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Membership in a practice group is more than just practice

For the past several years, Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR, a freelance court reporter from North Brunswick, N.J., has led his 100-day Challenge Practice Group on Facebook, where members make a commitment to practice 100 days in a row or longer.

Germosen, who also serves as an NCRF Trustee and chair of the Foundation’s Angels Gatherers Committee, qualified ninth overall in the 2021 National Speed Contest held at the 2021 NCRA Conference & Expo last month in Las Vegas, Nev. A seasoned court reporter, Germosen is also a multiple National Speed and Realtime Contest qualifier.

“Being a member of the practice page with many of the competitors and practicing together through the year and participating in special challenges together, this is the way to practice,” Germosen said.

“We pick up briefs or other tricks throughout the year. Being in ‘the contest room,’ looking around and seeing a lot of your friends as well as two or three new faces here and there, not knowing who’s going to win it all, who’s going to get second and third places, who’s going to qualify, and then being genuinely happy for each other and so proud of each other, that’s what it’s all about. Practice is very important. Practicing and sharing posts all year long with a group of other stenographers that share the same goal of improving each and every day? It’s priceless to me,” he added.

Germosen said that he was excited to see that so many of this year’s Contest participants and qualifying contestants were also members of his practice group. Curious to find out from some what they deem is the greatest benefit from participating, he reached out and asked. Below is some of what they shared:

“COVID tried to kill me, but this group saved me. I was on day 319 of consecutive practice when I had to bow out. After a weeklong hospitalization and a month away from my machine I could barely write a 180 wpm RPR literary take. I was so discouraged; lots of tears and frustration. I kept at it. A few weeks before Las Vegas, I seriously questioned why I was going to attempt the Speed Contest. But I kept pushing. I qualified in the literary and the Q&A! It was my personal best. I still have goosebumps that I was still here and in that room with some of the best reporters in the country. And now I’m looking forward to 2022 in Orlando, Fla. I still have work to do.  

Stephanie Battaglia, RMR, CRR, freelance court reporter, Hinsdale, Ill., 2021 Speed Contest literary, 14th place

“The Practice Group changes your life, makes you a better reporter. There are tons of tips, and it pushes you to never give up.” 

Jennifer Billstein-Miller, RMR, CRR, freelance court reporter, Mantua, N.J.

“I have been a part of Rich’s 100-day Challenge Practice Group for probably more than five years, and I find that it is beneficial in multiple ways. First, it’s a brilliant way to keep accountable, not only to the entire group but to your individual partner(s). I’ve done some challenges with a partner or two or three, and I’ve also done challenges by myself, and I definitely feel even more accountable when I have a partner to answer to.

“I absolutely believe that if it weren’t for this practice group, I would not have had the results that I have had over the last several years in the Realtime Contest and even this year in the Speed Contest. In addition, having continually practiced for such long periods of time with hopefully relatively short breaks, I feel like I am at the top of my game. And if/when I’m experiencing challenges in getting the record, I confidently feel like it must be them, not me. My job is so much easier because I’m writing faster and cleaner. One other huge benefit to this group is that we exchange tips and tricks and briefs, and those are being shared all the way from students to Speed and Realtime Contest champions. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, freelance court reporter, captioner, and agency owner, Redmon, Wash., 2021 Realtime Contest 3rd place overall; Speed Contest 9th place literary and 8th place testimony

“Just as I was heading to my hammock to rest on my laurels after passing the RMR, my friend Melanie Humphrey-Sonntag, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, said, ‘Congratulations! Now you can do the Speed Contest!’ My beautiful friend Melanie is a real pushy type, and I love her for it. Meanwhile, I had never seen a Speed Contest or even been to an NCRA Conference before. But the 100-Day Challenge Practice Group is a whole bunch of folks who believe there is plenty of room at the top. And they eagerly volunteer to take you by the hand and hoist you up, whether you’ve been at this for decades or you’re a brand-new student. And there are so many ‘elite’ writers in our group, still practicing, which was confusing to me when I first joined the group. It’s like when you see a really fit person going hard at the gym, and you think, you’re done. Why are you still here? But this group practices every day, on holidays, on vacations, in the recovery room after surgery. We are committed to 15 minutes a day for 100 days of focused, intentional practice. And that is the secret sauce.

“We all need bossy friends who challenge us to be better, don’t let us slack off without a pretty good reason, cheer for us when we keep chugging along when it would be easier to quit, and ask us if we’ve signed up for the RDR yet as we are walking out of the Awards Luncheon. THAOEZ R MAOI PAOEPL!”

