Building colleagues’ confidence in public speaking

We recently ran an internal conference for everyone in our Digital Technology and Data function. The success of the conference was dependent on having a great mix of talks and workshops run by our colleagues from across the team.

We have some people in our department who are experienced speakers, happy to appear at public meetups and conferences. But we know there are lots more interesting stories to hear from other people. We wanted to encourage new voices and less experienced speakers to come forwards, but didn’t know how willing people would be.

Understanding the barriers to public speaking

We put out a call for speakers, making it clear we wanted to hear from everyone who might be interested. We offered coaching, feedback, or just an initial chat about ideas – whatever would help people feel confident to get started. Through this, we learned about a range of things that were on people’s minds:

  • some hadn’t done any public speaking before, and weren’t sure how to structure a talk or how they’d cope with nerves
  • it had been years since some people had spoken in person, and this seemed more daunting than the video calls they’d become used to
  • others were happy to talk in front of people they knew, or in communities that were encouraging – but weren’t sure how relatable their talk would be for a wider range of backgrounds

A common theme became clear: they all had fantastic stories to share and didn’t need much beyond a little assurance that people would want to hear them. We put together a varied agenda where all the talks were really well attended. On the day, the quality of the talks (and their slides!) was all really impressive.

A board of handwritten post it notes showing some of the conerence talk titles including career conversations, risk storming the death star and how to do a lightning talk

A positive experience for our speakers

Our colleagues who’d put themselves forwards for talks told us the experience of talking in the supportive environment of an internal conference built their confidence for doing it again.

A slide from Elisa Pasceri's talk which says uncertainty = anxiety = flight or fight response

While it wasn’t the first time I spoke in front of a large-ish group of people, it’s the first time I presented my own content, not just product-related or business material. So there was an extra layer of feeling exposed and judged on a topic I feel very strongly about. I talk about anxiety and repurposing product design techniques to mitigate its effect and build better products and services. So you can imagine my, well, anxiety putting myself out there!

The experience of the conference gave me a lot of confidence to pitch this externally in a way that I never thought possible before. I’ve already got an external event lined up in a few weeks!

Elisa Pasceri, ‘Designing with anxiety’

I was grateful to be given an opportunity to speak, especially with my name place alongside colleagues whose confidence and delivery I hugely admire. This is the first time I’ve delivered a talk to a large group of people and the warm support from colleagues before, during and after the conference has given me the confidence and appetite to do it again, and to a wider audience.

James Martin, ‘Bridging the gap between designers and developers’

Encouraging colleagues to think about public speaking – lightning talks

We carried this idea of encouraging speakers into the conference itself, by running a session on how to do a lightning talk.

A lightning talk, just a few minutes long, is a great way to start public speaking because:

  • there’s no need to plan and remember a long script
  • it’s over quickly so can be less daunting
  • they’re more informal than longer talks

Lightning talks do have their own challenges: with such a small amount of time to get to the point, you need to be really clear on what you want to get across, and be ruthless about leaving out lots of potentially interesting detail and asides.

People are interested in your talk

One of the biggest barriers to giving a talk, even a short lightning one, is accepting that people are interested in what you have to talk about.

“Come learn from me, I am an expert in this thing” is a daunting and difficult way to approach a talk. And often, advice from experts is not all that useful – sometimes when a world-class authority talks, listeners can be thinking “run multiple companies, decades researching this topic, wrote a book about it … of course they can do this stuff, don’t know if I can”

Instead, think about: “I thought this looked difficult but maybe useful, here’s how I found a way to put it into practice and here’s how a surprisingly small amount of work really helped my team and organisation. I’d like to learn more, next I’ll look at…”

This second approach:

  • is believable (you’re not trying to claim you’re an expert in anything)
  • is relatable and useful for the audience
  • invites the audience to come and learn with you

We were extra impressed with the bravery of the group of attendees for this session: they could have safely stayed listening to someone else talk in the ground floor sessions, but instead they ventured up 13 floors to discuss putting themselves in front of an audience. Taking that step itself showed they’re passionate about the topics they want to share, and we’ll look forward to seeing them talk at our future conferences.

