Being successful at networking is realizing that, to get where you’re going, you need to help others get to where they’re going.

J. Kelly Hoey, Author
The Value of the Personal Touch when Networking

The Value of the Personal Touch when Networking

Posted by martin.parnell |

I have just read an article in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper which states that, in a recent survey, of the group of American adults polled, “40 percent said they should have done more networking, which is more typically associated with the professional world”.

I know that, in my business as a professional speaker and author, a great number of the speaking engagements and book signings I have secured have come from my networking at conferences, talks, presentations and other business events.

Connecting on a personal level, in a less formal situation, is extremely valuable. You create an impression and it gives you the opportunity to talk more extensively about your goals.

There is no doubt that technology has its place, when it comes to networking. I am networking through this blog, through what I put on my website, and what I post on Facebook and Twitter. But, when networking in person, you are able to judge more accurately the character of the person with whom you are connecting and whether or not you have shared interests and values, when it comes to business matters.

If they do, it is more likely they will be able to help you or know people who can.

One should also consider the value of networking when one is attending a social event, too. When you sit down to share a cup of coffee with someone or attend a luncheon, you don’t always want to be pitching your business, but it is still important to be open to further discussion on a topic, especially when it is one on which you have some expertise.

It’s also important to remember that it will give you the opportunity to help others. They can be mutually beneficial.

You should make an effort to remain connected. It may not be apparent at the time, but you never know when someone may have the opportunity to recommend you to someone, or vice versa and you need to know how to get in touch. If you have maintained contact it will make this much easier and also, it means someone will keep you in mind. Follow up on your initial meeting with an email, or brief phone call. It will help to form a more memorable bond.

In my role as an author, I have been able to reach out to people I have met through networking channels to offer expert advice and review my work.

So, don't underestimate the personal touch when it comes to networking, you never know when just  making  yourself  known to someone can help further your business ties, or help someone along the way.

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If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.

Albert Einstein
Most things are achievable and a little crazy helps!

Most things are achievable and a little crazy helps!

Posted by martin.parnell |

As part of my workshop “Unlock your potential: Set goals and achieve results you never thought possible”, I ask participants to think about some goals they might like to set themselves. Then, we discuss how they might be achieved, including how to tackle obstacles which might have to be overcome, in order to achieve success. 

It is often the first part of the exercise that proves to be most thought –provoking and, for some, most challenging. 

How do you set a goal that is applicable, doable and at the same time, challenging enough to give a sense of achievement when it is accomplished? 

In my role as an author, I have written about some pretty lofty goals I set myself, during the time I was fundraising for Right To Play and other charities. I dared to think I could run 250 marathons in one year, climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 21 hours and run 1,000 kms along the South West Coast of England in 25 days. 

Now, although I wouldn’t expect my workshop participants set themselves similar goals, I do encourage them to think beyond normal expectations, to really stretch their imaginations and see a path from where they are to where they want to be. The discussions that come out of this exercise can be very revealing.  I have had people share ideas that they have harboured for years, but never before spoken about. Others who hadn’t even thought about something they would really like to do and how they might go about it. 

When we talk about the reasons that are stopping them from attempting these goals, I almost always hear the same responses i.e. not enough time, not enough money, too many commitments but, almost universally, not enough confidence. 

For this reason, it’s important to take the time to break down the reasons for stopping yourself from doing something. When you do that, it makes the thought of attempting your goal less daunting and more achievable. 

If you highlight the obstacles that are standing in your way, see each one separately and think of them as smaller ”chunks” of the bigger issue, they will become less daunting.

It’s also important to remember that, often, these goals cannot be achieved on your own and you need to put some sort of support system in place. That might entail recruiting other people to your cause or simply having the right tools to get the job done. 

I firmly believe that, with careful planning, an awareness of the challenges you might encounter and a positive mental attitude, most things can be accomplished. 

When I struggled to run my first 2km, at the age of 47 I would never have believed it if someone had told me that, seven years later, I would complete those 250 marathons in one year, I would have told them they were crazy. But, it’s amazing what motivation can be gained from simply setting yourself a goal and having the determination to see it through. 

Of course, sometimes, a little crazy helps too!

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You cannot expect to live a positive life if you hang with negative people.

Joel Osteen
How to deal with Negativity in the Workplace

How to deal with Negativity in the Workplace

Posted by martin.parnell |

At some time during our careers, most of us will have come across a co-worker who just relishes having something to complain about. They exude negativity, whether it’s the job, the boss, the company, clients or a colleague. For some reason, they will delight in cornering you just so that they can have a good moan. 

You may be able to deal with this type of person by talking through their issues, offering support if they need help with their job, being a sounding board or offering advice. If you feel they have genuine concerns, you might suggest solutions e.g. they speak to their employer or the HR department.  You may be able to tell them you’d rather not get involved and try to move on to a more positive topic of conversation.  Sometimes, the co-worker just wants to complain to a friendly, listening ear; they don’t want your advice or assistance to address the situation.   

Other people will find it very difficult to deal with such a person. They may not know how to handle the situation and find it draining on their time and energy. Whatever happens, it is necessary to set boundaries with regard to time you spend with that person and topics of conversation. Listen, but set limits. Long term complaining saps your energy and positive outlook. Don’t allow that to happen. Walk away. Tell the co-worker you’d prefer to move on to more positive subjects. If that proves to be too difficult, avoidance is probably the easiest course of action. 

However, what if it’s an employee who is being persistently negative? 

In her article 7 Steps to Deal with a Negative Employee, on www.thebalance.com, (January 2017), Susan Heathfield includes these suggestions:

  • Inform the employee about the negative impact her negativity is having on coworkers and the department. Use specific examples that describe behaviours.
  • Avoid becoming defensive. Don’t take the employee’s negative words or attitude personally. They are not directed at you. For whatever reason, the employee is unhappy with his or her life or work.
  • Ask the employee if something negative is happening in his personal life that is affecting his workplace success. Knowing what is happening in the employee's life lets you offer sympathy or another appropriate expression of good or hopeful wishes. It can also help the employee see that you are interested in and concerned about them as a person.
  • Ask the employee what is causing his negativity at work. Listen to the employee's complaints and concerns until you’re certain that the employee feels heard out and listened to. Sometimes people repeat negative sentiments because they don’t feel as if you have really heard them. Make sure that you have activly listened. The employee will feel the difference.
  • Focus on creating solutions. Don’t focus on everything that is wrong and negative about the employee’s outlook or actions in your approach. This will only cause the employee to dig himself more deeply into his grievances. 
  • Focus on the positive aspects of her performance and the potential contributions the individual brings to the work setting, not the negativity. Help the employee build her self-image and capacity to contribute.
    Talk to her about what she has done well and what her co-workers and you appreciate about her performance. 
  • In the future, when interacting with the employee, try to compliment the individual any time you hear a positive statement or contribution rather than negativity from her. You'll want to reinforce, as much as possible, the positive interactions the employee has with other employees and the workplace.