Amy Doman, RMR, CRR, freelance court reporter, Carmel, Ind., 2021 Speed Contest 8th place overall

“The practice group is a place for like-minded, goal-driven reporters and students to come together to improve their skill set. The reason I find the group so beneficial is accountability. You are more likely to practice and meet your goals if they are spoken into the universe and you feel that others are holding you accountable. Working on your skills every single day will lead to overall improvement and excellence. When a member doesn’t quite get a high enough score to pass a certification test, we are there to lift them up. When a member does pass a certification test or a practice milestone, we are there to cheer them on and congratulate them. When a member is going through a personal crisis, we come together and help. We all want each other to succeed. The camaraderie is unmatched anywhere else on Facebook. Fellow steno nerds unite!”

Allison M. Hall, RDR, CRR, official court reporter, Tulsa, Okla., 2021 Speed Contest 5th place literary and 2nd place testimony

“I joined the group in the spring of 2016 and at Convention I finished second to Jeff Weigl, RMR, CRR, CRC, from Canada – so I was the fastest in the country! Coincidence? I think not! The focus of the practice group has improved my game. Having accountability to practice every single day is so grounding and positive. Before, I’d plan to start ‘practice season’ in March, then it slid later and later, but I’d get rolling in June. To know I’m going to practice something at least 15 minutes a day keeps me focused on improving my craft.

“The camaraderie is invaluable. When others are striving for a particular certification, bonds have been built among folks who may never meet in person but are friends for life. I’m lucky that I actually have met the majority of those in the group. Many will never meet more than a handful, but the group has been a lifeline and source of support in our far-flung and often isolated profession. During the 2020 pandemic it was extremely comforting to have others close to or in our lifeboats for moral support and to help working to, again, improve our skills to be ready when the work-harder upswing returned.

“The positivity of the group is off the charts, often called the best group on Facebook. Yes, we’re high achievers, including theory students to Contest champions. Everyone cheers for and celebrates others’ successes, and Rich somehow keeps track of almost everyone. Birthdays, weddings, deaths – we’re a community with shared commonality. The care and love among the group is almost palpable, and I still get goosebumps as we practice extra sessions for our members who have passed on. Who knew steno could be so bonding?” 

Melanie Humphrey-Sonntag, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, official court reporter, Cheyenne, Wyo., 2021 Speed Contest 3rd place overall

“I kept hearing about this coveted practice group on Facebook. In light of the fact that I had the national Speed and Realtime Contests coming up, as well as the ones in Texas, I decided to message Rich. He responded with the details, and I said, ‘Put me on the list. If I can keep a Candy Crush streak going, I can do steno.’ When I first became a member, I was basically just doing a little more than the minimum 15 minutes for the first month. Then I finally committed to the NCRA Speed and Realtime Contests and thought it was time to up my game with only 33 days before the big day. I began practicing with more intention. I had a goal I was working toward, and time was limited. I was logging two to three hours per day in the final weeks. The practice group kept me going because I saw how hard they were working. Being surrounded by folks with a passion for steno who want to do better and be better and recognize each other for their efforts is the biggest source of motivation for me. 

“This year was my first national competition, and I was a little apprehensive walking into the practice room. Allison Hall was the only one I knew personally. I had merely seen the other competitors through their Facebook profiles or their posts in the practice group. I was a total newbie, and hardly anybody knew me. I was immediately greeted by Melanie Humphrey-Sonntag, who made me feel very welcome and gave me a quick rundown of how things would proceed. In just a few short minutes, my fears subsided, and I was stoked by the excitement in the room. When I would meet people in the practice rooms or wherever we were congregating, I’d immediately say, ‘Oh, I recognize your name from the practice group!’ With that commonality, we were already bonded in a sense. It made for a much friendlier Conference on a national level where sometimes you don’t know that many people.”

Tami Lewis, RDR, CRR, CRC, official and freelance court reporter, Athens, Texas, 2021 Speed Contest 7th overall

“I joined the practice group about four years ago to ‘team practice’ with a coworker who needed to pass a certification test to keep her job. This is after 30-plus years of being certified and believing I was over the whole practice thing. If you write all day, who needs to practice, right? Once I got started with my 15 minutes a day and learning from all the great writers in the group, I was hooked and actually wanted to practice! After suffering a devastating arm injury in September of 2018, the thing that saved my career (and my sanity) was the practice group. The camaraderie and positivity are second to none. I have made lifelong friends in this group. My writing has exponentially improved, and I will be forever grateful to Rich for forming this group and letting me participate.”