Neil Vass
Standards and practices lead

Introducing ‘Open’, a series of accessibility meetups in Manchester

On Wednesday 27 September, me, Nate Langley, Becky Arrowsmith and Katherine Wastell are holding our first accessibility meetup, ‘Open’. We want to challenge the way we think and talk about accessibility.

Aptly, the meetups are open to everyone. Accessibility is something each member of a Digital team should be thinking about and we’d like attendees’ roles to reflect that.

We want to encourage people to come together and talk about how they approach accessibility and begin to share what they’ve learnt when writing, designing and building services for people.

More than screen readers and colour contrast ratios

A lot of the time when we talk about accessibility we focus on visual impairment but, although an important thing to consider, there’s so much more that can affect how someone experiences something we build. There are any number, and combination, of barriers someone could come up against that we should consider. This could be visual, audible, cognitive, contextual, cultural or something we haven’t even considered before.

Let’s talk. It’ll raise awareness

Nobody sets out to purposefully make something inaccessible but a lack of awareness of accessibility issues can lead to us alienating huge groups of people. With Open, we aim to challenge current attitudes towards accessibility and begin to raise awareness of the many ways we could be excluding groups from our products and services. We’ll also be talking through ways we can reduce those barriers and make things open to everyone.

Cooperating to make things better

In the future, we hope to partner with organisations throughout the north west. We think that by cooperating, we can raise standards and bring accessibility to the forefront of what we do.

If you have an interest in accessibility and making things better, get in touch. We’ll be looking for speakers for future meetups.

You can follow Open on Twitter.

Jack Sheppard

Open 01 will be at Federation House at 6.30pm on 27 September. Get your free ticket now.


Supporting the Manchester Digital Skills Festival

Last week, Co-op Digital sponsored the Manchester Digital Skills Festival, an event that promotes careers and collaboration in tech, digital and design. Students, graduates and educators from local schools and universities had the chance to meet more than 180 digital organisations from across the north west.

Photograph of hall with attendees and speaker inside Manchester Town Hall

Co-op Digital contributed to an experience day where a group of 13-14 year old pupils from a local Co-op Academy came into The Federation; a talent day for students and graduates with an interest in the industry and a conference day aimed at starting conversations between digital organisations and educators.

Getting young people interested in digital

During the festival the need for digital organisations to engage with people at a younger age was flagged (again) as a good way of improving diversity in the industry.  

With this in mind, we invited pupils from a local Co-op Academy into The Federation. We gave them an opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like to work in the tech community by spending time with some of our communities of practiceThey also took part in user research, coding and agile delivery workshops.

Pupils working collaboratively on a lego project

There was a chance for digital organisations to talk to educators from local schools and universities. The 2017 skills audit was a big talking point and Rob Bowley, Head of Engineering, was part of a panel discussing key issues flagged in the report.

Bringing more digital people to the Co-op

Principal Engineer Gemma Cameron talked about the Co-op’s culture and values and how they help us build products and services that meet the needs of our members, customers and communities.

Over the past year and a bit Co-op Digital has attracted loads of fantastic digital talent. People who care about doing the right thing for our Co-op colleagues, members and their communities. We’re looking to encourage diversity in the digital and design community, and we’ll be recruiting more great people throughout 2017.

You can find out more about a career at Co-op Digital and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter.

Matt Eyre

Judging Hack Manchester

This weekend, Hack Manchester took centre stage at the Manchester Science Festival, hosted at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). 350 participants competed in the annual 24 hour event. It was actually a 25 hour event, as the clocks went back mid-hack. We sponsored the event as a challenge setter, alongside GCHQ, GMP & Ladbible, Cancer Research, Clockwork, Sky, Evestor and Valtech.

