Champagne wishes, bow tie dance parties, and professional networking all part of NCRA Connect

NCRA President Christine Phipps and NCRA Executive Director Dave Wenhold

While networking looked a little different than past NCRA conferences, members still had fun moments and time to share at NCRA Connect Virtual 2020.

The first day of the conference ended with Max’s Favorite Things. Guests were invited to put on their bow ties and hear Max share some of his favorite things (including his never-before released drink recipe). The evening ended with a dance party.

“I attended Max’s Favorite Things and that was really cool and engaging,” said Caitlyn Hartley, RPR, a freelancer in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I’d love to learn more cocktail recipes.”

“Max dazzled us with his martini mixology lesson,” said Darlene Parker, FAPR, RPR, a broadcast captioner and the director of steno captioning and realtime relations for the National Captioning Institute in Chantilly, Va. “At the end of the event, many attendees turned on their cameras and danced. Many were wearing the plastic bow ties, around their necks and in their hair, that they received in their convention packet — in honor of Max.”

After the learning sessions ended on Saturday, it was time for trivia. The final bonus question had everyone stumped. Here was the question (the answer is at the end of this story).

Bonus question: In 1927 NSRA adopted its first Code of Ethics, and women reporters were finally given the opportunity to play a more active part in future convention proceedings. Florence C. Chamberlain of Omaha, a member of the ________________ Committee, made the point that the committee’s work was difficult and “has always been wished off on the women of the association.” It was the only committee composed entirely of women.

After trivia, NCRA members hosted networking parties for captioners, CLVSs, freelancers, new professionals, officials, and students and teachers.

“I really loved virtually connecting on Saturday evening with other freelance reporters,” said Hartley. “That was a lot of fun! Actually, everyone enjoyed the Saturday meet-up so much that although it was slated for 6-6:45 p.m., we stayed on until 8 p.m. They extended our time.”

Parker attended the captioners’ networking party.

“I thought the virtual captioning networking session was great,” she said. “It was good to catch up with old friends, meet new people, and encourage those contemplating entering the field of captioning. A nice feature of a large group meeting virtually is that everyone in the ‘room’ was included in the conversation, unlike in-person events where people often tend to talk only with the people they know. Kelly Linkowski did a good job of ‘hosting’ the session and trying to include everyone. Later, a person I met in the session contacted me directly. During the convention, I also contacted a few attendees directly. That was a nice feature of the platform.”

Sunday night ended the conference with a toast to new NCRA President Christine Phipps, RPR, an agency owner from North Palm Beach, Fla., which included a lesson in cocktails from NCRA Director Membership and IT Natalie Dippenaar and NCRA Director of Events Terpse Gentile. NCRA Executive Director Dave Wenhold toasted Phipps, and then NCRA Vice President of Finance & Human Resources John Dripps shared some of the personal and professional aspirations that were sent in by NCRA members.

“This virtual conference was very important for me personally and professionally,” said Matthew Hanneman, a freelancer in Fargo, N.D. “There was a wealth of information on a national scale. It had been several years since I had attended an NCRA conference, and I missed them. I was able to get Facebook info for some new colleagues as well.”

Hartley said she liked to option to virtually connect: “I can’t usually take the time off work or really want to spend the money flying out to the NCRA conferences, so this was my first NCRA conference and I’ve been a member since I was a student in court reporting school eight or so years ago.”

“For me it made it possible to be able to see what the NCRA conferences offered and to be able to meet other reporters I wouldn’t normally meet. I will say that there were some technical difficulties about sessions restarting a couple times, but the ones that you play back that aren’t live worked fine and I think I still prefer virtual as it’s much more convenient and less expensive in regards to travel costs,” Hartley said. 

“Once we got past the glitches in the first few seminars on Friday, I thought the convention was great and went well,” Parker said. “There was a wide array of seminar topics to choose from. It was easy to ask questions at the end of each session. It was nice to be able to talk to vendors in the virtual exhibit hall. I really appreciate the fact that at a later time I can watch some of the sessions that I could not attend and also have the opportunity to again watch the ones I attended that I’d like to hear again because they were so chock-full of information.”

Parker even found a possible new career path for her husband when she ended up attending a CLVS seminar.

“I knew very little about legal videographers,” Parker said. “At about 10 minutes into Making the Record is a Team Sport with Lajuana Pruitt and Gayl Hardeman, it struck me that this could be a new career path for my husband. I attended all of the other CLVS sessions to learn as much as I could. Perhaps my husband will become a CLVS at some point. Thank you to the CLVS presenters and NCRA!”

