INTERSTENO: Demystifying the Intersteno Speech Capturing Competition

By Laura P. Brewer

Are you curious about the Intersteno speed competition (referred to as Speech Capturing at Intersteno), but your eyes glaze over when people start talking about four-point versus one-point penalties; sections A, B, and C; incremental speed increases; testing strategy; and tables for syllables per minute in seven different languages?

Take heart — you are not the only one who gets confused! But don’t let that stop you from participating in something that just might be the highlight of your career. Attending an Intersteno conference and competing in one or more of the competitions is a rewarding and fun experience like no other, and it provides an opportunity to travel to interesting destinations and meet people from around the world who are excited and enthusiastic about stenography.

Next summer – July 2017 – the Intersteno conference will be in Berlin, an interesting and vibrant city with convenient air connections from most major U.S. cities. English is widely spoken in Germany, and German cities are modern, safe, and interesting, making them ideal tourist and business destinations. Team USA is looking for reporters who are interested in joining the American contingent at the Olympics of court reporting, and we would love to see you.

At its core, Intersteno’s Speech Capturing competition is a speed competition, most similar to the literary portion of the annual NCRA Speed Contest. The table below contrasts Intersteno’s Speech Capturing competition with NCRA’s Speed Contest.

Intersteno Speech Capturing Competition NCRA Speed Contest
Length 3 5-minute segments, dictated as one 15-minute take with a pause at the conclusion of minute 5 and minute 10 3 5-minute segments, dictated as separate takes
Speed Literary material (United Nations or European Commission texts)


Speed is by syllable count and increases every minute


Section C

Slowest speeds

From roughly 92-132 wpm


Section B

Moderate speeds

From roughly 144-192 wpm


Section C

Fastest speeds

From roughly 205-258 wpm


Literary: 220 wpm

Legal Opinion: 230 wpm

Testimony: 280 wpm


Speed is word count, not adjusted for syllabic density, so the difficulty can vary depending on the word density of the text.

Rules Rules subject to change before each Intersteno Congress Rules generally remain the same from one year to the next



Intersteno weights errors by their significance (Intersteno calls them “penalties”):


-4 points – Any error that changes the meaning of the sentence; the first word of a drop.


-1 point – All other errors or subsequent words in a drop.


-Repeated errors counted only once.

Same guidelines as RPR “What is an error?”


-1 point – each error


Scoring and Maximum Penalties allowed Sections graded in three-minute segments. For each three-minute segment passed, the grading continues to the next segment. Contestants need only turn in the highest completed section (C, B, or A).


Allowed errors range from -24 points to -57 points per three-minute segment as you progress from the slowest to the fastest dictation.




95 percent accuracy required to qualify. Contestants must qualify on all three sections in order to hold a place in the overall rankings. Each 5-minute segment is graded and scored individually, then an overall score is calculated averaging the three takes:


Literary – 55 errors

Legal Opinion – 58 errors

Testimony – 70 errors

Time to transcribe 150 minutes 90 minutes per section
Form of dictation Recorded Live
Minimum Accuracy to Qualify or Pass 92%. (Note that some errors are -4 points.) Successful competitors must turn in at least one complete section (C, B, or A) and pass the first three minutes. 95%. To qualify overall, each take must have 95% or greater accuracy.

Join Team USA in Berlin and try your hand at international competition. The spirit and camaraderie are phenomenal and really enhance the experience. Intersteno provides a unique opportunity to get to know your colleagues better in a fun atmosphere.

Team USA participation in Intersteno includes:

  • NCRA member Russell Page is a Washington, D.C.,–area reporter and Intersteno board member who will be the proctor for English contestants for the Speech Capturing Competition in Berlin.
  • NCRA member and long-time Intersteno volunteer Linda Drake, of Savannah, Ga, is on the Intersteno Jury and will be in charge of the Realtime Competition in Berlin.
  • NCRA’s Intersteno Committee, comprising Tori Pittman, RDR, CRI, (chair), Russell Page, Linda Drake, Kelly Linkowski, RPR, CRR, CRC, CPE, and Laura Brewer, RDR, CRR, CRC, will also attend

And we hope to see you.

Laura P. Brewer, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a CART captioner in Los Altos, Calif. She can be reached at

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GOING GLOBAL: Be in Berlin

By John Wissenbach

“A velotypist, a stenotypist, and a palantypist walked into a bar…”

It may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but in July 2017, reporters from all over the world will begin streaming into the city of Berlin to attend Intersteno’s 51st Congress. Where better to rub shoulders with a 90-year-old retiree, an eight-year-old able to keyboard 475 strokes a minute, a reporter who can write 15 different languages, or any of the many attendees taking the opportunity to have a European vacation and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow professionals.

I attended Intersteno for the first time in Paris in 2011. In the process of overhauling my theory, I had been spending a considerable time practicing to science podcasts, so Intersteno’s straight literary contest material appealed to me. Having passed my Certificate of Merit as a teenager, dipping my toe into the contest waters seemed the only venue left for measuring how successful someone who once wrote “objection” in three strokes could be in radically changing their writing style.

