Category Archives: Business


Event Evaluation? It’s in the Ladies Toilets!

I love running events & I’ve been lucky enough to run a number of highly successful ones, most recently co-curating Cumbria’s first TEDx event, TEDxWhitehaven, with my son Luke.  I’m often asked how I evaluate the success (or not) of an event & there are a number of ways you can do this. The most effective,as I say in the title, is in the ladies toilet. More of that later though, let’s look first at some of the more “accepted” evaluation measures.

So you could evaluate on the number of attendees.  This is definitely a measurement that matters. After all if you haven’t attracted people you either haven’t got the content of your event right or you haven’t communicated that content effectively to your potential audience. Have you used the right kind of marketing? Are the social media platforms the ones your target attendees use? Unfortunately you may have got the marketing right & the content wrong in which case I’m afraid it’s back to the drawing board.

How about attendee evaluation? Of course you should survey your attendees afterwards & ask them if they’ve enjoyed the event. This can take some time & you do need to make sure you ask them the right questions though. It’s very easy if you’re setting up the survey yourself using free useful tools such as Survey Monkey  to ask questions which give you the answers you want rather than the ones you need. Get someone who’s not been involved in the event to take a look at the survey before you issue it. The great thing about running a TEDx event is that they do they survey for you, this prevents this kind of mistake & also should encourage honest feedback.

What about the conversations you have with attendees on the day? This is immediate feedback so you don’t have to wait for it but lets be honest who’s going to tell you to your face that they’re not enjoying the event you’ve spent months putting together? We were all brought up to tell those little white lies to spare people’s feeling weren’t we?

So that’s where the ladies toilets come in. Now I’m not being sexist, the men’s toilets may be just as informative but I’ve no access to them, perhaps the men reading this can let me know if they are as informative?

At every event I run when I visit the ladies toilets I keep very quiet & listen. Not in a creepy way & I’m aware I’m starting to sound a little odd here but when ladies visit the facilities they also tend to have a little chat with each other as they wash their hands, check their make-up etc & those conversations are what tell me I’ve got a success or failure on my hands. If they don’t know I’m there & they’re saying “Isn’t this great, I hope they run another one!” as they were at TEDxWhitehaven I can relax in the knowledge I’ve provided what they were looking for & hopefully more. This litmus test has never failed me so far, any time I’ve heard this conversation in the ladies the survey evaluation has come back with a high rating.

Now I’ve given my secret away I’m sure any ladies at future events will be checking the cubicles before saying anything & I’ll have to find another way to get immediate evaluation…….so how do you decide if your events a success? Do you have a stranger way of doing it than me? I’d love to hear about it.


Screenshot 2015-02-22 11.14.31

Let’s try to STEM the gender gap.

As I was reading my Sunday paper this morning I was transported back to the mid eighties when I was studying for my A-levels. I was sitting in a classroom with about 10 pupils in it & I was the only girl. I had chosen to study double maths & it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might be the only girl making that choice. This is a testament to the way my parents brought me up, to them my gender wasn’t a consideration in the choices I made & it was only when I reached that point that I came across the influence of another way of thinking.

I can even distinctly remember the teacher saying “I wouldn’t be surprised if Dianne decides not to continue as she’s the only girl in the class”  Giving up on the class hadn’t even occurred to me until that point. Don’t get me wrong as a teenage girl sitting in a class full of teenage boys I felt awkward but to me I’d made my choice & I would have persevered. Following those words I gave up maths completely. I’d be offered an “out” and I took it. Now I don’t blame the teacher for that, I made the decision & I’ve never been one for looking back & thinking “what if?” I wonder though if the teacher would have said those words if he’d realised the effect it was going to have?

The reason this memory came to mind was an article in the Sunday Times about an OECD report due out next week. The report shows that the UK isn’t doing very well when it comes to making the most of our available talent in STEM subjects. In measuring the performance of 15 year old girls v boys in science across 67 countries the UK has one of the largest gender gaps. We are in the bottom five of the sample & that really isn’t good. The same OECD report last year showed that gender gaps in maths generally across the world had not improved in the previous 11 years. How sad is that? We’re talking & talking about this & yet we still haven’t found the solution. The report suggests that part of the problem is that girls don’t feel as confident of their abilities when it comes to maths & I find myself wondering where that comes from? Somewhere between the age of 9 and 15 their belief in their own abilities changes. Are we as a society still giving out the same message that teacher gave me in the mid-eighties?

Teenage years are difficult ones at the best of times (for parents as well as teenagers!) & sometimes it can be a fleeting comment or a thoughtless phrase that may give someone that “out” I was given , that may suggest to them that they’re not quite up to it or won’t quite fit in. At a time when people are trying to figure who they are & who they want to be these comments can mean a lot more than they’re meant to. So we need to think about what we’re saying, what messages we are giving.

As Professor Brian Cox said in an interview in the Telegraph last year when asked about women in science:  “There should be 50 per cent. It’s not just a sense of moral obligation about equal opportunities. It’s about the talent pool. It’s about how do you fill this massive gap in skills that we have in the economy.” Now I can’t offer the perfect solution to this problem but I do feel we can all contribute in our own way. Changing this will take effort from all of us, male & female.

So let’s encourage all our children, regardless of gender, to be everything they can & want to be.


Profit: is it only about financial gain?

Originally posted as LinkedIn article

A headline in the Daily Telegraph this morning over breakfast caught my attention “Savvy shoppers force down prices.” The article reported that the rising popularity of discount stores has forced prices down by 1.8% over the last year overall and this got me thinking. Have supermarkets given profit a bad name?

Don’t get me wrong it’s been widely reported that Britain has some of the highest food prices in Europe & hopefully discount stores like Lidl and Aldi can bring some equilibrium to the market so this is a positive move in that respect. My concern is that people see the profits made by the “big boys” in retail and apply the same measure to small local shops. Enterprise Rockers reported that micro business owners, which covers many of your local shops, earn 20% less than employees. Yet I know from experience that people who would never go into Tesco’s and ask for a discount if one wasn’t advertised will ask a small local shop for one. Continue reading

sales trust

Sales seems like the hardest word

Originally posted as a LinkedIn article

I was filming a video recently with my good friend David Martin, who has many years sales experience, & he defined sales in the video as “finding the solution to customer’s problems”, a lovely thought. Almost cuddly don’t you think? So how then did sales get such a bad press? When did it become so embarrassing to say you’re in sales? Because believe me the word “sales” tends to be whispered nowadays as if it’s rude to mention it in good society.

I would define myself as a sales person even though the product I “sell” is fully funded so has no financial cost attached to it but my job description is Business Development Officer. This is in part due to the historic uneasiness the education sector has with the term sales I’m sure but the same job description is seen in many other sectors too. Continue reading