Things to learn, people to meet: Navigating the NCRA Convention & Expo as a student

Three smiling female students at the NCRA Convention & ExpoCourt reporting students agree: Meeting new people and learning new things are the best reasons to attend a conference like the NCRA Convention & Expo. Students who have attended one of the past Conventions share their advice for making the most out of the experience, just in time for the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, Aug. 10-13, at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.

Network, network, network

Without a doubt, networking is one of the top reasons to attend a convention, and the Convention atmosphere itself helps. “Conventions are just a lot of fun. Reporters have a great time when they’re all together,” says Sarah Hamilton, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind.

The NCRA Convention & Expo is the largest gathering of court reporters and captioners in the country, so students have a good chance of meeting a wide range of working professionals, including people students may already be familiar with. “It’s great to put a face to a name,” said Hamilton.

“I’ve met people who’ve really made me feel lucky, and that I’ve chosen the right field,” said Kristina Carmody, a student at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. Carmody mentioned a few examples of working reporters who have helped her with advice: “Steve Zinone, RPR, is the most humble, easiest person to talk to. He not only motivated me to continue the hard work, but he reminded of all the success we can really achieve if we continue to work for it. He is unbelievably positive and so nice.” She also mentioned Sue Terry, RPR, CRR. “She has advice and experience in every avenue, and she’s been so generous and sweet to me. She has told me how to keep pushing through doubts and given great pointers to practice.”

Networking can be intimidating, but court reporting students have found a few strategies to help. Larona Cooper, a student at MacCormac College in Chicago, Ill., suggests being proactive and introducing yourself to other court reporters. She also suggests “preparing a couple of questions in advance to ask other court reporters to assist you in your career choice” as an icebreaker.

Katelyn Van Slycke, a student at San Antonio College in San Antonio, Texas, says, “Find a working reporter and tag along with them. Have someone who will invite you to sit with them or go out on the town with them. It makes a big difference when you’re in a new city.”

Students and the NCRA Board of Directors mingle at Convention

Christine Willette, 2017-2018 NCRA President, mingles with students at a Board of Directors meet-and-greet at the NCRA Convention & Expo

A few of the scheduled events can help with networking. Shaunise Day, a student at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., says, “Attend the Awards Luncheon and sit at a table where you don’t know anyone. You will walk away feeling proud and inspired.” Jessica Frizzell, a student at College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., recommends going to the president’s suite to meet the NCRA Board of Directors, which is part of the student track.

Feeling shy? Frizzell suggests wearing the student ribbon on your name badge — it will do the work for you. “I was a bit shy and nervous at first and didn’t know who to talk to or how to approach them,” she says. “If you wear that student ribbon, people will come to you!”

However a student chooses to network, the point is to use these conversations to your advantage. “You need to truly listen to what someone is telling you even if you think you’re years away from ever encountering such a thing,” says Hamilton. “Really be open-minded about the advice you receive and know that working reporters sincerely want to help you because they are so passionate about this profession.”

The Convention can also provide a boost in inspiration. “I enjoy my schooling and enjoy this profession, but the people I met and spoke with at Convention reminded me of why I’m working so hard and lit a fire in me to practice even harder so I can get out there and be a part of the working world,” says Frizzell.

Of course, the true value of networking happens after the event. “Make an effort to stay in touch with friends you make during the Convention,” says Christine Ho, a student at Mark Kislingbury’s Academy of Court Reporting. Follow up with everyone you meet once you get home, and then contact them regularly with updates, questions, or a simple hello. After all, one of your new contacts may be a future employer.

Getting the most out of sessions

The NCRA Convention & Expo includes a student track with sessions and activities that are designed to motivate students, help them find a community, and learn new strategies of getting through school.

Michael Roberts, a student at Brown College of Court Reporting in Atlanta, Ga., attended a session entitled “Finishing your program: You can do this!” given by Eileen Beltz at the 2017 Convention in Chicago. “Hearing stories from others who have had the same struggles is encouraging because you find out you’re not the only one dealing with these conflicts,” he says.

Kensie Benoit and Clay Frazier present at the NCRA Convention & Expo

Kensie Benoit and Clay Frazier present at the NCRA Convention & Expo

Day cites the session “What I Didn’t Learn in Court Reporting School” from the 2015 Convention in San Francisco, given by Kensie Benoit and Clay Frazier, RMR, CRR, as particularly motivating. “I was on the verge of deciding to give up a few months prior, and it wasn’t until I sat in on this seminar and realized that I can and will finish school despite my many challenges with working full time and going to school full time,” she says. She also learned about the many steno Facebook groups during this session.

Sessions are also a good way to meet working reporters who you admire. Cooper found the “Punctuation for the Real World” seminar moderated by Margie Wakeman Wells, CRI, at the 2017 Convention in Chicago, to be particularly helpful. “I could have listened to her all day to glean wisdom from her years of experience,” she said. “She directed the students in her seminar to read and practice our steno outlines from business magazines such as Newsweek and Time in order to increase our vocabulary, knowledge of current events, and steno writing skills.”

Linda Perez, a student at Downey Adult School in Downey, Calif., points out that one of the reasons to attend Convention is “to learn up-to-date demands in the work field.” The student track includes a couple time slots in which students can attend any session they want, and many students who have attended before recommend sitting in on a few of the sessions that are geared toward working professionals.

Carmody sat in on a session on writing more efficiently. “It was nice to have new pointers and to be able to hear different perspectives and opinions from multiple professionals, students, and schools,” she said.

Mixing and mingling in the Expo Hall

Don’t forget that the Convention includes an Expo Hall with vendors representing a variety of products and services and NCRA staff members with information about different NCRA programs and resources. In addition, several social events are held in the Expo Hall, including the Opening Reception. Day suggests using the Expo Hall as a place to mingle — with so many people around, you’re bound to make a connection.

A man in a suit shows a steno machine to a reporter at the Expo Hall

Trying a new machine at the Expo Hall

The Expo Hall also provides students the opportunity to begin planning what they’ll need once they enter the working world. “Talk to all the vendors about their products even if buying expensive equipment is still far in the future for you,” recommends Hamilton. Day advises also trying out different writers.

Alternatively, students may find resources in the Expo Hall that can help them right away. Day says, “Make a list of books that you’ve always wanted, and purchase them at the Expo. Books are normally sold at a discounted Convention rate.”

Top ten tips for students attending the NCRA Convention & Expo

  1. Find a reporter who you can pair up with if you are by yourself.
  2. Load the NCRA app before attending to get an overview of the Convention.
  3. If you are in higher speeds, sit in on some of the regular (not student) seminars.
  4. Court reporters love students! So be prepared to mingle with reporters who come up to you.
  5. Attend Convention as a group with other students to maximize your experience.
  6. It can be very overwhelming at times, so make sure you slow down and try to relax.
  7. Be on time to all student seminars, and sit in front.
  8. Make student business cards.
  9. Every single day at the convention has something new. Try to get as much knowledge as possible with everything being offered.
  10. Talk to as many people as you can.

And the number one tip for court reporting students thinking of attending the NCRA Convention & Expo? Perez sums it up: “Do it. Go. It is an investment.”