The Intersteno speed competition starts off at a slow pace, has a faster middle section, and ends with the contestants begging for mercy. Everyone is a winner, as contestants are ranked according to what minute they survive to in the 15-minute dictation, allowing them to compete against their own record at the following Congress. The realtime dictation runs for eight minutes.

If contests aren’t your thing, there are still plenty of reasons to be in Berlin next year. First-timers may be astounded at the number of young people participating in Intersteno. But equally impressive are the number of retired reporters. There will be entertainment for the opening and closing ceremonies and excursions and dinners throughout the week, thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, including NCRA’s own unsung Intersteno superheroes — Virgene Biggers, RPR, of Metairie, La.;  Russell Page of Washington, D.C., and Teri Gaudet of Sparta, N.J., and their spouses.

Those not wanting to miss the experience of a lifetime should go to and look for the periodic E-News publications that are posted.

Be in Berlin!

John Wissenbach, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter based in San Francisco, Calif. He can be reached at

GOING GLOBAL: It’s never too early to start planning to attend the 51st Intersteno Congress in Berlin in 2017

If competing internationally or just meeting others in a similar profession from other countries is on your bucket list, consider attending the 51st Intersteno Congress in Berlin, Germany, set to take place July 22-28, 2017.

Intersteno, the International Federation for Information and Communication Processing, is a worldwide community with members that represent all manners of information technology, including court reporters and captioners, as well as secretaries, teachers, parliamentary reporters, and others who use any technology that produces fast writing. The organization holds it Congress every two years and offers attendees a schedule full of educational sessions, presentations, and competitions in realtime, speed, audio translation, typing, and more. Other activities often include galas and tours of the host city or local area. The event offers attendees a unique view of how the written word captured throughout the world.

According to NCRA members who have attended an Intersteno Congress, it’s never too early to start making plans to an event that offers an unforgettable experience.

“I start planning for Intersteno nine to 12 months in advance,” says Karen Yates, CRR, CRC, a CART provider from Minden, Nev. Yates said that her planning includes checking other conferences to avoid conflicts in her schedule, securing flights, making sure her Intersteno membership dues are up to date, and securing lodging. She also checks to make sure her passport is current and that she has the correct electrical adaptors for the local area.

“I would also arrive a day or two early, especially if I were competing,” Yates adds. “Jet lag can be a factor, and just adapting to the new time zone can be a challenge. It’s also helpful to get comfortable with a location, local transportation, and have all the registration matters settled early.”

Laura Brewer, RDR, CRR, CRC, Los Altos, Calif., a state, national, and international realtime champion, agrees that arriving at least two days prior to the start of the competitions at Intersteno if you plan to participate is a wise idea. “Flights can always be delayed (by weather or otherwise), connections can be missed, etc. Plan for the unexpected, and you won’t be disappointed,” she said. “Planning to arrive two days in advance gives you one day of cushion. Arriving two days in advance also gives you an extra night to catch up on sleep and to adjust to the time change.”

Yates also says she usually allows for two to three months of practice time if she plans to compete during the event. “I email my dictionaries to myself before departing, just in case. I do take an iPhone or iPad with speed dictation on it and Bose noise-cancelling headphones for practice. And then I read and reread the rules and practice the right content.”

The 49th Intersteno Congress held in Ghent, Belgium, in 2013, provided attendees Debra Levinson, RMR, CRR, CRI, CRMS, a freelance reporter from White Plains, N.Y., and Dom Tursi, an official court reporter from Islip, N.Y., with an experience that was welcoming, informative, professional, and uplifting.

“It was an unforgettable experience being among an international forum of like-minded professionals coming together for the same purpose, showcasing a myriad of methods of capturing the spoken word,” Levinson said. “It was an education to experience the different technologies that other countries use to accomplish the same means.”

“The professionalism and knowledge shared by everyone I met was, in a word, awesome. And the skill demonstrated by youngsters and more mature practitioners, in varied categories and at so many skill levels, was an inspiration,” says Tursi.

“Although it’s fun to see familiar faces in foreign lands, it is even better to make new friends with fellow competitors and colleagues from other countries,” says Yates. “Join people you don’t know at the breakfast table, for a cup of coffee on a break, or for a beer at the end of the day. Take advantage of the chance to hear about work life from those making the record with voice, pen, simple keyboard, and a myriad of types of steno machines.”

In 2015, NCRA member Clay Frazier, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Los Angeles, Calif., attended an Intersteno Congress for the first time and also competed in the international realtime competition. In comments made in a previous article about his experience at the Congress held in Budapest, Hungary, Frazier said: “What I left Budapest with amounts to much more. Keyboardists from other countries were not just eager to share with me their writing systems but also their friendship. The atmosphere of the Intersteno festivities was enjoyable and educational, and I found the beauty of Budapest to be nothing short of breathtaking. I am honored to have been a part of it and look forward to Berlin in 2017.”

For more information about Intersteno and the 51st Intersteno Congress being planned for 2017 in Berlin, Germany, visit or


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