These seven steps frequently work when you hit an employee's negativity head-on in your workplace. 

So, whether you are trying to deal with negativity from a co-worker or an employee, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are several ways to consider, in dealing with the situation.

If you are the person who is feeing negative, take a moment to really think about the underlying issues and how you can, for your own well-being take steps to resolve them and not be a drain on your colleagues.

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Here's some advice. Stay alive.

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
Risk versus Reward, is it Worth it?

Risk versus Reward, is it Worth it?

Posted by martin.parnell |

I recently read a story about a snowmobiler who had been reported lost, near Revelstoke, BC. Fortunately, a rescue helicopter spotted him, some 2 hours later and he had come to no serious harm.

What I found most interesting was the first line of the report, on the CBC website, which read.........

“Being prepared likely saved a Hinton, Alta. man from serious harm after spending a chilly night on a mountainside while snowmobiling.” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky. He went on to say "He was an experienced sledder, he had a good sled, he had the usual items, the backpack with the gear.”

RCMP recommend anyone heading into the backcountry carry a shovel, probe and beacon with them along with food and water and be dressed to possibly spend the night. "Most people laugh at that idea... but as we can hear, this gentleman didn't [plan to spend the night] either, but he was prepared by having the right gear."

Another story, the following day, reported that “Rescue crews have found the remaining four of the seven people who went missing Monday while visiting a ski resort near Kamloops, B.C.” But, what struck me about this story was   “KSAR spokesman Alan Hobler said earlier that the seven had gone out of bounds at Sun Peaks and into a hazardous gully.”

Why it is that people will still take the risk of going out of bounds, not only risking their own safety, but when lost or injured become a drain on the rescue services?

Some years ago, my wife, Sue, was having treatment from a dentist, in Calgary. Great guy, early thirties with a wife and two young children.

One Tuesday, she went along to the surgery, for her scheduled appointment and the place was in chaos, the receptionist was in tears and could only apologise that they hadn’t contacted Sue to cancel her appointment. The reason being, her dentist and a friend had been killed, 3 days before, caught in an avalanche, whilst they were skiing out of bounds.

During my ‘Quests for kids” initiative, I did some fairly crazy things, but I always took safety precautions, and weighed the risks.   None of us are infallible. No matter how experienced we may be in a venture, it’s never worth ignoring advice, especially when it comes to dealing with the unpredictable nature of our surroundings.

If you are tempted to go out of bounds or ignore the advice of experts, stop and ask yourself,” How would your family and friends feel if they received a call telling them you would not be going home, because you thought you knew better?”

Nine times out of ten, people survive these needless risks, but there’s always the chance you’ll be that other person.

Is it really worth it”

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By seeking and blundering we learn.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
How you Handle a Mistake can Define your Character

How you Handle a Mistake can Define your Character

Posted by martin.parnell |

We’ve all heard the expression “We all make mistakes” and it’s true. There isn’t an adult on Earth who, sometime during their life, hasn’t made some and there are others who’ve made quite few. But even when a mistake can seem so glaring and awful, it’s the way you handle that mistake and what you learn from it that can turn something which appears so negative to have a positive side. 

During my “Quests for Kids” initiative, when I was tackling my 10 endurance quests, in the hope of raising one million dollars, for the charity Right To Play, I confess to making a few mistakes and one I remember, in particular. 

I had decided I would attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon run in full lacrosse gear. At 6.45am on Sunday May 26th 2013, I lined up with approximately 13,000 runners for the start of the 49th Scotiabank Calgary Marathon. Despite this being a new record attempt, the administrators at Guinness had set me a sub four hour target and this was certainly not going to be a walk in the park. 

However, for the month prior, I had been training in full kit and, having previously run nearly 300 marathons, I was feeling confident. I had a plan and I felt all I needed to do was stick to it. I would run to an aid station then take a drink of my water / nutrition mix. A key piece of technology that I had with me was my Helmet 4iiii’s Sportiiii’s. This little gizmo, attached to my helmet, would give me an audio heart rate and pace at two minute intervals. To achieve the record I would have to maintain a 5min 30sec per kilometre pace and keep my heart rate below 166 beats per minutes. 

Things started off well and the kilometres ticked by. My first problem occurred around km 28. The sun was getting hotter and hotter and my heart rate hit 165. I was starting to feel some cramping in my legs, so I increased my electrolyte intake. I was still on pace but the heat was beginning to take its toll. By km 34 things were starting to go sideways. My heart rate hit 175 and I was getting light headed. The next 4 kilometres were a blur. I kept my head up and shoulders back and tried to stay up with the runner in front of me. My head was cooking and my buddies were pouring water through the vents of my helmet.  

At km 38 everything fell apart. My legs became rubber and started to spasm. My heart rate spiked at 190 and I finally dropped off a sub 4 hour pace. I jogged the next 3 km in a daze. The final 1 km I walked. With 300m to go I could hear the crowd cheering in the stadium. I turned into the final 150m stretch and with the cheers of the crowd started up a shuffle / run. I crossed the line and collapsed. Medics were there and fellow runner Ally helped me to the medical tent. They laid me down, wrapped me in a silver blanket and feed me apple juice. My final time was 4 hours 18 minutes and 58 seconds. Not a Guinness World Record. 

The mistake I made was not taking into consideration how the weather would play such an important role. I had failed to factor in the effect heat would have on me running that distance, dressed as I was  and how I would deal with it. Lesson learned. But that was something very personal to me. 

When you make a mistake in business, it’s a whole different matter. Unless you are self-employed, you can almost guarantee that a mistake you make will have a knock-on effect. In his article “How To Handle Mistakes So They Don't Harm Your Career”, published in Forbes magazine, Victor Lipman, offers  some simple, constructive steps that can make  mistakes less problematic . Here are some of his comments: 

Admit what you did was wrong - Evasion will get you nowhere.  Most of the time it only frustrates your management. 

Take full responsibility for the error - OK, so you did something wrong.  Don't try to come up with fanciful excuses for it.   Take ownership and responsibility. 

Explain what you learned from it and why you won't do it again - It's OK to make mistakes, but it's not OK to keep making the same one over and over.

