Could you create your own ‘Festival of Learning’?

Could you create your own ‘Festival of Learning’?

Here, Danielle reflects on her week at two ‘ideas’ festivals and how that approach could be used to encourage self-driven learning in business.

Rather than spend a holiday sitting on a beach, I went on a ‘learning holiday’. Eight full days attending two ‘idea’ festivals that were being held close to where I live. The first is the oddly named ‘How the Light Gets In’ (or ‘Who turned the lights off’ as it is known in Monster Towers!) organised by The Institute of Art and Ideas. The second was the more widely known Hay Literary Festival.

I’ve always loved learning. Not always as much as I do now. You learn all the time working in a small business and so to take time off work to do some more learning may seem strange to some. Maybe it is. But as an advocate and practitioner of lifelong learning, who loved every minute of my holiday, I’ve identified five elements that these incredibly popular events do. I then wondered if they could provide inspiration for anyone looking for innovative ways to promote a learning approach in their organisation.

Both festivals attract thousands of people each year for a combination of debates, talks, workshops, music and comedy. (Plenty of that in our company) They both have a slightly different emphasis, atmosphere and target audience but both still focus on what I would call ‘learning for the sake of learning’.

1. They are open to all

People from all different backgrounds, experiences and areas of expertise attend talks on Biology, Cosmology, Philosophy, the future of education, politics and creativity. Some people attending might hold a Ph.D in that particular field and are relishing the opportunity to hear from other leading thinkers. Others have literally no experience or knowledge in that field at all but are just there to simply hear about something new. Maybe learn a few things they didn’t know before or listen to a debate to understand the different perspectives on a thorny topic.

2. Everyone creates their own learning experience.

Sessions are scheduled from early in the morning to late at night. Sessions on different topics run at the same time in different locations. There are a variety of formats; talks, debates, workshops and hands-on sessions. Topics are vast and varied. You can’t do everything and every person that attends will choose a slightly different combination of experiences. You can go along for the everyday for the full week or for just a single day. Some buy tickets for individual events across the week. There is no set agenda or path. You are free to create the experience that works best for you.

3. They focus on ‘event experience’

Although most people attend because they’re interested in a particular topic or want to hear from certain authors or speakers, it isn’t just about the content. It’s possible to go to either festival; not go to any of the talks and just absorb the atmosphere.

You could sit with a book in the Serious Reading room (as I did for a morning) or get a drink in the bar and read a book there instead (which I also did) (I figured wine in the Serious Reading Room would be frowned upon!).

You could mooch around the various stalls or stands, pop your head into the ‘People’s Front Room’ and listen to a band for a while or just spend time ‘peoplewatching’ in a riverside deckchair. It’s as much about the atmosphere as the content.

4. You are in charge of your own learning

With my corporate hat on, I would say that any learning opportunity is only complete with an element of reflection, capturing next steps or action points at least. Not at an idea’s festival. People are left to learn what they want, when they want and how they want. You can apply what you want to apply and ignore everything that’s not relevant. Each session that I attended though, I did learn new information that I will apply. The tangible:

  • I learnt about MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) for example which I intend to investigate more.
  • There was recommended reading about Creativity and Purpose which I will add to my ever-increasing reading list.

Others were less tangible.

  • I marvelled at how a seemingly obvious ‘correct’ position can have many layers of ambiguity and controversy which I only appreciated after attending a debate about where to draw the line regarding free speech.

In all these instances though I was left to take away what was useful to me. The person sat next to me would likely have taken away completely different outcomes. And that’s the beauty of it. We weren’t told what we should learn. We shared an experience and then applied what was relevant to us. (though it is fair to say on at least one occasion, the only takeaway I had was that I didn’t understand a single word they were talking about!)

5. The emergence of lifelong learning

Throughout the 8 days I was in Hay, the overarching feeling I came away with was the importance of Lifelong learning. It gave me the opportunity to absorb new information, wrestle with different ideas and consider alternative perspectives. It does require the ‘learner’ to want to learn, of course it does, but similarly it is only effective because the content is interesting, the speakers engaging, the atmosphere relaxed and varied.

There was space to take time out and reflect.

There was humour as well and information.

There was self-selection and self-reflection

Taking these ideas further…

I am personally passionate about learning and more specifically self-driven learning and I’m lucky enough to be involved with building our sister business The Alternative Business School which holds this type of learning at its heart.

If this is a topic you want to debate, discuss and deliberate then please do get in touch.