The answer to the bonus question from the trivia party is the Necrology Committee.

Kislingbury and Smargon take top spots in NCRA’s first virtual Realtime Contest

Clockwise from top left: First-place winner Mark Kislingbury; second-place winner Sheri Smargon; Contests Committee member Donna Karoscik; and Contests Committee chair Judy Lehman

Mark Kislingbury, FAPR,  CRR, a captioner and freelance court reporter from Houston, Texas, and Sheri Smargon, RDR, CRR, CRC, a captioner and freelance court reporter from Riverview, Fla., earned the top spots in NCRA’s Literary Lockdown Realtime Contest with 21 errors and a 97.67 accuracy rate and 23 errors and a 97.44 percent accuracy rate, respectively.

The NCRA Literary Lockdown, held Aug. 5, was NCRA’s first ever virtual realtime contest. It consisted of a literary test read at 180 words per minute. More than 50 NCRA members participated in the contest via Zoom, writing dictation that was delivered by guest reader NCRA member Chuck Cady, a freelancer court reporter and agency owner from Cleveland, Ohio, and a past contest contestant and qualifier.

In lieu of a registration fee, contestants in NCRA’s Realtime Literary Lockdown were asked to donate to support NCRA’s A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program. A total of $2,500 was raised for the program.

Both Kislingbury and Smargon are longtime NCRA contest participants and qualifiers. Kislingbury, who currently holds the Guinness World Record for fastest stenographer at 360 words per minute, has won NCRA’s Realtime Contest on several occasions. Both Kislingbury and Smargon have also successfully competed on the international level, capturing top spots in the world keyboarding and world speed competition, respectively.

“I thought it sounded like a fun idea! The literary was very dense, so it was especially challenging to the dictionary, and I imagine that the many multisyllabic words made it easier for short writers to do well,” Kislingbury said. 

According to Kislingbury, he didn’t especially prepare for the virtual competition, he just continued his regular daily practice of  testimony and literary matter. “I do believe if court reporters will diligently work to shorten their writing with briefs and phrases for common words, it will help them gain a lot of speed and accuracy. Daily practice is a must as well,” he advised.

“Mark and I had actually participated in a virtual contest a month ago. So, Mark and I had a little bit of virtual competition experience going into NCRA’s Literary Lockdown,” said Smargon.

“The text was definitely harder than I expected, but I really have come to expect that from NCRA competitions. I actually didn’t prep at all. And when I go to the in-person competition, I don’t prep then either, unfortunately.”

Instead, Smargon said, she practices the high-speed material the day of the competition and hopes for the best. “I’ve never been a practicer, so it seems disingenuous to pretend to start now. Before the Literary Lockdown, I practiced a few minutes of the live dictation that were given ahead of time, but I had to reboot my computer, so I don’t think I even wrote five minutes before it was time to start,” she added.

Smargon said she had a goal  of competing during the NCRA conference that was supposed to be held in Orlando, Fla., especially since she lives just an hour from that location. “I’m pretty proud that I accomplished my goal, virtual or in person. This was the first year in 19 years that it was finally going to be somewhere I didn’t have to fly to get to … and then COVID.  But my goal last year leaving Denver was to definitely place in competition and to do better than I’d done in my previous attempts. So, while the Literary Lockdown was for ‘fun,’ I still count it as a real win.”

Members of the NCRA’s Contests Committee want to thank all of the contestants who participated in this first virtual event and for their generous support of the NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program.

Pet peeves and favorite words: An interview with Joe Aurelio

Retired court reporter Santo (Joe) Aurelio, FAPR, RDR (Ret.), Arlington, Mass., is one of the presenters who will be leading sessions during the new NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 conference. His session, “What Every Reporter Should Know About Punctuation to Transcribe Correctly,” is sure to offer many tips and tricks for how to finish your transcripts both quickly and accurately.

The JCR asked Aurelio to share a little about his interests in language and the upcoming session.

JCR | How did you become interested in grammar and punctuation?

SJA | I became interested in grammar and punctuation at an early age. I know that I was playing around with words (as, it’s/its; faint/feint) as early as age 12. I have always read a lot, even as a child. (Actually, I mispronounced many big words because I had never heard them pronounced previously.) And, yes, I was always fascinated by words and how they could be combined to explain exactly what one thought and felt.

JCR | What is the biggest grammar pet peeve you have?

