Posted by: wordsmithsuk | September 4, 2014

Guardian masterclass: Speed reading for professionals

reading-on-the-platformIn one of the hugely popular series of Guardian masterclasses, Word Smiths speed reading specialist Jane Smith shares simple, practical techniques which will help you become a faster, more efficient reader.

Reports of reading’s demise at the hands of the internet are greatly exaggerated. In fact, there is now more to read than ever before, and it can be tough to find the time and energy to stay abreast of developments at work, keep up with the news and read novels for pleasure. The solution – speed reading – may seem like a magician’s parlour trick or a knack you have to be born with. In reality, it’s a set of skills and techniques that you can pick up quickly and easily, and which will make an instant difference to your life.

The Guardian newspaper has commissioned Jane to lead a one-day speed reading masterclass. In this dynamic course she will provide you with a toolkit of different techniques to suit different purposes, whether you need to skim an article for a quick overview, or understand all the key points of a heavyweight report. These techniques will also help you read more, remember information more accurately, and ensure you don’t miss any important elements in a text.

You’ll be able to see yourself make progress in this lively, fun masterclass through a series of practical exercises, games and discussions. The small group size ensures you’ll receive individual coaching and feedback to maximise your individual development.

Saturday 11 October, 10am–4pm
The Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU
Price: £229 (includes VAT, booking fee, lunch and refreshments)
SR-wrapper-145pxThere’s a maximum of 16 places available for this highly interactive small group session – follow here to book a place or find out more. The course fee includes a download of Jane’s audiobook Speed Reading for Success to help you practise and develop your new skills.

In-company events

Word Smiths also run speed reading workshops as one-day in-house events for organisations ws-course-brochure-145pxat their own premises, for an all-inclusive fee. We run workshops on mind mapping, business writing, report writing, minute writing, grammar, memory techniques and proof reading.
Contact us to find out more. You can download the pdf course brochure here.

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | August 5, 2014

Speed reading tip – using a guide

When children learn how to read, they often point to the words as they read them. Teachers have hand-pen-7471489traditionally regarded this as a symptom of immature reading, and have told them to take their fingers off the page. But instead of insisting that they remove their fingers, we should ask them to move their fingers faster.

The hand can be a powerful aid in helping the eye to speed up and the reader to establish a smooth, rhythmical reading habit.

The reason for using a guide is that our eyes move faster and more accurately when they have something to focus on. You don’t have to use your finger as a visual guide; you can use a pointer such as a pen or a pencil, as many naturally efficient readers do.

At first, it may seem that the pointer is slowing down your reading speed. This is because we imagine that we read faster than we actually do. But, when you measure it, you’ll find that the pointer-aided speed is faster.

A pointer will increase your reading in three different ways.

  •  First, it will make you move your eye forward and eliminate back skipping.
  •  Second, it will help you to move your eyes along faster – because the faster you guide your eye the faster you’ll read.
  •  And third, it will make you reduce the number of fixations you make. As the eye moves faster it is encouraged to take in more words with each fixation.

There are many different ways of using the visual guide. The classic technique is to take a pen or pencil and hold it under the line of type, about one centimetre away from the left- hand margin. Then you pull the pointer very smoothly along underneath the line till you reach a spot about one centimetre away from the right-hand margin. After that, move your pen or pencil down to the next line and do the same again. Continue until you’ve read the whole page, using a smooth rhythmic action. If using a guide feels strange, it may be just a question of getting used to the new habit.

If you feel that the guide gets in the way or that you can’t move it as fast as you would like to read, try moving the guide in a different way. You can experiment with various patterns, including pointing smoothly down the right or left hand margin, diagonal or S-shaped sweeps, zig-zags or straight down-the-page movements.

Using your visual guide is a great way of developing your peripheral vision. Much of written English is highly redundant, which means that you don’t have to read every letter, every word or even every sentence or paragraph. Because you don’t need to look directly at all the words, your peripheral vision can check that they are what is expected, while your focused vision is actually fixating elsewhere.

My audio book ‘Speed Reading for Success’ has helped many people to master these
skills. See what you can do!

Find details and a sample on our website

Read More…

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | May 12, 2014

Creating effective bids and tenders

To win contracts, it is crucial to develop a consistent, effective approach to the way you produce bid young delegates with postits shutterstock_152612432submissions. Your bids or tenders must speak to prospective clients with professionalism and confidence. They must project a positive image of your organisation and present a powerful and distinctive case.

To produce submissions which work to obtain positive decisions from prospective clients, your documents must meet readers’ needs in terms of content, structure, style and tone. Your material must be clear and precise, using a level and style of language that will make sense to all readers. It is not just the words that are important; correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, hyphenation and capitalisation also play a vital role in conveying accurate and positive messages.