With the increasingly competitive landscape and the advantages for us all to be on a lifelong learning journey, then concepts like The Alternative Business School and festivals such as the ones held in Hay each year have a significant role to play.

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

When an organisation is introducing technical and complex changes, the temptation is to place all the relevant information in lengthy documents and make it available to everyone that may be affected.

The assumption being, that everyone will read it, interpret it and thus know what they need to know.  In most organisations, where the volume of information is vast, that is, at best, unlikely.  In addition, if the information has been written by technical experts, it may serve more to confuse than to enlighten.

Although the obligation of providing information has been fulfilled and thus can be ticked off the project plan, it often fails to enlighten anyone and can create frustration and confusion. There is another way.

Alana bought a new carpet-cleaning machine at the weekend. (She is an official grown up now!). She shared on Monday morning the excitement of unboxing it, which rapidly turned to amazement and then to confusion at just how many parts it seemed to have. Her mood shifted to despair as she realised how much needed to be done to assemble these items to produce a fully functioning bit of kit. Perhaps the carpets could wait a day or two?

Thankfully, the despair was short lived, because the very thoughtful carpet machine manufacturers had created a wonderful technicolour spread of just exactly what went where and the order in which it went.  As well as clear assembly instructions, there were visual diagrammatic steps for operation too. What attachment was for what surface, how much solution to mix and which brushes were specially for homes with pets. A potential technical minefield easily explained and the previously terrifying array of bits was swiftly transformed into a fully functioning domestic delight.  Result – a delighted Alana, some very clean carpets and a slightly disgruntled Murphy dog. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the same happened in business? Technical, complex and dry but necessary information conveyed in a way which people can quickly understand and apply.

Here is the thought process we go through when we are faced with the challenge of translating technically complex information into the understandably simple.

1. What one thing do we want people to know?

2. What do we want them to do afterwards?

3. How do we want them to feel?  


1. What is a metaphor, a phrase, an analogy or concept that conveys all this information?

2. What creative vehicle could we use to clearly demonstrate that concept?

3. What other information needs to be conveyed that can be weaved into this overarching idea.


This diagram illustrates some examples. These creative ‘hooks’ can then be used throughout the messaging to reinforce the key point. 

Having a strong hook isn’t going to be able to describe your complete IT network in 5 minutes but here are a few other techniques we use in order to make the technical more simple: 

1. Make it Visual    

Take a leaf out of the carpet cleaning machine manufacturer’s book- make it visual. Need to show the relationship between the head office and the factory floor? Show it. Depicting the environment in which people work makes it immediately relatable and recognisable.

2.    Don’t try and include every little thing.

You will run the risk of getting stuck in the weeds and never actually getting to the end of articulating what you need to. Extra discussion can address the more detailed data once you have delivered the basics.

3.    Make sure it is relevant

Sense check it with individuals from the business who live it day to day. They will soon be able to tell you if it lands with them at a human level or not.

4.    Include the benefits

This works well in process visuals – to be able to see the benefit of a certain process step really helps in getting buy-in from individuals. Click here for examples of process maps and other visual creations. 

5.    Have some fun!

Can you include in-jokes? No car parking? Temperamental printers or dodgy light switches? Feature a nod to these! The laughter of recognition is a great icebreaker.  

Here is a recent example of a before and after: 

Whilst we are not suggesting that the assembly of a carpet cleaning machine presents the same technical challenge as say, introducing a new ERP, we are ultimately seeking the same outcome. 

A communication vehicle that can simply explain process and procedure and convey the required complex technical information in a simple and effective way.  Visuals really are the key.    

By the way, should anyone want their carpets cleaning …Alana recommends VAX.  If it’s strong simple visuals you are after, then please feel free to get in touch!

Avoiding ‘average’ communications

Avoiding ‘average’ communications

Are your communication efforts ‘average’?

Getting communications right is tricky.

Some people want visuals, some want detail, others just a quick note to let them know they’re included, but whatever the communications message to be imparted, it is terribly tempting to ‘just get some comms out’.

We know everyone is busy and they really are, but just taking a little bit of care and time over important messages will bear fruit in the end. So, what do we mean by ‘average’ communications?

Presenting long PowerPoint decks, reverting to the ‘norm’ for leadership conferences, standard talking heads videos or cramming town-halls with loads of content which simply ‘must’ be rolled out. Come on…. That’s just taking the easiest path to getting messages out there with little regard as to how they’ll be received. So why does it happen?

Unintentional lack of awareness

The author/presenter genuinely believes that telling people stuff will mean that it has been fully understood and internalized.