Traci Mertens, RDR, CRR, CRC, official court reporter and captioner, Alexandria, Va., 2021 Speed Contest, 4th overall

“A few years ago, I decided to try sitting for the Contest. I didn’t have any expectations of placing. However, I did think that it would motivate me to practice to improve my skillset. And with a faster skillset, my everyday jobs would be a little easier and more comfortable. That’s how it works. So that’s exactly what I did.  My goal was just to qualify. I was only challenging myself and no one else in the room.

“In order to prepare, I joined Rich’s practice group. The group has a lot of great high-speed practice dictation available to the members. But, more importantly, the group provides support. The members are like family. They cheer you on and wish you only the best. If you’re stuck or you need advice or even a brief, they are right there for you.   

“Without someone holding me accountable, I know I would slack off and not put in the time every day. A couple of months before this year’s contest, I decided I would sign up for the Speed Contest again. I asked Rich to add me in and then I started. I practiced 280 wpm dictation every single day. This year, I passed the 280 leg for the first time ever. It wasn’t the best score in the world, but it was passing. I was elated and felt like I placed in first place because it was my goal to pass, and I did. I would never have accomplished that without the support of the group. See you in Orlando, Fla.!”

Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, freelance court reporter and captioner, Mobile, Ala., 2021 Speed Contest 12th place literary, and NCRA’s 2021 Distinguished Service Award recipient

“’If you want to be a better musician, hang around those who are better musicians than you.’ I’ve heard that adage a time or two in my musician days, and it’s absolutely true. The theme of the annual 2021 NCRA Conference & Expo was about shining brighter together. When you’re in a group of positive individuals who wish to up their game, up their skills, you will do likewise. Peer pressure may not be the negative thing we were warned about! When individuals are members of a group, they tend to assimilate the characteristics of the group. Why not take advantage of this trait in a positive manner by joining or creating a group whose ideals and goals are to become better writers?”

Kathryn A. Thomas, RDR, CRR, CRC, captioner, Caseyville, Ill., 2021 Speed Contest, 10th overall

“For me, practice helps me not only work on speed/accuracy but help my nerves. I used to always qualify in the Realtime Contests, but not so much the last four or five years. It’s just nerves, pure and simple. I work harder on speed than I do on realtime. This year, I will be practicing differently so that hopefully in Orlando I will be ready to qualify in realtime!”

Karen Tyler, RDR, CRR, CRC, freelance court reporter, Shreveport, La., 2021 Speed Contest, 6th overall

“Practice has been invaluable to me because, like exercise, it’s a great habit. I feel accountable to myself and the group, for sure. But there’s practice and there’s practice. Writing every day to varied material – news, pharma commercials, podcast interviews with smart, fast-talking, and interesting people – allows me to expand my dictionary, identify problem words, encounter and define words that I wouldn’t necessarily hear on the job. If I’ve heard and written it, maybe even came up with a brief, it’s not going to ‘stop’ in my brain on the way out to my fingers. It’s not that our fingers aren’t fast enough, it’s our brain – the best computer there is – that we’re flexing. And I would be remiss in not thanking Rich for creating and nurturing this group. I used to say that writing on the job was practice enough. I couldn’t have been more wrong. At 71 years old and 52 years of reporting, I owe it to practice for keeping me at the top of my game.”

Donna Urlaub, RMR, CRR, freelance court reporter and agency owner, Chicago, Ill., and 2021 National Speed Contest Winner  

“Accountability. I do a pretty good job of holding myself accountable for practicing daily, but Maestro (Rich) is so very in tune with the group that he sees and ‘likes’ every post noting your daily practice stats. He keeps the group small because it’s easier (a relative term) to manage. Knowing that I have people like Rich and others in the group holding me accountable for practicing every day helps to motivate me even when I’m unmotivated. He does a great job with this group and I’m glad he keeps it small. Slackers beware, because Rich will ‘gently’ remove you if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Talking about practicing and doing it are two different things, so actions speak louder than words! Since there’s a waiting list, he can immediately fill the void left behind. Practicing daily – today was day 894 consecutive for me – has really helped my writing overall with both speed and realtime accuracy. I’m not surprised that group members comprised the majority of qualifiers in both Contests!”

Douglas Zweizig, RDR, CRR, official court reporter and captioner, Wilmington, Del., and the 2021 Realtime Contest winner, 2021 Speed Contest 2nd place overall

Rich Germosen can be reached at