The entries across all the challenges were amazing, and I was especially proud of the care and attention that teams gave to our challenge, which was making something to help people experiencing loneliness. We had the most entries to our challenge: 19 in total. For some teams, the reasons for entering our challenge were very personal. Some had been or were lonely themselves, or had a close relative who was lonely.

As our head judge, it was quite the task getting round to all the teams to see what they’d come up with and how they were progressing. Luckily, I was supported by my co-judges Rob Bowley and Emer Coleman. Stephen Foreshew-Cain also stopped by to take a look around.

“Call James” won on the night

Our winners, on the night were The Lovely Lads with their hack, Call James.

Picture of the team from Northcoders who won our challenge at HackManchester
The winning team, photo – HackManchester Blog

They developed an app that uses a supercomputer to connect older people with groups that share their interests. They used technology to solve problems for technologically disconnected people, with a prototype where customers would find a message on the bottom of their Co-op receipt saying, “Interested in meeting some new people? Call James on +44 115 824 4806.” 

We chose this as our winner because the idea really answered our brief. They got their idea to actually work while using some really challenging technology. Also, the team, that came from local tech company NorthCoders had only learned to code just 4 months ago – an amazing achievement.

Runners up

Our runners up were the Nuts Hack for their entry Paltopia and the HackStreet Boys for their Co-op Community Hub. Paltopia is a multiplayer app for lonely children, who are matched up with someone and take care of each other. It’s a safe way for them to interact with someone else, thanks to features like using emojis for chat, and is built around routines, interaction and companionship. 

The Co-op Community Hub caught our attention because it turns the idea of an events website on its head. Instead, it automatically creates events based on the interests of people in a local area. 

Bleating Baskets won Best in Show

The Best in Show prize went to another of the entries responding to our brief.  The Basket Cases won for their Bleating Baskets, which were talking shopping baskets. When customers with baskets walk past each, other the baskets “talk” to each other, making them an ice breaker between the customers, and hopefully starting a conversation between them. 

There were some great ideas on how use digital technologies to make people less lonely, and the hackers came up with some really diverse solutions. Hack Manchester and all the teams did the North proud this weekend and showcased the abundance of digital talent here. 

You can watch the awards show and see more pictures of the day.

Thank you to the team at HackManchester and to everyone that took part.

We’re hiring now

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson

Hack Manchester Junior

This week the most brilliant young minds met for Hack Manchester Junior, at the Museum of Science and Industry as part of the Manchester Science Festival.

Hack Manchester is a 24-hour coding competition where teams of four people turn up to create a product that meets a brief, and present it, in just a day. A junior version runs over two days and is open to young people up to 18.

The junior event this week had over 110 entrants take part in hacking challenges. Coop Digital was joined by our fellow junior challenge setters Siemens, Thales UK, Greater Manchester Police, Cancer Research UK, Clockwork, GCHQ and Web Applications UK.

Our challenge was: “Make something to help people experiencing loneliness’. Tom and I had the tough task of judging the winner of the challenge. We decided that HackHorrors, who were one of the youngest teams to take part, deserved to win. They created a website that allows people who can’t get out of their house to ask neighbours to pick up provisions for them – they wanted to ‘Create a Community on your Street”.

We were happy to see two of our other entrants win prizes too. Team GCHQ>NSA, who created a game for lonely children to play, won the best school/college team challenge. Team Not Yet made an interactive robot you can speak to, for scheduling events. They won Best In Show.

For me, one stand-out team was Null Is Not Defined – four girls from Loreto College who took the Thales challenge to ‘Protect the bank’. They team created working facial recognition software in just two days and won their category.

This weekend it’s the seniors’ turn as Hack Manchester returns on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 October. Around 350 people will be taking part in the 24-hour hackathon (which actually runs over 25 hours because the clocks go back this weekend). Emer Coleman and I will be judging Co-op’s category. I’m really excited to see what the seniors come up with, the juniors are quite an act to follow.

