Scannell has a long and distinguished list of accomplishments, including holding several executive positions such as serving as past president of organizations including ASTD in 1982, the Arizona Speakers Association from 1987 to 1988, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) from 1988 to 1989, and the National Speakers Association (NSA) from 1991 to 1992. He also served a two-year term as executive chairman of the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations.
Scannell has given more than a thousand presentations, seminars, and workshops across the globe, has written several books including the best-selling Games Trainers Play with James Newstrom, and has taught at both the University of Northern Iowa and the Arizona State University College of Business. His distinctions include receiving top honors in the form of ASTD's Gordon M. Bliss Award in 1972 and NSA’s Cavett Award in 1999, as well as being chosen as MPI's 1994 International Planner of the Year. He currently serves on the foundation board of trustees for the NSA and on the Certified Meeting Professional board of directors for the Convention Industry Council.
Q| How did you first become interested in games as a workplace learning tool?
I was asked by ASTD to help develop their Institutes Program for new trainers. I asked Dr. John Newstrom, a fellow faculty member at Arizona State University, and also a member of the Valley of the Sun Chapter to assist. We were offering these three-day workshops across the country and we always had great groups. During one of the programs, John and I were discussing how we could add more fun into these workshops. Remember, this was back in the late '70s when training was seen as serious business with no time for fun and games. We decided to "go for it" and incorporate more activities in the programs. I will tell you now that we took quite a hit from some of the more seasoned trainers and were even being ridiculed for our methods. But we believed that these exercises could play an important role and we were convinced that participants welcomed their inclusion.
A few years later, we were asked by McGraw-Hill to compile these games and activities into a book. After thinking long and hard about a title, and even though we knew it was a risk, we decided to call it Games Trainers Play. This is hard to believe with the dozens of books on games out now, but back then we were getting flack. The human resource development (HRD) community eventually embraced this idea. Now, with over a million of our books sold, we can look back with a nice smile.
Q| How do you think games and creativity can bolster training efforts and promote better learner engagement?
I've always been a strong proponent of the saying that "learning is not a spectator sport." As a student of adult learning for some time, I know that people learn best in pleasant surroundings. I also know that people learn by doing. These are still the core principles of all the workshops that we do. I also think that you really need to shift gears or involvement, and get people moving every five to seven minutes - especially for Gen X and Gen Y learners, who will be texting, tweeting, and instant messaging. Studies show that people actually learn better and faster in an active way and that you can decrease learning time by 60 percent. So one, learning can be fun, and two, learning is not a spectator sport. Everybody should realize that the game itself is not the point. The real learning comes from the process and what you learned. It's not the tail wagging the dog.
Q| What do you think are important qualities of a good mentor?
I think it's important that we remind ourselves that mentoring is a two-way street. We all know about listening, empathy, and asking questions, but I think the mentee has an important role in the whole process. Mentees need to follow up and let mentors know what progress they're making. I was working with a friend at one time, and we met every couple of weeks to discuss her questions as well as a few other topics. She'd actually show me the progress that she had made. I've had several mentors in my own career: Don Kirkpatrick was the person who got me involved in ASTD at the national level when he asked me to chair the national conference one year, and then Leo Hauser asked me to chair the national conference the next year. George Morrisey is also someone who has greatly influenced me. In addition, several past NSA presidents have had a positive impact in my life.
Q| What are factors you consider when planning a meeting to ensure its success?
The very first step is deciding what the meeting is supposed to accomplish, whether it's a three-hour training module or a three-day sales training program. What are the objectives? A lot of meetings fail to identify the purpose. I still do a number of workshops and presentations for the ASTD chapters, and I always start by identifying the objectives I have for that particular session.
You have to have an agenda, especially for small groups. Staying on time is also important. You start on time and you finish on time.
For board planning meetings, it's good to have an outside facilitator. You need someone who is good at facilitation but you also need someone who knows the culture of the company. Once in a while, in a meeting, a controversial issue comes up and you can sense that there's going to be an impasse where people aren't going to agree. I'll then have people pair off with an adversary (someone on the other side of the issue), and I'll have them take a 10-minute break together, just to get a change of scenery. I actually find that they often can come to a consensus during the break.
Other factors would be what kind of topics you'd have, speakers, venue, the food and beverage - all those things make up a good meeting, but first and foremost, you really have to have a purpose and the attendees need to know what it is.
Q| What is one change you'd like to see in the field of workplace learning and performance within the next decade?
Of course, with the ever-changing demographics, the people who come into our programs now are younger, better educated, more sophisticated, and they don't want to be talked at. We've all got to become more aware of the different learning styles of groups (Gen X versus Gen Y, for example).
But even with the increasing impact of virtual meetings, e-learning, and all the other things coming down the pike, I'm old-fashioned and I believe the face-to-face meeting will still have a place in the overall field of learning and development. Some people are content to sit in front of their laptops and learn that way, but others of us still need that interpersonal part, and still need to be part of a group.
In fact, I recall an ASTD journal article from some years ago that 92 percent of attendees really want and need involvement. Even though that was a long time ago, I think it's just as important now. For the one change, I would say we need to become better acquainted and more knowledgeable about younger attendees. They might not have as much experience in the real world, but they can still contribute to the training. They want and they need to be engaged and involved. From a biased point-of-view, that's through activities, games, and exercises.
Q| Are you currently working on any new books or projects?
Funny you should ask! McGraw-Hill emailed me last year asking about some more books for their Big Book series. I immediately called my colleague John Newstrom to see if he wanted to work together. But he was busy with some other writing projects and books, and he felt like he didn't have the time to take on something new at that point. And I thought, "Wait a second, Ed. Your daughter Mary is also a trainer!" In fact, Mary has been very involved in doing a lot of teambuilding programs in the last several years.
The bottom line is that I just finished two more books in the Big Book series. The one I wrote with my daughter Mary came out last September, and is called The Big Book of Team-Motivating Games. Another one came out called The Big Book of Brain-Building Games, which I wrote with my colleague Carol Burnett.
I am in the final stages of editing a book called The Big Book of People Skills Games, which I wrote with another colleague, Colleen Rickenbacher. This book will be coming out in later this year.
Other than that, I'm still doing a lot of programs for ASTD chapters around the country, as well as for MPI and NSA.
Q| How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I have four kids, and I've been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with them. Two of my daughters, Mary and Cathie, are right here in the Phoenix area. My daughter Cathie also has children so it's fun playing Grandpa with them. Mary and I have collaborated a lot in writing, and she's been very helpful along that line. My son Mike lives in Michigan, and since I travel, I get the chance to see his family quite often. My other daughter Karen lives in Seattle, and I get a chance to see her and her children every month or so.
This might surprise you, but I still enjoy traveling. I've been able to combine workshops and talks with some free time. I've been lucky enough to work in and visit many different places around the world.
I stay current with my reading. I get about 20 or 30 industry magazines every month, and those always make for good airplane reading. These are industries in terms of HRD, speaking, meeting planning, and things like that. All in all, I just consider myself to be pretty lucky. I have learned so much from ASTD, and so I just want to pay it back and also, pay it forward.