Unwillingness to put the effort in

You’re busy, so the quickest way to ‘get stuff out there’ is to take the path of least effort – normally slide decks of bullet points.

The perception of ‘silliness’

Anything that moves away from the hard content is perceived to be silly, wasteful or indulgent. The serious business-like way is seen to be serious business content.

Risk aversion

Standard communications are seen as the least risky approach. No-one ever got fired for presenting a content heavy slide deck so it’s probably best to take the comfortable and safe option.

The problem with average communication though is the wasted effort, budget and opportunity that organisations are paying for every day. How many times are messages communicated in conferences, town-halls, emails, even training programmes which you could classify as ‘average’? Not enough care being taken to how that message can be brought to life and therefore it’s unlikely to be remembered or acted upon.

How much is this costing the organisation? Not only in budgetary terms (spending money on communication and engagement efforts that are likely to be ineffective) but also the opportunity costs; opportunities to increase productivity, drive a cultural shift or change ways of working.
Here are some ways you can avoid the average communications trap:

1. Get to the essence of the message – what is the one really important point?

2. Use visuals – they are easily understood and can convey multiple messages in seconds.

3. Be surprising – Average communicators breed average communicatees. (Is that a word? No? Well just go with it – we’re being surprising! Ed.) If people expect to be talked at for 45 minutes then they’ll mentally prepare themselves to not listen for 42. Add an element of surprise to get people hooked in quickly.

4. Get people involved – let people interact with your content – run exercises, activities and games to create interest and involvement. It just helps people to connect to the point you are trying to make.

5. Avoid being ‘corporate’ – Business is serious, but it needn’t be dull. By making communication more relaxed and friendly, then people will feel able to engage on a more human level.




If you want more advice as to how to bring messages to life you might find this article helpful. 

An example of what not being average looks like…

Purple Monster are currently working with a client to help roll out a global programme about Cyber-Security in a manufacturing setting. It’s technical, complicated and full of IT information that is critically important but also difficult for engineering staff to understand as it isn’t their area of expertise.

This organisation wanted us to help them translate their cyber-security content into a series of workshops focused on the key benefit for the engineering teams. So we created a picture of a manufacturing plant including making invisible cyber threats visible.

Activities have been designed to interact with the picture. Where technical content is required then it has been drafted into an overall ‘flow’ which makes all the sessions hang together and the key messages reinforced throughout.  

For the relatively small outlay of our involvement, this global engineering function are now much more likely to not only understand the importance of being cyber vigilant but what they need to do in order to protect their plant. This enhanced knowledge could ultimately prevent shut-downs costing millions of pounds. All by this organisation choosing to not fall into the average comms trap.

Don't go for average!

We are experts in bringing creative and ‘different’ approaches to corporate communications and engagement.  

Trust me, I’m a venue finder

Trust me, I’m a venue finder

If you didn’t know…Purple Monster has a venue finding business called Engaging Spaces.  Our friend and colleague, George, runs this part of the business. In between juggling duties as a Mum and venue finder, this week she was out and about filming some marketing videos. Her Wednesday went like this…

Alana and I decided to film a few more marketing videos for social media, something we’ve been playing around with for the last couple of years; having great fun and learning as we go.  The feedback on the videos has been great and each venue we’ve filmed in has welcomed the content.

For this session, providing helpful hints on how to work with us, I asked a basic starting question, ‘Where shall we shoot them?’ Now we’re a venue finding agency, so the obvious place was a great venue that we know and love working with.  We’ve built an excellent relationship with Warwick Conferences over the last year or so, sharing similar thoughts on the best learning environments.  We really love their creative, versatile, light spaces.  A quick phone call later and we were booked in.  Simple.

The video content that we were shooting was about choosing the right location for an event or meeting, as well as talking about the service we provide.  Being able to do this in a space that we highly recommend, made this one of those ‘winning’ days! The venue was fabulous and we were pleased with what we produced. #thumbsup

There was a real desire to help each other, sharing information and contacts.  They generously offered us the use of the space anytime. In return we offered to promote their lovely space; for all the right reasons.  There was nothing shallow, false, self-motivated or ‘going through the motions’ about our conversation. It felt like we wanted the best for each other and that it was a real meeting of minds. We just trusted each other and were happy to help each other where we could.

There are lots of companies that partner and collaborate and sometimes with the view of growing their own business of course.  But over the twenty-four year history of Purple Monster we have done a lot of collaborating. It is sometimes disappointing, sometimes rewarding, sometimes just thrilling, but it is always worth doing if you are prepared to share a little bit of yourselves and can encourage others to do the same. But you do have to be prepared to trust and that makes you a bit vulnerable. Wow. That’s a whole other article. Suffice it to say Wednesday’s experience was just a great example of collaboration!