You can buy tickets to Sunday’s awards show.

You can see the full coverage of the Hack Junior event day 1 and day 2.

RailsGirls workshop

I was asked to speak at the first RailsGirls workshop in Manchester, an event with the aim to help women to understand technology and to build their ideas.

Picture of attendees at RailsGirls Manchester Event

Here’s an edit of my talk:

So I hope most of you know a little bit about the Co-op, I hope you’ve at least visited one, we have a store in every postcode so we are hard to miss. We’ve just launched a new brand and we’re over 170 years old, with our origins only a few miles up the M60 in Rochdale. The Co-op was a movement, created by a group of people who wanted to do good for their community and was founded on some amazing values and principles. One such value remains pertinent to us today, helping people to help themselves.

At CoopDigital we are open and agile, we’re blogging about the things we’re doing, please do take a look. One of our aims is to be at the heart of the digital community in Manchester as well as hiring digital talent aligned with our values. CoopDigital has a team of leaders committed to diversity aiming to ensure your gender is not a barrier to you succeeding, this runs right through the team and diverse teams are better – more on that in a moment.

So the Co-op is here because it believes in its members, education, diversity and the tech community here in Manchester – so why me?

Since I had my daughter two and a half years ago, I decided to take a more active role in promoting diversity in tech. My own personal experiences made me think about the sort of challenges my daughter might face when she’s thinking about a career. I want her to do what she loves most and not face the barriers I faced. I have now, after 16 years in the workforce, found a job I love in an amazing environment with wonderful people.

So enough about me – this next bit is about you and why you being here is really really important. So, I’m going to leave you with 3 things to think about today

According to McKinsey:

“Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

So, companies with more women in them perform better.

According to the Harvard Business Review and Carnegie Mellon University:

“There’s little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”

So, teams with more women in them are smarter.

We’re likely to have 1 million vacancies in the tech sector by 2020. Let’s make sure more than half of them are filled by women.

1. Your contribution to this industry is not only valuable, it’s vital

About a month ago I listened to a Ted Talk by Reshma Saujani founder of Women Who Code called – Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.

It’s a great talk I encourage you to seek it out. I wanted to share some snippets of her talk with you today:

How many of you look at a job ad and don’t feel you can apply unless you meet 100% of the requirements? (Many hands were raised at the RailsGirls event)

Reshma talked about psychologist Carol Dweck who in the 1980s looked at how bright fifth graders handled a difficult assignment, Reshma said of the findings Carol observed,

“bright girls were quick to give up. The higher the IQ, the more likely they were to give up. Bright boys, on the other hand, found the difficult material to be a challenge. They found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts. In short if were were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect”

You’re here to learn to code and coding in itself is an endless process of trial and error, It requires perseverance. It requires imperfection and being comfortable with that

2. Be comfortable with imperfection not getting it right first time is what coding is – and that’s ok.

Reshma also observed this in her program, she says,

“Every Girls Who Code teacher tells me the same story. During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code, a student will call her over and she’ll say, “I don’t know what code to write.” The teacher will look at her screen, and she’ll see a blank text editor. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”

It’s rooted in how we perceive ourselves and our output, a professor friend of Reshma’s at the University of Columbia who teaches an Intro to Java told her when the guys are struggling with an assignment, they’ll come in and they’ll say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with my code.” The girls will come in and say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with me.”

3. If it doesn’t work there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just your code

Whilst you’re here today if your code doesn’t work ask for help and please don’t delete your work or you’ll never know how close you came.

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson

The need for digital talent

This is my first blog post, so a quick introduction; I’m Ian, and I look after the digital team’s corporate relations and partnerships, ensuring we have the right skills, resources and people to deliver our plans.

It’s no secret that finding and securing the best digital talent is important for many organisations, including the Co-op.

