of the year being away from timed dictation. The month leading up to the contest is when I really begin a concerted, consistent practice regimen. I do my best to practice every single day during this time, for as little as ten minutes to as long as an hour.

Jeffrey Weigl

What does your prepping entail to compete?

I try to practice Q&A material as much as possible with ev360 Ultimate.

Dee Boenau

“Practicing with a purpose” is key. For the realtime contest, working out the kinks in my dictionary and in my writing, just like with the realtime certifications practice but to a greater degree. For the speed contest, learning to write shorter and learning to scramble faster and faster, just like with the speed certifications practice but to a greater degree!

Michelle Kirkpatrick

I practiced with past Speed Contests, mainly. I also used Realtime Coach for the realtime contest prep. I realtime every day at work, so I just made sure to add new entries to my dictionary and learned new briefs and phrases.

Anthony D. Frisolone, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI

Speed Contest participant

Staten Island, N.Y.

I always hear people say that fast depositions are practice. Not for me. I like to put in speed tapes (yes, tapes!) and speed them up even faster. Then I turn on the television and find the most obscure show to practice getting new words into my dictionary.

Donna J. Karoscik

My speed practice entails warm-up with finger drills followed by speedbuilding at levels at least 20 wpm above the actual contest speeds. I have not yet done any specific training for the realtime contest. My game plan when participating has been to pretend it is a speed contest and just try to stay on top of the dictation as best I can without actually worrying about the realtime translation.

Jeffrey Weigl

What do you take away from the experience of competing?

It helped me become a far better reporter. Almost as important is the pleasure of making new friends, of the warm support the contestants give newcomers.

Alan H. Brock

It’s great rubbing elbows and just being in the same room with some of the best writers in the country. Everyone is very supportive of each other and is genuinely happy for other reporters that do well.

Rich Germosen

Friendships with my fellow competitors. There’s a saying that if you want to become a better musician, play with musicians who are better than you. This also applies to our profession. That and the deadline of a contest keep me accountable to practice.

Kathryn A. Thomas

It was a great experience, and I am excited to try again now that I am familiar with the format and procedure. It’s an honor to be able to sit next to the best writers in the country (and Canada).

Myrina A. Kleinschmidt, RMR, CRR

National Speed Contest qualifier

Wayzata, Minn.

It’s nothing more than self-satisfaction! There’s also a nice camaraderie built among the contestants.

Patricia Orsini Nilsen

Do you get nervous before the contests and, if so, what do you do to help calm your nerves?

I was nervous right before each take started, which surprised me. I didn’t know what to expect, certainly didn’t think I would be nervous after 28 years as a reporter. But I guess it becomes real when you’re actually there at the start of the competition. To calm myself down, I just had to remind myself that I was only there to prove to myself what I was capable of, no one else’s expectations mattered, and if I didn’t get a grip and go for it, I wouldn’t know.

Juli LaBadia

It can be a mind game. I wasn’t nervous at all in Philadelphia in 2012. Next year in Nashville my hands were sweaty, and I was nervous compared to the previous year. When I hear the words “Ready, begin,” I take a really deep breath, let it out, and then close my eyes and write.

Rich Germosen

I had nothing to lose by entering the contest so I didn’t really get nervous. On the day of the contest, I drove in from my house in Staten Island, got stuck in New York tra­ffic, and made it in the nick of time, so I had just enough time to set up, warm up, and get ready to write. I had no time to get nervous. I don’t recommend that strategy either. I should have gotten a room for the night before the contest.

Anthony D. Frisolone

Not really. I’m usually too busy visiting with colleagues I haven’t seen since the last convention!

Kathryn A. Thomas

Absolutely! I tend to shut myself off from the outside world and try to stay in my own head. I find that once warmed up properly for a contest, listening to music and avoiding any conversation or interaction to be very effective in staying in the zone and keeping myself calm and concentrated. A deep breath and concerted effort to relax my shoulders at the start of each test goes a long way.

Jeffrey Weigl

The adrenaline rush I experience before and during the dictation is almost disabling, most notably quaking hands. My only words of advice: Keep doing it. Practice to new material, pretend you’re at the contest, and write it like it counts.

Donna M. Urlaub

Do you have any special good luck rituals you rely on before you compete?

Good preparation trumps ritual!

Alan H. Brock

I like to wear these lucky red socks on contest day. Kidding! I don’t like to do a ton of warm up in the room pre-dictation. I close my eyes, zone out, and try to forget that this is the contest. Usually in the first sentence of dictation I find myself thinking: Okay, this counts … let’s go. Then I try to close my eyes and zone out. That works best for me.

Rich Germosen

I went to the gym that morning as I usually do, and the workout helped me stay calm and allowed me to be focused on something other than being nervous. I also thought about my dad a lot that morning. He was very supporting of my reporting career and always told me to be the best at what I do. Even though I didn’t come anywhere close to even qualifying, he would have been proud of me for even trying.