Most of all, mistakes can be a chance to show the kind of employee, and person, you are. A mistake can actually be a positive opportunity to demonstrate character - to show you're a person who's honest, forthright, and can be trusted to tell the truth in a difficult situation.  

Mistakes are part of life and most of them can be rectified, but whether they can or not, it’s the way you handle them that defines your character and professionalism. 

Just remember, everyone makes them.

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Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Albert Einstein
Count on the Things that are Worth Counting

Count on the Things that are Worth Counting

Posted by martin.parnell |

Sometimes, particularly in business, it can be difficult to quantify how much we contribute to the progress, efficiency and success of the company we work for. We rarely pause to consider which of our actions count and actually make a difference. 

It is worth taking the time to evaluate the different aspects of our jobs and which tasks are of true value.  It may not be surprising to find what we count as valuable. They tend to be the things we can easily list and see as part of our job description. But what about the other things we do that are not so easily identified as having an impact?

If you haven’t already done so, it might be worth starting to compile a portfolio.

On the website www.thebalance.com, I found a list of factors that are frequently addressed at interviews. It may be worth giving some thought to the issues they raise, in order for you to assess your achievements and contributions. Here are some to consider:

  • Describe specific examples of how effective you have been, changes you have implemented, and goals you have achieved. Think about the depth and breadth of related experience that you have within the company.
  • Have you increased a company’s sales record by a certain percentage? Did you raise a certain amount of funds for an organization? Numbers offer a concrete example of how you have contributed to a company, and how you will likely contribute in the future.
  • Do you have the ability to effectively meet challenges, and the flexibility and diplomacy to work well with other employees and with management?  Do you have any specific qualities or skills that are particularly important? Do you have work samples?

You are entitled to be valued for everything you do. Also, if your employer is aware that you are you are having an impact, you will make yourself indispensable.

In an article for Forbes magazine, Caroline Ceniza-Levine, looked at “Seven Contributions Indispensable Employees Make To Their Companies” and asked us to consider them in regard to our own work practices:

Bottom line impact

Bottom line impact is one contribution indispensable employees make. Look at your activities to generate revenue – are you directly involved in selling? Are you supporting sales via marketing, operations or administrative support? Do you keep costs in line and therefore contribute more directly to profitability?

Productivity

Indispensable employees are efficient and effective at their jobs. Efficient employees are quick to completion and not wasteful of resources, including management time. Effective employees do their jobs at high quality. Are you both efficient and effective in your role? Do you need to focus on building better systems and habits to deliver more efficiently? Or do you need to upgrade your skills and expertise to perform more effectively?

Positivity

Indispensable employees are enjoyable to work with. We all know of a colleague people dread collaborating with. We also all know colleagues that people love to work with. You look forward to seeing them. After interacting with them, you’re more energized. You don’t have to be friends with everyone in your company but you want to be that colleague with the positive energy. Are you easy and enjoyable to work with?

Reliability

Indispensable employees deliver what they promise and on time. Can people count on you? What is still on your To Do list that others are waiting for?

Creativity

Indispensable employees come up with ideas or ask thoughtful questions to encourage ideas. At the next meeting, aim to add at least one helpful comment or make one supportive remark to someone else’s comment. Focus on solutions to problems that are raised. In your day-to-day role, think about how you might approach one of your responsibilities differently. This may lead to an increase in productivity or in your perceived positivity. How can you be more creative in your current role?

Diplomacy 

Indispensable employees know how to navigate office relationships.  As with positivity, you don’t have to be friends with everyone, but indispensable employees figure out how to get things done – collect valuable information, enrol colleagues into helping them even when there is no official reporting relationship. Are you able to handle your colleagues in a way that generates little or no ill will? Do you need to listen more, communicate more clearly, or be more engaging? 

Marketability

Indispensable employees are valuable to their company externally, not just internally. Whether it’s having a client-facing role, such as sales or customer service, or it’s being a brand ambassador for your company in recruiting, industry conferences or other professional events.  Are you knowledgeable about your company overall? Can you be compelling and informatively explain to people why they should work at your employer or do business with your employer?

So, why not take out your job description and see if you are truly fulfilling the different aspects of your job and furthermore, why not jot down all the additional things you do?

It will be something to take to your next personnel review.

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People are 3 times more likely to learn and retain knowledge through playing games.

Alvin Toffler The Third Wave
Grab your Top Hat and celebrate with an Old Favouite

Grab your Top Hat and celebrate with an Old Favouite

Posted by martin.parnell |

On February 6th, in 1935, the board game Monopoly first went on sale. Wikipedia states that:  Monopoly is a board game that originated in the United States in 1903 as a way to demonstrate that an economy which rewards wealth creation is better than one in which monopolists work under few constraints and to promote the economic theories of Henry George and in particular his ideas about taxation. The current version was first published by Parker Brothers in 1935. Subtitled "The Fast-Dealing Property Trading Game", the game is named after the economic concept of Monopoly - a domination of a market by a single entity.

It is now owned and produced by the American game and toy company Hasbro. Players move around the game-board buying, trading, or selling properties, developing their properties with houses and hotels, and collecting rent from their opponents, with the goal being to drive them all into bankruptcy, leaving one monopolist in control of the economy. Since the board game was first commercially sold in the 1930s, it has become a part of popular world culture, having been locally licensed in more than 103 countries and printed in more than thirty-seven languages.

So far, over 250 million sets of Monopoly have been sold since its invention and the game has been played by over half a billion people making it possibly the most popular board game in the world.

An article in the publication Parent and Child explains that, apart from being “an easy and excellent way to spend unhurried, enjoyable time together”, playing board games have the added bonus of being “rich in learning opportunities”. They satisfy your child's competitive urges and the desire to master new skills and concepts, such as:

  • number and shape recognition, grouping, and counting
  • letter recognition and reading
  • visual perception and color recognition
  • eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity”

It goes on to say that playing board games can teach important social skills, such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns, and enjoying interaction with others. Board games can foster the ability to focus, and lengthen your child's attention span by encouraging the completion of an exciting, enjoyable game. 

But, obviously, board games are not solely for children. In May 2015, the publication Health Fitness Revolution shared it’s Top 10 Health Benefits of playing board games. Board games entertain and bring people together through competitive and cooperative game play. However, board games offer a lot more than just entertainment. In fact, these games beneficially impact health in multiple aspects at any age.