In winning contracts, the appearance of the document is as important as the text itself. A well laid out document enhances the professional brand that you seek create. An attractive, functional layout also engages readers and helps them to grasp key messages quickly and accurately.

Other people and teams inside and outside your organisation may contribute to the submissions that you are compiling. It is therefore essential to identify and develop efficient ways of integrating their material and, in the longer term, helping them to recognise your needs as the producer of the final publication. Establishing editorial house styles (possibly including templates) and workflows are key components of achieving this aim.

For all these reasons, it is vital to enhance your skills in editing, proofreading and page design. It is important to learn how to use technology to increase the efficiency and the consistency of your output. And in the longer term you must be able to meet readers’ need to access content digitally on tablets/iPad as well as on paper.

  • Do your bids and tenders often fail – even though you and your organisation have the skills and capacity to fulfil their requirements?
  • Do you need help in establishing an effective style and publication process for your bids and tenders?
  • Do you feel that the presentation and writing style of your bids and tenders could be improved?

Get in touch with us at Word Smiths to discuss the kinds of training and coaching that we can offer.

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | March 25, 2014

Styles of minutes

Few organisations have set rules for minutes. Some may indicate a preference for a somewhatProofreading with red pen archaic formal style, with the names of who said what and full details of the discussion. At the other extreme, others may just require a list of action points. Guidance is often limited to a house style for layout – with little provided on the actual content.

The style you should use will depend on the nature of the meeting and the requirements of the participants the chair and the organisation.

  • Formal ‘verbatim’ minutes may be required when objections could arise and when accountability and protection from liability are more important than succinctness.
  • Short ‘summary’ or ‘action’ minutes may be required for routine or relatively insignificant matters, where the ease of drafting, reviewing, and referencing is more important than the value of accountability.

Example of verbatim minutes

Complaints about café hours

Mr Ashton told the meeting that he understood there had been a bit of a hue and cry and letters of complaint received from regular users of the pool and the gym over the fact that the leisure centre was no longer opening the café at 7am as it had done for some time. Mr Innes added that long distance swimmers like to have breakfast there before going to work. Mrs Singh expressed astonishment that, because the café does not open till 9am, pensioners are not now able to benefit from the reduced rates offered with their privilege card. Mr Ashton pointed out that the café has reduced its opening hours because of necessary budget cutbacks.

The chair proposed that he would investigate the matter further and report back to the next meeting. Members agreed to this proposal.

Example of summary minutes

Complaints about café hours

The committee discussed complaints from pool and gym users about reduced opening times for the leisure centre café. Swimmers like to have breakfast before going to work and pensioners want to be able to benefit from the reduced rates offered with their privilege cards.

The chair will investigate further and report back to the next meeting.

Example of action minutes

Complaints about café hours

The chair will investigate further and report back to the next meeting.

Note that, in general, no-one is interested in who said what, they need to know about outcomes or decisions. There are obviously some legal situations where the details are required, but for the majority of meetings, names and detailed information are not required. Current practice is for minutes to be action-orientated; recording issues, decisions and action only, not discussion.

Which style of minutes do you use? Why is that?

If you want to know more about business writing, get a copy of our audio resource ‘Effective 9780954886035Business Writing for Success’. It’s available from Amazon, audible and from our website

Please get in touch if you have any comments or questions.

You can use assertiveness to help your chair to run a more effective meeting – imagesand you will make your own job easier at the same time. Remember that good minutes are a vital part of an effective meeting. You may need to point out politely and assertively that you can’t do a good job without the help of the chair.

Before the meeting

It is good practice for the chair and the minute taker to meet briefly to plan how they will work together to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly and that the minutes are of the highest possible quality.  If this doesn’t happen, you can take the initiative and ask for a pre- meeting with the chair. The things that you may need to discuss are:

  • The purpose of the meeting, who will attend, timings, likely problems
  • Who will be reading the minutes
  • The purpose of the minutes
  • Domestic issues – seating arrangements, equipment needed, refreshments and so on
  • Any  jargon/abbreviations/technical terms likely to be used by members
  • How the chair prefers to run the meeting
  • How much detail is to be included in the minutes
  • Whether the chair will summarise during an item or only at its end.

During the meeting

You will need to sit next to the chair during the meeting.  People will usually address their contributions to the chair, so if you are are next to her/him you will be able to see and hear other members more easily. Get to the meeting early and claim your place at the top of the table. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed to the back of the room. Many chairs are not skilled at controlling a meeting. They may have had poor role models or never understood the rules of meetings. They may be overwhelmed by talkative members or have simply developed unhelpful habits over time. Particular issues to be aware of are:

  • Everyone is talking at once
  • Discussions veering from item to item
  • An agreed action not being assigned to someone
  • Dates not being agreed for when an action has to be done.