SJA | Although the No. 1 error in the United States is the it’s/its conundrum, my biggest grammar pet peeve is the affect/effect bugaboo. It’s so common that I even once received an email with that error from the President of Harvard University — and it was corrected circa two hours later (and not by me).

Admittedly, affect and effect are difficult to use correctly. Why? Well, each is a noun and a verb — and even when affect is used correctly as a noun, it is commonly mispronounced. Plus, some people think­ that effect sounds better than affect when used as a verb.

JCR | Do you have a favorite word? What is it? Do you have a reason that it’s your favorite word?

SJA | I don’t have a favorite word, but I have lots of words that I like to use frequently. For instance, Lucullan, as in “She presided over a Lucullan feast” (after Lucullus, the Roman general and epicure who was noted for holding many fabulous feasts with a rich bounty of food). I use that word when I want to denote a really great meal.

Another word that I like to use is lilliputian when I mean something that is extremely small.

Those two words are rich in meaning for me, and that’s why I like to use them.

JCR | Why is good punctuation so important in a transcript?

SJA | Good punctuation is critically important in the preparation of transcripts. All of the marks of punctuation are important, and they should be used correctly at all times. Take, for instance, whether commas should be used in the following two sentences:

Don’t shoot Bill until I tell you to.


Don’t shoot, Bill, until I tell you to.

Which is it? Mistranscribing that sentence would be dangerous. If the reporter is not absolutely sure whether commas are needed in certain areas in that sentence, then he or she should interrupt immediately and find out the correct way to punctuate that sentence. 

A famous writer of many books used the semicolon incorrectly each and every time throughout his last published book. And, of course, spelling is important, too. Consider this example: Should the spelling be palate/palette/pallet/pallid?

The job of a reporter is twofold: To take down every word spoken and to transcribe each of those words with correct punctuation.

JCR | Thanks for presenting at NCRA Connect Virtual 2020! We’re looking forward to it being a great event. Can you tell our readers a little about what they should expect?

SJA | The upcoming NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 will be very exciting. Attendees will be able to see and listen to many fine presentations about the latest technological advances that relate to court reporting. Other presentations will embrace captioning, CART, virtual depositions, and other related and informative subjects. And, of course, I’d love for many of you to join me for my session on punctuation. I hope to see you there.

Find out more about the NCRA Connect Virtual 2020.

Join the fun and be part of NCRA’s first virtual Realtime Contest

The NCRA Literary Lockdown, NCRA’s first virtual realtime contest, is happening Wednesday, Aug. 5, from 4-5:30 p.m. ET. It’s a fun literary test at 180 words per minute that will be delivered live by a special guest reader! Register now and be a part of the excitement. Please note that registration closes July 22.

To participate, candidates must be a Member of NCRA in good standing and hold any of the following credentials: RMR, RDR, CRR, or CRC.

The top three qualifiers will be announced live on Aug. 8 during the NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 after the keynote speaker. A slide will also be shown that lists the names of all qualifiers. At the same time, all names of qualifiers will be posted to, the NCRA website, and pushed out to social media.

Contestants will be required to sign and submit a consent form agreeing that their participation is on “the honor system” and that they acknowledge that this contest is for fun only. It does not count for statistics as part of the onsite and live National Realtime Contest.

In lieu of a registration fee, contestants are encouraged to consider donating to support NCRA’s A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program. The link to donate is on the registration page. Registrants will receive a link to the Zoom room on the day of the contest.

The planned timing for the event will be as followed in Eastern times:

  • 4 p.m. Zoom room opens for contestants to set up (contestants will also be allowed to call in to hear the live dictation)
  • 4:45 p.m. a two-minute warm-up with live reading will take place
  • 4:55 p.m. introduction of guest dictator
  • 5 p.m. contest begins – one leg, literary at 180 WPM

The following guidelines should help everyone prepare for doing their best:

  • Tests will be graded using NCRA’s What is an error for realtime?
  • Contestants must achieve 95 percent accuracy compared to transcript to qualify.
  • Contestants will receive preview words.
  • Contestants will have five minutes to upload their files in either ASCII, RFT, or PDF format to a Dropbox account or Google drive (TBD). Contact number(s) and email(s) will be provided at the time of the contest for contestants to reach out should they have problems.

While no CEUs will be awarded for this contest:

  • The top three qualifiers will receive via mail a medal and an official certificate recognizing their wins.
  • All qualifiers will receive via mail an official certificate recognizing that they qualified in NCRA’s first virtual realtime contest.
  • Remainder of the contestants will receive via mail an official certificate recognizing that they participated in NCRA’s first virtual realtime contest.

Good luck!