Purple Monster and Engaging Spaces tips for finding the right venue…

  • Choose a venue that closely meets your objectives. Don’t be afraid to go for somewhere a little “different” if it fits with what you want to do.   
  • Think about how the environment will impact on the tone you want to set. Want people to feel relaxed and informal? Consider a space with sofas and comfy chairs. Want people to come up with innovative ideas? Think about sitting around a kitchen table (where the best ideas are formed!)  
  • Make sure the room itself is big enough to allow people to move around with ease. 
  • Location, location, location. Pick somewhere that makes sense for everyone and reduces the stress and time of travelling to and from the event. Even if it costs you a bit more for room hire it will still most likely be cheaper than people travelling further or requiring an overnight stay. 

It goes without saying that we highly recommend using Warwick Conferences.  Perhaps you can ask them, if they recommend using Engaging Spaces.  Or of course, take a look for yourself if you want something a little different:  or get in touch on

Need help finding a creative and inspirational venue?

We are experts in sourcing creative, quirky and inspirational spaces for business meetings and events. 

Three takeaways from successful conferences.

Three takeaways from successful conferences.

It’s conference time again in Monster Towers and more than one is at the planning and design stage.  For our work, bringing content to life, this is the most creative time and the most demanding and conflicted time too.  We love to push the boundaries creatively and this doesn’t always provide comfort for those responsible for the successful delivery of the conference aims and objectives. 

There are many questions asked at this time and I’m going to focus on three that we hear a lot.  They represent the need for ROI and as conference time gets nearer, the questions increase in frequency and volume!  

Key questions any good conference organiser should be asking


In no particular order, these are the perennial favourites and they apply to any and every part of the conference. 

  • What are the three things that people will do differently as a result of the conference?
  • What is the one action that can be taken right away to bring about change?
  • What are the key takeaways? (and no, this does not refer to the goody bags)

Most of our readers will have heard if not actually asked these questions themselves. We have and we’re also constantly trying to answer them too. But just occasionally, the monsters are brave enough to challenge whether asking the delegates these questions directly will achieve anything at all.

No one wants to be the one that doubts their effectiveness. However, there is an unspoken acknowledgement, that even with the sending of the obligatory reminder postcard, it is unlikely that any of these questions is going to help land key messages, change behaviour or cement understanding of the new strategy. So what will?

How can you ensure the message lands without being patronizing? 

Following the release of the fabulous film, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, there was a positive explosion of individuals and groups, renting space or even hijacking billboards, to protest a point. Not just one, mind you, but always three.

Now did this come about because at the end of the film, in all film theatres, somebody asked us to consider the three things we were going to take away or do differently? No. They did it despite the absence of this prompt and that’s because, every single person that saw that film could see the power of a brilliant, yet simple idea.

Inspired, tragically by a real event, but then shared brilliantly by a great storyteller.
Very few people can remember every bit of a film, especially if they only see it once. Quite a lot of any conference is going to fade pretty quickly too and of course it makes sense to ask people to write things down they wish to remember.

It’s the directive bit that doesn’t help; the being told to take action or that you must remember three things specifically.

The core team we’ve been working with this week have had an obvious but helpful way of avoiding the predictable stuff. It’s very refreshing. They keep saying:

“Remember everyone here is an adult. They pay mortgages, bring up families, make leadership decisions every day. They can work out what to remember and what to do, on their own.”

Yes they can.

Three ways to ensure your messages land.

Here’s our three billboards, that we think will help the adults at your conference remember the right stuff.

  1. Create memorable content with simple ideas that stick. Don’t overcomplicate and resist the temptation to tell the audience everything you know
  2. Be authentic and use everyday language. If you think you have a ‘buzzword bingo’ script, get the red pen out and cut it.
  3. Allow people reflection time. Not everyone wants to rush out of the cinema. Sometimes you just have to sit and take in what you’ve seen – play it over in your head.

Just like a great film, if you thoughtfully create something memorable, then the adults will work out what to remember and what to do about it.  Trust them to get it right. There’s no need to send out a survey asking ‘What three things did you take-away?’  Instead, look out for the evidence.  If you’ve delivered a great conference, then the metaphorical billboards will be appearing all over the organization. 

Three at a time, of course.

What are your three conference takeaways?

We are experts in helping messages to land and that includes making sure delegates are clear on the key takeaways at conferences.