  • Reduces risks for mental diseases: One of the primary benefits of playing board games is reducing the risk of cognitive decline, such as that associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Keeping your mind engaged means you are exercising it and building it stronger. A stronger brain has lower risks of losing its power. Board games help the brain retain and build cognitive associations well into old age too.
  • Lowers blood pressure:  laughing can release of endorphins which help muscles to relax and blood to circulate, which evidently will lower your blood pressure.
  • Speed up you responses:  play board games and in time you might be better at being able to find those hard-to-find car keys. Scientists at the University of Toronto assessed two groups’ ability to search for and find an object; their results showed that study participants who regularly played games were far quicker at locating the target than those who didn’t.
  • Reduce stress:  According to an online survey by RealNetworks, Inc., 64% of respondents said they play games as a way to unwind and relax and 53% play for stress relief.

Those old board games collecting dust on the top of your closet could be key to keeping your mind active and healthy. Why not close up your laptop, put down your Smart phone and spend some time seeing if you can buy some hotels, stay out of jail, avoid those snakes and experience the joy of climbing some ladders? 

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Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor.

Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!
The Benefits of Sharing and Supporting in the Workplace

The Benefits of Sharing and Supporting in the Workplace

Posted by martin.parnell |

January is National Mentoring Month, an annual designation observed in order to celebrate mentoring and the positive effect it can have on young lives. Its goals are to raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms and recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have waiting lists of young people.

Despite the perceived emphasis on supporting young lives, a mentor can provide valuable support to people of any age, especially at a time when some employees find themselves taking up second careers or having to adapt to new roles, in the workforce.

"Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be." Eric Parsloe, The Oxford

If you look up the word “mentor”, in the dictionary, you will find two definitions.The noun is used to describe “an experienced and trusted adviser”. The verb means to advise or train.

According to MENTOSET, a product of the Women's Engineering Society,“Mentoring is a powerful personal development and empowerment tool. It is an effective way of helping people to progress in their careers and is becoming increasing popular as its potential is realised. It is a partnership between two people (mentor and mentee) normally working in a similar field or sharing similar experiences. It is a helpful relationship based upon mutual trust and respect.

A mentor is a guide who can help the mentee to find the right direction and who can help them to develop solutions to career issues. Mentors rely upon having had similar experiences to gain an empathy with the mentee and an understanding of their issues. Mentoring provides the mentee with an opportunity to think about career options and progress.

A mentor should help the mentee to believe in their abilities and boost confidence. A mentor should ask questions and challenge, while providing guidance and encouragement. Mentoring allows the mentee to explore new ideas in confidence. It is a chance to look more closely at yourself, your issues, opportunities and what you want in life. Mentoring is about becoming more self-aware, taking responsibility for your life and directing your life in the direction you decide, rather than leaving it to chance.”

It goes on to list some of the benefits of mentoring, which include:   

  • The employee feels supported and has a mechanism for working through any problems that exist.
  • Mentoring includes training, support, encouragement, advice and guidance from people who have both 'done it before' and are usually independent of the mentee’s current organisation
  • Both the mentees and mentors gain confidence and leadership skills

You may not have considered yourself as a mentor, but there are probably times when you have supported a colleague, given advice and shared your experience. This is something to consider mentioning, if you are filling out a resume, as it is a valuable skill. You may have, at some time, been mentored and might consider passing on the lessons learned to someone else.

Although we are now almost at the end of this year’s National Mentoring Month, it is something to bear in mind for next January, an opportunity to reflect on the role of the mentor and consider how you might use your skills and experience to become one yourself.

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I prefer the pen. There is something elemental about the glide and flow of nib and ink on paper

James Robertson, The Testament of Gideon Mack
Treasures in the Mail and why Handwriting still Matters

Treasures in the Mail and why Handwriting still Matters

Posted by martin.parnell |

According to the website daysoftheyear.com, January 23rd. is National handwriting day.

National Handwriting Day was invented by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA).  "The purpose of National Handwriting Day is to alert the public to the importance of handwriting. It is a chance for all of us to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting. “

Last Friday, my wife and I received a handwritten letter from our 12 year old granddaughter Autumn. It’s a delight to see how her handwriting has changed over the years, from her first effort to write her name, with its backward letters and upper scale and lower scale letters mixed together, to this recent account of how school is going and her new interests.  Despite the fact that we regularly connect with her on Skype, there was something wonderful about receiving a letter from her, in the mail. But one noticeable aspect of her letter is that it is printed i.e. not cursive

My wife is a great believer in the importance of keeping the art of cursive handwriting alive. Some of her most precious possessions are notes and letters from her Mum, who had beautiful handwriting.  

In December 2014, The Guardian newspaper published an article by Anne Chemin on the question “Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard?” In it, she states that “Computers may dominate our lives, but mastery of penmanship brings us important cognitive benefits, research suggests.” And that “Some neuroscientists think that giving up handwriting will impact on how future generations learn to read.”

At first sight the battle between keyboards and pens might seem to be no more than the latest twist in a very long story, yet experts on writing do not agree: pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,” says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva. “Operating a keyboard is not the same at all: all you have to do is press the right key. “

Some neuroscientists think that giving up handwriting will affect how future generations learn to read. “Drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition,” Gentaz explains.

Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, two researchers at the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at Aix-Marseille University, have carried out a study of 76 children, aged three to five. The group that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer. Learning to write by hand does seem to play an important part in reading.  

In a paper published by the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject. The study focused on more than 300 students at Princeton University. It suggested that students who took longhand notes were better able to answer questions on the lecture than those using a laptop. For the scientists, the reason is clear: those working on paper rephrased information as they took notes, which required them to carry out a preliminary process of summarising and comprehension; in contrast, those working on a keyboard tended to take a lot of notes, but avoided what is known as “desirable difficulty”.

In France, in the early 2000s the ministry of education instructed schools to start teaching cursive writing when pupils entered primary school. “For a long time we attached little importance to handwriting,” says school inspector Viviane Bouysse. “But, in 2000, drawing on work in the neurosciences, we realised that this learning process was a key step in cognitive development.”

From August 2016, in Alabama, USA, a State law (Lexi’s Law) requires cursive handwriting to be taught by the end of third grade, in all state schools and all students should become proficient in writing words and sentences in cursive.

Cursive writing will begin in second grade with how to write lower-case and upper-case letters and will continue to be practiced in fourth and fifth grades.  When reaching out to local parents and teachers about Lexi's Law, many were positive explaining the benefits they have seen in teaching cursive writing to their children and students, especially those with learning disabilities.

Andrea Overman teaches at Alabama Christian Academy and said there is benefits to learning cursive writing before print. "With cursive all letters start on the baseline, which is the same place and therefore less confusing," Overman said. "Individual words are connected with spaces between words, which helps with word recognition. It requires less muscle control for their children who have fine motor issues.