Anthony D. Frisolone

I throw on some sort of T-shirt that makes me happy, maybe a sentimental piece of jewelry.

Patricia Orsini Nilsen

Just get a good night’s sleep. If you can, arrive more than a day before so that you can acclimate yourself to the environs, just kind of hang out, and have private time to practice in your room.

Donna M. Urlaub

What advice do you have for first­-time contestants for preparing themselves?

The results never, ever turn out the way you think. Go in with the mindset that you are there for the experience. Be relaxed, and don’t take the competitions so seriously.

Dee Boenau

It’s fun to prepare, and most especially it’s a pleasure to see how the preparation makes you a better reporter.

Alan H. Brock

The tests are slower than you think!

Mirabai Knight

Focus on doing your best, not where you’ll end up on the scoreboard. There is a great deal of pride in knowing you’ve done your best.

Donna J. Karoscik

Definitely attend the practice session the afternoon before! This allows you to become accustomed to the dictators’ voices, write the previous years’ contest material, catch up with and meet fellow sufferers, and just all around settle down and settle in.

Donna M. Urlaub

What is the one tip you would give to some­ one who is considering competing?

You have absolutely nothing to lose by putting yourself out there, especially if you go into it with no expectations except to do your personal best. What’s the worst that could happen that you disappoint yourself? But what if you pass every take instead?

Juli LaBadia

You will enjoy the experience alone even if you do not qualify, and you will meet some great new friends. You have nothing to lose by competing. And you never know; even if it’s your first year competing, that doesn’t mean you won’t win. Last year’s competition is proof of that!

Michelle Kirkpatrick

If you’re an RMR or a CRR and you’ll be at the convention, sign up for the contest. You never know unless you try. Just do it and see how you do.

Rich Germosen

Don’t worry about it. The stakes are not that high.

Mirabai Knight

Just do it.

Dee Boenau

Do you have any advice for people even if they don’t think they want to compete?

Practice does make you better, and you should keep working on refining your dictionary, even 30 years into a career. You owe it to yourself to not become complacent and to be the best reporter that you can be.

Juli LaBadia

We have every reason to be our very best if we want to see our professions grow and thrive. You might just be the next dark horse!

Dee Boenau

Find some way to push yourself. Somewhere. Comfort is fatal.

Kathryn A. Thomas

I would recommend that anyone who is qualified to participate does compete at some point. It has energized me to be better and I am now practicing for Chicago.

Myrina A. Kleinschmidt


Why enter the speed contest?

By Alan H. Brock

Why enter the speed contest? The answer really can be reframed as: Why do we want more speed?

In our everyday work as court reporters, we are constantly thinking, evaluating what we hear and how to render it on our realtime screens. Was that word in or and, imminent or eminent, cost or costs? We want our realtime to be as close to perfect as possible, even if no one else is seeing it, because every mistranslate or untranslate represents time that we have to spend making corrections after our session is over. Time is money; the more time I have to spend working on a transcript after the session is over, the less money I am making per hour worked and the less time I have for other activities in my life.

Of course, if we are taking speakers whose velocity of speech is at the outer limits of our capabilities, then we can’t a­fford to be thinking about those niceties of writing of homonyms and word boundaries, of punctuation, or even of understanding what we are hearing. All we can do is hold onto our hats and try to keep from being bucked o­ the speedy horse. Our guiding principle becomes just getting something down and figuring it out later!

So back to that first question: Why more speed? The more speed we have, the less often we have to spend e­ ort just to keep up and the more we can focus on excellent realtime — and the more money per total hours worked we can make. Speed matters because it makes our realtime better, makes our work easier and less stressful, and earns us more money.

It was great to win the speed contest twice (in 2003 and 2011), but its greatest benefits came just because I was practicing for it, especially in those first years of entering, when I was thrilled just to qualify. My everyday writing became cleaner. I could focus on detailed realtime punctuation. I had time to make notes to myself. My work became far more enjoyable. In short, the most important rewards of gaining more speed have been the results that show up every day in my writing. Preparing for the contest, no matter how well or not I did in any year, has been a game-changer for my everyday work!

Alan H. Brock, RDR, CRR, is a freelance reporter from Boston, Mass.



Annemarie Roketenetz is NCRA’s Assistant Director of Communications. She is the sta­ff liaison to the Contests Committee. She can be reached at

Read more about the history of the speed and realtime contests, as well as the rules, at This year, the Speed Contest will be held Wednesday, Aug. 3, starting at 9 a.m. CT, and the Realtime Contest will be held Thursday, Aug. 4, starting at 1 p.m. There is an optional practice session held for competitors on Tuesday, Aug. 2, starting at 3 p.m., and the competitors often meet up for a dinner at a local restaurant on Tuesday evening.

People interested in registering for these events should do so early, as spaces are limited. Spectators are permitted for the Speed and Realtime Contests.