It’s the job of the chair to summarise important discussion items and decisions so you know what must be noted. It is particularly important to speak up or pass a note to the chair when a point is unclear so that you can record it effectively. Remember – you and the chair must work as a team to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly and that you are able to produce accurate, effective minutes.

After the meeting

You can save yourself a lot of work by asking for a quick review at the end of the meeting to clarify any points about which you are unsure. Then collate your notes and draft the minutes as soon as possible, while the key points are still fresh in your mind. It is not your responsibility but that of the chair to ensure that the draft minutes are truthful and accurate. Ask the chair to check your draft and make any changes as soon as possible. Once the chair has verified the minutes, s/he takes accountability for them as a ‘true and correct record’. Finally, distribute the minutes to members and your work is done.

Do get in touch to ask me about our popular workshop ‘Effective Minutews-course-brochure-145px Writing’. I run these workshops in-house for a variety of organisations all over the UK. People become more confident minute writers as a result of these training events. They are effective and fun!

Download our brochure for more information.

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | February 17, 2014

Minute writing: Creating and using an agenda

The agenda is an important tool for everyone involved in the meeting. It enables people to prepare agenda-279x300for the meeting and ensures that all the important points are dealt with effectively. The agenda also makes everyone aware of the order in which items are to be discussed, and makes it easier for the chair to control participants’ deliberations. Finally, the agenda will help you to structure the minutes, as the minutes will follow the pattern of the agenda and use the same headings.

What does an agenda include?

The agenda usually includes the name of the meeting (or group that is to meet), the date and place of the meeting and a list of the agenda items, detailing the matters to be discussed. A basic agenda would look like this.

Name of the group
Date and place of meeting


  1. Committee business
  2. Minutes of last meeting
  3. Matters arising
  4. Agenda item 1
  5. Agenda item 2 (etc)
  6. Any other business
  7. Date of next meeting.

An objectives agenda

Having an objectives agenda makes it easier for you and others to prepare for the meeting. This type of agenda also ensures that the group’s discussions are focused on outcomes and that your minutes cover the essential points.

To turn a normal agenda into an objectives agenda, simply take each agenda item and break it down into one or more objectives. You will need to agree the objectives with the meeting chair and maybe also with key contributors.

A normal agenda might look like this:

  1. Minutes of previous meeting
  2. Matters arising
  3. Reports
  4. New restaurant
  5. Proposal to relocate post room
  6. Car parking spaces update.

Here are the same items presented as an objectives agenda:

1. Minutes of previous meeting
     1.1 To approve or amend the minutes of meeting held 22 October 2011
 2. Matters arising
     2.1 To hear any matters arising from the previous meeting
3. Reports
     3.1 To receive presentations from potential catering suppliers
4.  New restaurant
        4.1 To agree seating for new restaurant
       4.2 To agree how the staggered dining times will work in practice
       4.3 To decide how visitor etiquette will work – dining cards, reserved seating, hosting
       4.4 To agree who should decide menu choices 
5. Proposal to relocate post room
     5.1  To discuss relocation of post room in the light of reduced roadway access
6.  Car parking spaces update.
       6.1  To seek ideas on reduced parking spaces after appeal rejected

It is easy to see how such an agenda would make your job much easier. All notes on discussions, decisions and actions can be based around the objectives of the agenda rather than simply on the non-specific agenda items themselves.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss any aspect of minute writing or report writing. And 9780954886035don’t forget to check our popular audio resource Effective Business Writing for Success

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | February 13, 2014

MInute writing: roles and responsibilities

In your role as minute taker and writer, you can complement the work of an effective chair – or 26256517partly compensate for one who may be less competent.

It is the responsibility of the chairperson to ensure that the meeting business is dealt with appropriately, and that the group reaches a consensus. In particular the chair must:

  • Set/approve the agenda
  • Brief the minute taker
  • Make sure that the agenda items are covered
  • Control participant contributions
  • Ensure that meeting objectives/desired outcomes are achieved.

The minute taker needs to be an active, although perhaps relatively silent, participant. The minute taker is responsible for:

  • Preparing the agenda
  • Preparing self
  • Taking the minutes during the meeting
  • Clarifying any misunderstandings with the chairperson
  • Typing up the minutes
  • Getting the minutes approved and sending them out to meeting participants.

Many minute takers are not aware that it is perfectly OK to interject assertively during a meeting to ask for clarification of decisions or to point out (politely) that discussions are becoming somewhat chaotic! After all, it is impossible to take notes if people are not sticking to the agenda or are going off the point.