Regardless of the scientific debate about the importance of handwriting in the development of cognitive skills, it is still something most of us will still do almost every day, whether it’s jotting down something on a post it note or  writing a shopping list, it is still something very useful and also something which can give pleasure to others. Think of the joy you get in receiving a Birthday card in the mail, or a postcard from abroad.

Handwriting Analyst, Julia Layton states that “Every person in the world has a unique way of writing.” She explains that we develop characteristics in our handwriting and this is why a sample of someone’s handwriting can be used as forensic evidence in court.  It would be a pity to lose some of that individuality, when so many aspects of communication are becoming standardized.

I for one will celebrate handwriting day by making notes for my next Blog and my wife will be writing a reply, by hand, to our granddaughter.

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Today’s amateurs are tomorrow’s champions

Matshona Dhliwayo Author
When things get Serious and making a Commitment to the Next Step

When things get Serious and making a Commitment to the Next Step

Posted by martin.parnell |

I recently read a blog by Oliver Balch entitled “Lycra leggings – The final step in the evolution of a running fanatic”. In it, he talks about the realisation that he has become a serious runner: 

I was out running the other morning, the usual steady pace, gulping down the frosty air, when it dawned on me that I was wearing running tights. You know, the ultra-tight compression ones. The ones with antimicrobial technology and go-faster stripes. The I-take-my-running-seriously ones.

It led him to ask himself............

When did it come to this? When did I become the man who wore Lycra leggings? Leggings that cost as much as Levi’s. It’s absurd – financially, fashion-wise, every which way. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought. Now, I’m slower to chide. It’s OK, I tell myself. I’m just being me. The new me. The runner me. The convert.” 

It got me thinking, about when I came to consider myself a serious runner. The runner in me first raised his head when one of my younger brothers, Peter, challenged me to run the Calgary marathon, in 2003. Over the years, I had attempted various sports, but just going out and running had never really appealed to me.

However, I wasn’t going to back off from a little sibling rivalry. After attempting to train alone, starting with a 1km jog from my front door, I soon realised I needed help, so I guess the first step I took to becoming “serious” about it was to join the Sudbury  Rocks Running Club, in Ontario. I became hooked and have since run literally hundreds of races, including marathons and ultra-marathons. I am frequently asked to speak to running groups, having become somewhat of an expert on the whole subject of running. This and my philanthropic endeavours for the children’s charity Right To Play, led to my career as an author and speaker.

I had written blogs and articles about my various events and experiences and it was when I decided to use this as a basis for the manuscript for my first book, Marathon Quest and was fortunate enough to be published, by Rocky Mountain Books, that I began to think of myself as a serious author.  In order to hone my writing skills, I worked with the people at Rocky Mountain Books, who provided me with a wonderful editor.

I was soon being asked to speak about these topics on a regular basis and when I started to be paid for doing so that I came to regard myself as a professional speaker.  For support, when it comes to improving and promoting my speaking skills, I joined the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS), whose members are a constant source of mentoring and sound advice.

Most of us decide, from the outset, on a serious path to take, whether it’s in a career, pastime or other endeavour. Sometimes, these things slowly come to us, from what might seem a fairly casual approach.  It’s worth being open to realising when that transition might occur, be prepared to embrace it and see it as an opportunity.

It may give you the chance to set goals, achieve a sense of fulfillment and set you on an unexpected path to great things.

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Let the sky rain potatoes

William Shakespeare
Spuds and Speeches, it's all in the Preparation

Spuds and Speeches, it's all in the Preparation

Posted by martin.parnell |

A friend of ours was telling my wife about a recipe for coconut snowballs, using mashed potato, apparently they are an old family favourite and delicious. 

The lowly potato has also made its mark in the pages of the Guinness World Records. 

These include the:

  • Largest serving of baked potatoes
  • Largest potato salad
  • Largest serving of mashed potato
  • Largest potato dumpling
  • Largest pie, potato
  • Largest bag of crisps 
  • Most mashed potato eaten in 30 seconds
  • Most wins of the Mashed Potato Wrestling Championships
  • Most potatoes carried between the knees in three minutes (team of six) 

And, one that caught my eye............. 

The fastest marathon dressed as a Mr Potato Head was 3 hr 38 min 20 sec by Andrew McKenzi. 

It got me thinking about how many different ways one could serve up the humble potato and there are many, from just plain boiled, with a knob of butter and pinch of pepper to that delicious dish, potatoes au gratin. 

In a way, potatoes are like speeches. Some take less time to prepare, some need spicing up a little, to make them interesting and some can be kept plain and simple and be just as satisfying. 

But, in the end, a potato is just a potato, just as a speech is just a speech, what makes either of them great is how well you prepare and then serve them. You don’t need to keep rewriting, but it’s always worth spending some time on a little tweaking here and there, according to your audience and other factors you need to take into consideration. e.g. time allotted. 

So, next time you’re about to present a talk, why not see if you can treat it like the potato, use the same basic ingredient, just present it a little differently. 

And, for those of you who might feel inclined to try that coconut snowball recipe: 

  • Cook and mash potatoes
  • In a large mixing bowl combine shredded coconut, confectioner’s sugar, mashed potatoes and nuts.
  • Mix with clean hands and mould into small balls.
  • Set on aluminum foil and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  • Can be dipped into melted caramel, strawberry or fudge flavoured almond bark. 

And, you can adapt this recipe by using sweet potatoes – apparently.

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But you can’t give them everything they want—they will always want more than they have.

Marie Lu, The Midnight Star
Time for parents to stop succumbing to the annual hype.

Time for parents to stop succumbing to the annual hype.

Posted by martin.parnell |

Apparently, “Several children have been left disappointed after their Hatchimals arguably the most coveted toy of the 2016 holiday season, failed to hatch.”

Each Hatchimal comes inside an egg-shaped capsule that is supposed to be rubbed and patted for anywhere between 10 and 40 minutes before the toy gradually begins to hatch. The toy inside responds to tapping gestures by tapping back with its beak while making a variety of noises. Once the Hatchimal hatches, kids can feed the creature and teach it how to walk and talk. As the weeks go on, the Hatchimal will grow from a child to an adult, at which point it’s able to have more sophisticated interactions.

Adding to many parents’ frustration is the fact that the toys became so in-demand before Christmas, they were nearly impossible to purchase. In fact, the $59.99 toy surfaced on eBay Canada for as much as $10,000 at the height of the demand. This story sounds oh so familiar. Every year there is the “must have” toy that many parents will go to great ends to ensure their offspring have wrapped and under the tree at Christmas time. Who can forget Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, Transformers, Rubiks Cubes and Furbies.

