Shakshuka At the recent AGM, SENSE's Executive Committee (EC) installed three new members, myself included. For our first meeting in mid-April, we got together for a 'team building and website training day.'  For me, the standout moment of the day was an animated discussion on how to chop a pepper. It embodied what teamwork is and illustrated why the EC needs to work as a team and how this will benefit SENSE and its members,

I'm sceptical of 'team building.' Maybe it's because my husband has herded sheep and spent hours communing with horizontal rain on Solex tours (yes, more than one) of the polder in the name of team building.

Sheep and Solexes were unlikely, but would we have to do trust exercises?

Luckily not. After learning how to hoist the SENSE flag for events (no, SENSE didn’t become a paramilitary organization when the SENSE constitution was amended last year), a round of ‘tell us a bit about yourself’ and some strategy brainstorming, it was time for the team-building proper to begin. Time to start doing rather than talking.

Jenny, our acting chair, had chosen the benign ‘make lunch together’ as the activity.

Before we could make our lunch – a dish called Shakshuka – we needed to do the shopping. While three of us headed off to the Albert Heijn at the end of the road, the others started chopping onions, in anticipation of the arrival of the other ingredients.

Yay, we’d allocated tasks. We were working as a team already!

But niggles emerge when you work with others. Wasn’t that too much oil in the pan? Wasn’t the flame too high? Wouldn’t it be better to crack the eggs into bowls first?

As mother of a teen and a tween, I’m learning it’s often best to keep your big mouth shut. Or in the words of the great oracle Ronan Keating, ‘You say it best when you say nothing at all.’ I’d assumed this worked best for teams too. Just let people get on with their oil-dispensing, onion-chopping, egg-cracking madness. Things should work out in the end.

But that was before the pepper discussion. The pepper revelation. As two of the EC chopped peppers they noticed they were using different pepper-chopping strategies! And started discussing them. And wondering if the other strategy might work better.

This is what teamwork is. It’s alright to comment on how people do things. But you have to pitch it right. And if you’re on the receiving end you need to be open to doing things differently.

Will the pepper revelation be emblematic of this EC? Will we be the Order of the Capsicum?

Will we discuss how to do our tasks? Will we offer and be open to suggestions? Let’s hope that this constructive and gezellige day bodes well for the future.

Marianne Orchard is on the SENSE EC and writes and edits the SENSE blog and newsletter. She is a freelance translator (Dutch to English), editor and writer who specializes in creative texts.


The SENSE 2018 Conference is approaching fast and you may be curious about what's going to be on offer. We therefore caught up with Stephen Johnston, who is giving the pre-conference workshop entitled 'The impossible blog: How to write a readable blog from unreadable material.' It’s all about the hook, he says.

Stephen Johnston

Ever been asked to write an entertaining piece about EU legislation, a new pension plan or the latest innovation in grout? Then this workshop is for you.

Or perhaps you just want to learn how to turn drab into fab, sigh into wry, yawn into… prawn?

‘It’s all about looking at the source material and finding an interesting hook,’ says Stephen. ‘This will most likely end up being the title, intended to catch the reader’s eye. The hook then informs the rest of the blog.’

And what will participants take away from the workshop?

‘The ability to turn dry, overly-granular information into an interesting, easy-to-read blog,’ he says.

Stephen is a professional trainer, copywriter and journalist who works with multinational companies on projects such as websites, internal and external communication, white papers, marketing material, brochures, corporate journalism, speechwriting... and blogs.

The blog workshop is one of four pre-conference workshops. How does Stephen feel about giving the workshop?

‘Delighted. It will be a great way to warm up to the event with a fun, interactive (and hopefully skill-delivering) few hours.’

And is he attending the conference itself?

‘Yes! I have attended a lot of SENSE events, but this will be my first conference. I’m looking forward to the mix of speakers and the opportunity to catch up with colleagues.’

The SENSE 2018 conference is on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 June. But there’s also a range of pre-conference workshops and sightseeing activities. So even if you can’t make it to the conference itself, you can still join in.

The workshops will be held on Friday 8 June from 14:00 to 17:30 at Hotel Central in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the conference hotel. They are open to SENSE members and non-members alike. Various fees apply.

So if you want to find out why hooks are as important to writers as they are to shepherds or pirates, go to the registration page and sign up for Stephen’s workshop. (Don't forget to login first if you're a SENSE member.) But hurry because places are limited!

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