What stops you being a less effective minute writer than you would like to be?

Please contact me if you would like to know how I can help you with your minute writing concerns and difficulties. Or check our course brochure for details of our training

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | February 10, 2014

How good preparation improves your minute writing

About sixty to seventy percent of an effective minute taker’s work is done before the meeting begins. These are some of the main things that you may find it useful to do before the meeting.shutterstock_66324925

  • Familiarise yourself with the agenda Consider what will be discussed, identify what outcomes seem to be required and pinpoint any problem areas.
  • Scan through any papers that are attached to the agenda Try to pick up any details that will help you at the meeting.
  • Talk to the chairperson Discuss what is to be covered, what outcomes are expected and what style of minutes are required.
  • Talk to contributors or experts This will help you to understand the context of agenda item and what outcomes are required.
  • Find out who is going to be at the meeting You will then be less distracted by trying to work out who each speaker is and what they are talking about.
  • Confirm admin arrangements Make sure that the room and equipment are booked as required.Gather your materials and equipment Make sure that you have paper and pens. You will need spare copies of the agenda and previous minutes in case anyone forgets theirs.

The greater part of this preparation is in reading the agenda. You will also find it useful to prepare a checklist of things to do before attending a meeting; this may well include many of the items listed above!

We have produced a new minute writing workshop which aims to develop participants’ confidence in producing minutes that effectively record discussions and decisions made during meetings . Find out more in Word Smiths  2014 training brochure. Do check our website to download this publication and get in touch if you need any help with your minute writing problems.

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | January 14, 2014

Why is minute writing difficult?

Many people find the prospect of taking and writing up minutes daunting because they think they will have to capture every (film) meetingword that is said. But the job becomes a lot easier once you understand that the purpose of minutes is normally to note only the decisions and actions required, and possibly also the major reasons and issues. Done well, the task should be really satisfying, and perhaps almost enjoyable. The very word ‘minutes’ suggests something brief – and minutes should normally be a summary of key issues, decisions and agreed actions. They do not need to record exactly what people said.

Common problems

Unfortunately, meetings are often badly chaired and it can be hard to know exactly what has been agreed. Here are some of the most common problems:

  • No one sticks to the point and lots of different suggestions are being made about what to do
  • The discussion jumps from one item to another and nothing gets finished
  • Everyone is talking at once, and you can’t follow the discussion
  • You don’t know which bits of a long, confusing discussion to note down
  • You want to join in the discussion, but can’t take minutes at the same time.

Difficulties such as these can make you nervous about getting it right. When a meeting is so chaotic, how can you know whether you have recorded the right things, in the right order and in the correct amount of detail?

Possible solutions

  • Taking minutes is much easier if a meeting is well run. It’s the chair’s job to keep the meeting in order – but he or she can only do this with the co-operation of everyone at the meeting.
  • One idea is to discuss and agree with the chair some ground rules – for example asking people not to interrupt, to put their hand up if they want to talk and to keep to the agenda item under discussion.
  • Don’t hesitate to point out that is impossible to take minutes if everyone is talking at once and not following the agenda.
  • If it’s not clear what decision has been made, ask the chair to clarify the wording. This is particularly important for critical decisions.
  • If there is a particularly important decision, it can be useful to check what you are writing down with the meeting. For example; “so the meeting wants it minuted that £100,000 should be moved from balances to meet the increased heating costs during the current year?”
  • The fact that you are concentrating on taking minutes does limit the extent to which you can join in the meeting – it goes with the job. If an item in which you have been centrally involved is being discussed and you have a lot to say, you could ask someone else to take minutes just for that item.
  •  If there is a long discussion, try to pick out the main points and list just them. For example; “Members discussed the benchmarking information and the following points were made …”

It is always a good idea to discuss the agenda with the chair before the meeting – the clearer you are about the content of the meeting, the easier it is to minute it.

We have developed a new minute writing workshop which aims to develop participants’ confidence in taking notes and in producing minutes that effectively record discussions and decisions made during meetings . This is proving to be a popular choice for clients during the first part of 2014.

During the workshop, we encourage participants to see minute taking as a good opportunity to develop their skills, enhance their confidence and develop their visibility in the organisation . This is a highly interactive programme delivered through discussion, small group/individual exercises and case studies .

The photo at the top of this page is a screen shot from a DVD produced by The Development Company , which provides the realistic meeting scenarios which we use during the

Word Smiths  2014 training brochure provides more information about all our training events – do check our website to download this publication. And get in touch if you need any help with your minute writing concerns. I’d love to hear from you.

Posted by: wordsmithsuk | December 31, 2013

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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