I really have to shake my head and ask “WHY?”   I cannot honestly believe that a child, especially ones as young as 2 or 3 (as has been quoted in the press) will really be “inconsolable” or “devastated” if this particular toy does not appear. What are they going to do? At the worst they may sulk for a couple of hours, before being distracted by all their other gifts, or a card board box sitting in the corner!

Will older children really be suffering from peer pressure if they aren’t able to tell their friends Santa was unable to come up with the goods? It’s more than likely their parents were unable to snag one of the eggs themselves. Wouldn’t it make sense for parents to communicate and decide not to give in to the hype and refuse to spend weeks and money hunting down a piece of plastic that will, after a few months, or even sooner, be relegated to the bottom of the toy box?

Surely, it’s time parents stopped being swept up in these annual trends and thought of other ways to keep their young ones happy? Should parents really be letting their children hold them to emotional ransom?

Something parents have a year to think about.

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For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Embrace the New Year by Setting Goals that will make it Great

Embrace the New Year by Setting Goals that will make it Great

Posted by martin.parnell |

I have been thinking about how I might inspire readers of this blog to look upon the New Year as a chance of opportunity, a time when we can all embrace the challenge of the upcoming year, before complacency sets in. Whilst pondering this topic, I came across the following passage ...................

“Make New Year's goals. Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you're interested in fully living life in the year to come. Goals give us direction. They put a powerful force into play on a universal, conscious, and subconscious level. Goals give our life direction.

What would you like to have happen in your life this year? What would you like to do, to accomplish? What good would you like to attract into your life? What particular areas of growth would you like to have happen to you? What blocks, or character defects, would you like to have removed?

What would you like to attain? Little things and big things? Where would you like to go? What would you like to have happen in friendship and love? What would you like to have happen in your family life? What problems would you like to see solved? What decisions would you like to make? What would you like to happen in your career?

Write it down. Take a piece of paper, a few hours of your time, and write it all down - as an affirmation of you, your life, and your ability to choose. Then let it go. The New Year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

- Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency 

I did think about trying to put these ideas in to my own words, as they pretty much exemplify what I had been thinking, but then, why would I need to? Why not, instead, let me give credit to someone who has put it so eloquently. 

New Year is merely a few days away and will be upon us before we know it, so why not give a little thought to what you would like to be thinking, in twelve months’ time, when you look back at 2017 and consider what sort of year it has been for you? 

If you can motivate yourself, it can be a great opportunity to inspire others to do the same. 

Wishing you all a very happy, peaceful, fulfilling year ahead.

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Good resolutions are like babies crying in church. They should be carried out immediately

Charles M. Sheldon, social reformer
A New Year's Resolution to Take Up and Give Up

A New Year's Resolution to Take Up and Give Up

Posted by martin.parnell |

This may seem a little premature, but I’m sure there are some people out there who are already giving some thought to their New Year’s Resolutions. It would be great if we could all do two things – take something up and give something up. 

Taking something up could be really fun and exciting, a time to meet new people, improve your personal well-being, and spend time with family and friends, maybe all of those. Perhaps you’ll start doing regular exercise, calling home once a week, getting outdoors every day, reading all those books you’ve got piling up. Setting a challenge and achieving it can really make you feel good and give you that sense of satisfaction. 

Giving something up may prove to be more challenging. There are, of course, those things that most of us have resolved to give up at one time or another. Many people will decide to give up smoking, regulate their drinking or something less challenging like avoid buying those tempting chocolate bars at the grocery store checkout. 

But there is something else that I feel could make a profound difference in the lives of many people, but it would take a concerted effort. 

Just imagine if everyone who still persisted in the activities of drinking or texting while driving decided to give them up? If you are one of those people, why not make that your New Year’s Resolution?  Stop trying to convince yourself that you can text, talk on the phone or have another drink and drive safely. You know you’re only fooling yourself. 

Don’t risk getting stopped and having to face the fact you’re a law-breaker. But, most importantly, don’t risk your life and the lives of others, because you think you know better. 

Remember, while most of us will enjoy a wonderful holiday season with those nearest and dearest to us, somewhere, not too far away, will be a family left distraught and devastated, not just this year, but for all the years to come, because one of their loved ones is no longer with them, due to the reckless actions of someone who couldn’t resist that drink or checking their latest text. 

So, to carry on that Christmas spirit of giving, if you or someone you know is still persisting in ignoring the law, ignoring what common sense is telling them and still pursuing these reckless activities – give them something. Give them food for thought and ask them to read this blog. It’s just a little thing, but who knows, it might just make them stop and think. 

Happy Holidays and a safe New Year.

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Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!

Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
How to make Christmas an Experience to Treasure

How to make Christmas an Experience to Treasure

Posted by martin.parnell |

A couple of weeks ago, Sue and I were chatting to our friends, Leesha and Lau about the upcoming Christmas holiday. Leesha told us that, this year, she had made an “alternative” Advent calendar, for their children, Oasis and Zion. Instead of the usual candies or small gifts, each pocket contains a fun “experience” for them to share. 

Some of these include:  decorate the Christmas tree, bake Christmas cookies, wrap Christmas gifts, sing Christmas songs or watch a Christmas movie. Although they are things they would have probably done anyway, I thought it was a great idea.  Putting them in the calendar makes all of these activities special and they are all things they can do together. 

It got me thinking about the way in which so many  people tend to think of the holidays as a time when they have to spend vast amounts of money on “stuff”, just to show someone how much they care.  Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate that often we can give someone a gift of something that they really do appreciate, maybe something they wouldn’t go and buy for themselves. But, how often do we have to rack our brains to think of something, when the person we are buying for doesn’t really have a great yearning for anything in particular? 

Our son Calum was recently visiting, from England and was asking what he could get us for Christmas. To be honest, we couldn’t think of anything, so, for our Christmas “gift” he took us for a meal at the Bavarian Inn, in Bragg Creek.  We sat by the fire, enjoyed great food, some good German beer, the conversation flowed and we experienced the sheer joy of spending time together. It was a wonderful evening and left us with fond memories of the last night of his visit. Personally, I think sharing a memorable experience with those you love is priceless.

Why not give it a try. You don’t have to take them for a fancy meal, it could be something simple like going to the movies, hiring some snowshoes and heading into the outdoors, or a day of baking cookies to give as gifts. 

You could extend this idea to your business colleagues. So much money is spent on work –related Christmas parties, which can be enjoyable, but means a lot of people have to find and pay for a babysitter, pay for a taxi to get them safely home, the list goes on. So, why not, instead organise something that is more convenient, perhaps a trip to the movies for a film whole families can enjoy or give a gift that would be really appreciated, like a basket of Christmas goodies or a nice bottle of wine. 

