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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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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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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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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