Policy or Personality?

As I watched the leaders debate last night I got to wondering whether we vote on the basis of policy or personality? Do we, in this age of reduced attention spans, take the time to investigate the parties policies or do we react to soundbites and our reaction to the leaders characters? Or do we not even do that but simply vote for whichever party our parents voted for?

I’ve been watching the political parties trying to “market” themselves to us in the lead up to the election with interest. The major parties spend a lot of money on marketing and communication advice so why are they failing to connect with us? Why are we turning to the smaller parties for a new voice? Are we tuning out from their policies or their personalities?

I’m giving away my age here but I grew up in the days of Margaret Thatcher, MIchael Foot and Neil Kinnock when there was a definite left and right to British politics. Although there are still ideological differences now the two main parties have undoubtedly both grown closer to the centre in order to appeal to the mass of the population and this has made it harder to see the space between them. Hard as they try to ignore it the fact that the major politicians tend to come from a similar background and area also doesn’t help.

Their communications experts have obviously told them to push their “key message” which is why we keep hearing David Cameron talking about the long-term economic plan & Ed Milliband talking about supporting the working man not big business. This constant pushing of their message goes against virtually everything in marketing nowadays. Modern marketing is much more about pull than push, much more about human connection and shared empathy. Are our potential Prime Ministers getting so caught up in their own message that they’re failing to see how potential voters are tuning out?

So the question I’m asking myself is: are we turning to the smaller parties not because we’re looking for something different in politics but because their leaders seem more human? In which case what matters most? Their policies or their personal likeability and trust factor?

So how do you decide? Is it policies or personality that you base your decision on? Or do you always follow the family tradition?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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.

My New Years resolution is to smile more

Reflection and Resolutions-give us a smile!

The New Year is such a time for reflection isn’t it? Although in reality it’s just an arbitary day which we’ve given a title to, rather like our birthdays it automatically sends us into navel gazing mode. We look at the year that’s gone measuring what we’ve achieved, and very often what we haven’t, before looking forward to our aims for next year.

I’ll be honest I’m not a great one for New Year’s resolutions, if I want to achieve something I’ll just get on with it rather than choose a specific time of year to set a goal and some recent research suggests only 8% of Americans stick to their resolutions. We’ve no reason to think we’re any more successful in the UK.

So when my son asked me on New Year’s Day if I’d set any New Year’s resolutions my instinctive answer was “No, I don’t bother with those” but then I got thinking as I walked my dog (a great time for the brain to get into gear as research shows) and I decided I would make one. It’s nothing fancy and not difficult to do but my resolution is simply to smile more this year.

Just imagine if we all made that resolution how much happier we could make the world. We all respond to a smile, internally as well as externally. It’s good for our mental and physical health in all sorts of ways, it attracts people to us so expands our contacts which also makes us happier so what’s not to love about smiling?

So if you see me in 2015 and I’m not smiling give me a smile to remind me of my resolution and I promise to smile back. Here’s to 2015 being a year of smiles for us all!


I have no special talents I am only passionately curious. Albert Einstein

and my learning journey continues

Those of you who have kept in touch with me for a while will know that I love to learn, it’s like taking your brain to the gym, there are only positives. So why has it taken me over a year to figure out what I want to study after completing my degree?

Well the truth is we have so many choices now when it comes to learning don’t we? There are the traditional courses, the one day skills training options and now of course the MOOCs. There’s also the decision about whether to study further in the discipline you’ve already started or move over into another one. Then there’s which provider, method of study……..I could go on & on. You know what though? When you actually find the right course you just know it’s the one. If you’re umming & ahhing without being able to make a decision that course just isn’t speaking to you. Continue reading


Are you a NHS customer?

If you live in the UK that may seem like a rather silly question but I’ve been thinking a lot about the NHS recently and I’m not sure it’s such a straightforward answer.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first:

  1. we all have an emotional reaction to the NHS, as an institution it is well loved.
  2. we nearly all also accept it isn’t performing to it’s best ability at the moment & needs to change.

So taking those two things as read ( if you disagree on either please let me know by commenting) let’s have a look at who the NHS’s customers actually are. Continue reading


The language of mental illness: is it all madness?

It was World Mental Health Day on Friday of last week and I got to thinking about how much has changed since mental health issues first affected my family over 30 years ago but then also how much hasn’t. Some of the stigma of mental health illness has lifted but there are still a lot of people who are scared of sufferers and also many who believe they should just pull themselves together.

I was listening to something on the news and realised that we use completely different, and often negative, language when we talk about illnesses that affect our brains. The very word mental has very negative connotations yet illnesses like depression are just as life changing and life threatening as cancer, an illness which suffered the same sort of stigma years ago but which is now widely talked about. Ironically the chances of suffering from either type of illness are roughly the same, 1 in 3. Any one of us can be affected at any time. Continue reading


Google+ we need to talk

I’m sorry but it just isn’t working for me. I’ve been wondering why I don’t feel the same joy when I see you as I do with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I talk about you behind your back then feel guilty that I’m saying horrible things like “It just doesn’t feel right”

You see Facebook is like the friend I’ve known since school, we’re comfortable, we can catch up when I’m in my pyjamas and I don’t have to make any effort. We talk about family & businesses I like. Continue reading

New Website

I’m very excited about doing this new website to start conversations with a wider audience, all the posts up prior to this are from articles I’ve previously written and posted on LinkedIn so there are no comments here, although some did raise a lot of comments on LinkedIn.

If you haven’t previously seen them on LinkedIn I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll be posting new blogs on here in the weeks to come. I’m also planning to add more content on other pages as I go along, any suggestions of things you’d like to see are very welcome.


work life balance

Stop telling me I want it all because I’m a woman!

I’m a lover of Twitter (@DianneUCLan if you want to follow me) but I opened my twitter feed this morning and became rather irate. This has been building up for some time mainly due to a couple of followers I followed back out of courtesy and now have unfollowed. I know I should have taken this action before I became irritated but heigh ho we all make mistakes right? Plus this isn’t just on twitter, whenever I open a paper I’m faced with the “Women Want it All” message.

Do men not “Want it All” too? Or do they feel they “Have it All”? I very much doubt it’s the latter.

Continue reading