Alternatively, if you are the boss, why not tell your staff that, this year, instead of parties and gifts, you will donate to a charity on their behalf – now that really would be in the spirit of the season. 

Whatever you choose to do. I sincerely hope you have a wonderful time in the company of those you love.

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Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will

W. Clement Stone
Paddle Boats of Afghanistan - Living in Hope

Paddle Boats of Afghanistan - Living in Hope

Posted by martin.parnell |

It’s been almost a month since I ran the Marathon of Afghanistan and I have been asked many questions about the race. However, that was only 7 hours out of an eleven day trip and I would like to share with you some of the other incredible aspects of my experience. I arrived in Kabul on the morning of October 28th and, along with three other racers, was met by James Wilcox, founder of the company, Untamed Borders, the group with whom we were traveling. After dropping our bags at a guest house, we headed into the city. Our first stop was a bread shop. Large flat loaves were being baked in an underground oven and then sold from the front window to men and women who were buying armfuls at a time. We were offered tea, a ritual that was repeated throughout our trip. 

We then visited the Shrine of Ali Mazar e Sharif. This is a beautiful, blue-tiled mosque, which sadly had been the site of a terrorist attack, one month previously, killing 14 men, women and children. Despite that, families were visiting the site. As we were leaving, we walked around a wall and there, in an open area was the most amazing playground I have ever seen. All the equipment was hand made. The centre piece was a hand cranked Ferris wheel with four compartments, for four children. A man turned a huge handle to get the contraption spinning and the kids laughed and yelled as they went flying around. Also in the playground was a merry-go-round with tiny planes as seats and there were swings, a slide and a teeter-totter. It made me realise that life goes on no matter what others try and do to stop it. 

Next day, we flew to Bamyan, in Bamyan Province which is populated by the Hazara people. Historically, they are the most persecuted ethnic group in Afghanistan but they are also recognized as the most progressive in the support of girls and women’s rights in education and sport. The town has a population of 60,000 and is cradled between the Hindu Kush and Koh-i-Baba mountain ranges, at 9,000 feet elevation. It’s 240 kms North West of Kabul but the road is deemed too dangerous to travel. 

Driving into town from the airport, we passed a field where a farmer was working with a plough pulled by oxen. He was ploughing around burnt out Russian tanks. There were at least ten tanks and troop carriers all from a previous era in history. The next day we traveled in two vans, 60 kms west to the only National Park in Afghanistan, Band-e-Amir. We spent 3 hours walking along trails which overlooked sheer cliffs into aqua blue lakes. At the end of the walk we arrived at the tourist information centre. Near the building, along the shoreline, were 15 swan-shaped paddle boats. The 10 of us jumped into 2 and 4 seater boats and started cruising around the lake. We joined Afghan families who were out for the day picnicking and having fun. It seems the more things are different, the more things are the same. 

If you want to hear more stories about the trip then come to the Cochrane Public Library on Saturday, December 10th at 1.00pm for a presentation. Afterwards, I will be signing my new book RUNNING TO THE EDGE. 

Everyone welcome.

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Wow, I never knew books could be so dangerous

Sue Carpenter- Parnell
How a Man in Motion can Spoil Your Day

How a Man in Motion can Spoil Your Day

Posted by martin.parnell |

The other day, my wife, Sue, decided to empty our bookshelves and go through our vast collection of books in order to set some aside for recycling. Unfortunately, one large hardback bounced off the top shelf, hit her in the mouth and left her with a swollen, cut lip.

It got me thinking about other everyday objects that might, unexpectedly cause an injury and there are some unusual ones e.g. I discovered that  toothpicks are a serious choking hazard, causing about 9,000 injuries per year and each year, 1,700 men are sent to the ER because of...zipper-related injuries!

We all know of people who’ve had accidents playing sports, even a game of golf can be more hazardous than you think. Apparently, golf clubs have reportedly killed four people after being tossed, breaking, springing back, and stabbing the golfer in the heart.

An anonymous contributor to the Reddit website confessed "I stapled my thumb with a stapler... Twice” and this same person managed to stab himself “with a nice sharp number 2 pencil sticking out of my side pocket. I still have the mark on my arm."

There are numerous activities that can cause injury and many of them can be experienced in the workplace. According to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the 3 most common injuries which occur in the workplace are:

Falls :

Falling down is not only the most common office accident, it is also responsible for causing the most disabling injuries. In fact, office workers are 2 to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a disabling injury from a fall than non-office workers. The most common causes of office falls, include:

  • Tripping over an open desk or file drawer, electrical cords or wires, loose carpeting, or objects in hallways/walkways.
  • Bending or reaching for something while seated in an unstable chair.
  • Using a chair in place of a ladder.
  • Slipping on wet floors.
  • Inadequate lighting.

Injury from Lifting:

Lifting even small loads (stacks of files, computer paper, a computer monitor, etc.) can lead to injury if done improperly. Your back, neck and shoulders are all susceptible to this type of injury.

Flying and Stationary Objects:

Office workers are often struck by objects, bump into objects themselves, or get caught in or between objects, and as a result, are injured. This includes bumping into desks, other people, file cabinets, copy machines, etc., and getting hit by objects that fall from cabinets tops, items dropped on feet, doors opening unexpectedly or cabinets that fall over if not properly balanced. 

So, whether it’s leaping books, sharp pencils or what you sit on, take care out there and make sure your employees do too! Ironically, the book in question that attacked Sue was Rick Hansen’s “Man in Motion”.

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Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Flu Season - How to Sub for an Absent Employee

Flu Season - How to Sub for an Absent Employee

Posted by martin.parnell |

I’m a great fan of the England Premier League Soccer team Arsenal, and it’s frustrating if a good player from the team is sick or injured. Fortunately, the manager, Arsene Wenger, is fully aware of what skills are needed in a substitute. That player may not have the same level of skill, but is trained well enough to get the job done and help the team. 

During the past week, I have noticed a number of signs popping up, in various locations, informing people where they can go to get their flu shot. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my step-son, Calum around this time last year, in which he was telling me that his work load had increased considerably due to colleagues being absent with the flu. His bosses felt it wasn’t worth getting temporary cover as, by the time they had learned the intricacies of a particular job, the employee would probably have recovered. 

I’m sure this is an issue for many businesses, at any time of year. If you have an employee that needs time to deal with health or other personal issues, how do you cope in the meantime? You may just hire a temporary worker, but this isn’t always viable. It may be that the absence is only for a day or two, but even that can cause some disruption or mean that someone else has to cover the workload. 

Basically, it’s a matter of prioritizing. In order to do that, you need to be aware of what aspects of their job your employees deem most important. It may not be what you think. 

So, I have a suggestion that might help in preparation for when this situation may arise. Ask each of you employees to spend ten minutes thinking about their typical day and jot down: 

  1. What is the first thing they do? 
  1. What other tasks need to be done every day and in what order do they do them? 
  1. Do they have any tips – things that they do that make certain tasks quicker or easier? 
  1. What areas of their work will affect their colleagues, if it isn’t done? 
  1. Are there tasks that are non-essential, but they do them because they have a little extra time? 

Doing this will help whoever has to cover to know what tasks are essential and which, if not done, will affect the smooth running of your organisation. These brief notes can then be filed away until they are needed. 

You may not have a bench full of subs to draw on, but at least, if you know what particular skills are needed and tasks to be completed, it makes being a manager a whole lot easier for you and your other players.

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The most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds is, in my opinion, conversation.

Michel de Montaigne, The Essays: A Selection
Talk not Tech - Remember how to enjoy the Conversation.

Talk not Tech - Remember how to enjoy the Conversation.

Posted by martin.parnell |

In her book The Art of Conversation: Or, What to say and When, Catherine Blyth tells us that “Every day we use our mobiles and computers to communicate, but ironically we are losing touch with face-to-face talk”. She reveals the endless possibilities of conversation and shows that when it works it can come close to heaven.

And, to a certain extent, I have to agree.

Every week my wife and I communicate with our three adult children and have great conversations with each of them, albeit on very different topics. Kyle is into sport and he can chat at length about the Calgary Flames, The Blue Jays, Stampeders, Oilers, The British Barclay’s Premier League, Formula One, the list goes on. He can weigh the losses and gains of everything from transfer deals to draft picks.

Calum lives in London, England and keeps us up to date with all that’s going on in the UK, from politics, Art exhibitions, new places to visit, in fact all that’s relevant to living there. This is great for us as we like to know what’s happening “back home”. He is also an avid reader and movie-goer and will give us great recommendations on good books to read and movies to watch.

Kristina, our youngest, is married with three children (the sons are lagging behind a bit in that department, but we live in hope). She is married to someone who works in mining and they live in Ontario. Having worked in that Province myself, as a mining engineer, I’m always interested to hear what’s going on in the industry and about life in general back there. She works and runs a busy household and so always has something to chat about, especially concerning our grandkids.

At home, Sue and I enjoy nothing more than sitting quietly, coffees at hand, poring over the newspaper or listening to something of interest on CBC Radio 1. As well as our regular weekday favourites like The Current, Alberta at Noon and Ideas, having more time at the weekends, we try and make a point of catching Daybreak Alberta, Quirks and Quarks, the Sunday Edition, The House and Writers and Company. Interestingly all of these programs tend to focus around conversations with guests or experts in a particular field. They all provide stimulating content for us to enjoy further conversations on a wide range of topics. Fortunately, for me, my wife is also a great fan of “the beautiful game’ i.e. soccer, and can hold her own when it comes to discussing that particular subject.

With my business, I’m lucky to be able to meet and engage in conversation with people who will often share my passions and goals. But, I also find it just as enjoyable when I meet someone who has an alternative take on things or whose life has taken a completely different path to mine. I love the diversity of topics which one can cover when meeting someone for the first time.

Sometimes it can take some effort to strike up a conversation, particularly when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation or with people you don’t know. But, going on my own experience, it’s always worth that effort. Everyone has their own story, interests, expertise and it’s surprising what you can learn from just having that conversation. So, let’s put the devices down once in a while and let’s talk!

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Out of clutter, find simplicity

Albert Einstein
5 Ways to Improve when Writing for Business

5 Ways to Improve when Writing for Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

In late July, I was honoured to be asked by Jeri Maitland, Executive Director of the Cochrane Public Library, to be the library’s 2016 / 2017 Writer in Residence. To date my writing credentials include, my first book, the award winning MARATHON QUEST, my soon to be released second book RUNNING TO THE EDGE, both published by Rocky Mountain Books and having articles published in the Huffington Post, IMPACT magazine, Inspire Me Well by Lisa Belanger and numerous local and national newspapers, including the Cochrane Eagle.

During my residency I will be giving a number of workshops on topics such as “How to get Published”, “From Blog to Book” and a special children’s workshop on “How to create a Graphic Comic”. One area that I am particularly interested in is “Writing for Business”. My background is in the mining industry and over the years I have read thousands of reports, emails and memos and unfortunately many of them were poorly written. When I have to read anything connected to business I like it to be clear, as brief as possible and to the point.

I recently read an excellent book entitled “On Writing Well – the Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction” by William Zinsser and it is for anyone writing anything non- fiction, from a travel guidebook to a report, a formal letter to a handbook and more. As well as giving invaluable advice on how to write, Zinsser also makes it clear as to what one should avoid doing when constructing a piece of writing.

Here are just five of them to consider:

  1. Declutter: Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose. Don’t use a long word when a short word will do, e.g. assist (help) numerous (many) implement (do). And as readers we should not be prisoners of a notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind.
  2. Write for yourself: Don’t be too concerned about who you are writing for. There are so many individuals in your audience.  Relax and say what you want to say. As long as you have mastered the tools of writing you will get your message across.
  3. Portray your uniqueness: According to Zinsser, most executives in North America do not write what appears above their signature. They have surrendered the qualities that make them unique. Do not rely on others to speak for you, in the style in which you wish to be heard. “Remember that what you write is often the only chance you’ll get to present yourself to someone whose business or money or goodwill you need.”
  4. Edit what you dictate: If you feel the need to dictate something to be typed up by another person, make sure you take the time to edit it.  Zissner explains that this is important if you do not wish to be perceived as “pompous or sloppy”, but a true reflection of who you really are, especially if it is a document which will go to someone who will judge you on your “personality” and “style”.
  5. Know when to stop: it’s not necessary to repeat, in a compressed form what you have already said, so avoid phrases like, “In conclusion’, “What we have learned from this is “, “ To sum up”.  Think of a good, clear, concise sentence or paragraph to end with and have a sense of finality. ‘The perfect ending should take your readers by surprise and yet seem exactly right.”

I am always in the process of writing something, whether it be my next book, my weekly blog, an article for the local newspaper or a piece for my website. I know I still have a lot to learn about the intricacies of a good piece of non- fiction writing, but with the help of William Zissner’s expertise, I know I’m making progress.

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