Simply put, there isn’t enough to go around. Addressing this is the domain of people like Makers’ Academy, who think the solution is to find a way for more developers to enter the market. They offer a 12-week intensive course, taking people through a curriculum which they believe results in job-ready junior developers. More than 600 people have completed the course so far. That number is growing. They’ve now introduced remote learning too.

A few of us from CoopDigital (myself,
Danielle Haugedal-Wilson, Paul Furley and new recruit Gemma Cameron) visited them in East London. We spoke about the Co-op, the journey we’re on and the opportunities we have.

I’m delighted that the 170 year-old Co-op was so well received by this group of Shoreditch based digital natives. They were interested not only in our digital plans and our ways of working but also in the Co-op business model, our values and the advantages of membership. We talked to them about some of the incredibly interesting problems we have to solve, bringing benefits to our colleagues, members and communities.

One of the founding principles of the Co-op is helping our members to help themselves, so we also need to determine what this means for us in a digital age. We hope the chance to help Co-op solve those problems attracts some great people. It certainly seems to be working so far.

It seems it’s not just us who are excited by these prospects, also new digital professionals looking for a challenge can see the potential in the Co-op. So much so that most of those we spoke to at Makers’ Academy are planning a visit to Manchester this week.

See our vacancies in Co-op’s digital team here.

Ian Dunnett
Head of Strategic Growth and Partnerships

Co-op AGM 2016

Today I had the pleasure of attending my first Co-op AGM along with nearly 1,000 members at Manchester Central.

It was inspiring to see and hear from so many co-operators – people who clearly feel very passionately about the success and future of Co-op. Here’s the full text of my speech.

Tomorrow I will be discussing our digital strategy with Nick Crofts and our Council, and from Monday we will be sharing more details here.

Co-op Logo
Hello. First a personal note. I’m new here. This is my first Co-op AGM and I wanted to say how proud and excited I am to be here. I’ve been motivated through my whole career by helping align the open and innovative values of the internet with those of pioneering organisations. I can’t think of a better place to continue that work than here. And, I should also say how warm the welcome has been to me and my team. Thank you for that. It feels like we’ve come home.

Now, we’ve heard about how we want to return to our pioneering roots, how we disrupted markets by doing the right things things that mattered to society. Today the some of the biggest disruptions to traditional businesses and organisations have come from the digital world.

But there’s an important thing to remember about digital. It doesn’t just mean changing the logo on the website and making some apps. ‘Digital’ when done well, means fundamentally redesigning the services we deliver, it means changing the way we work, very often this means we make things cheaper and more efficient – but that’s not the main point – the main point is that we create different, better, stronger relationships between our colleagues, you – our members, our partners and our customers.

We’re doing three things to deliver on that digital promise

1. Helping our businesses get digital

We’re working with each of our businesses  to build new services and improve the ones we’ve got. We’re starting small, working iteratively and making sure our services are focused relentlessly on the needs of their users and our members.

You’ll start to see the fruits of our work soon – we will be sharing our progress on these projects on our blog at

This will be a feature of our work from now on – radical transparency. One of the things the internet is great at is sharing – allowing people to see inside your work, at their own convenience. We won’t be bombarding you with email, but we will invite you to follow our progress in as much detail as you’d like. That feels like a Co-op thing to do – right?

Behind me are some of the prototypes we’re working on right now, for funeral care and for wills. We’ll be sharing those with your council tomorrow and then we’ll be sharing them on the blog for everyone to see what we’re up to. Our plan is to extend the openness and transparency of our pioneers into the new worlds of digital.

So keep an eye on the blog, there will be exciting things happening there.

2. Making the Co-op trusted with data

Right now businesses like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon control our access to  huge amounts of information, the news we read, the products we buy, the ways we communicate.

This has delivered tremendous convenience, but it’s not come without questions. People are beginning to wonder what companies have access to what data. They’re asking how it’s being used. They’re starting to question whether maybe they’ve shared too much.

If our members and customers trust us with their data then we can build enormously convenient and compelling services for them, we can use that data for good. But it’s increasingly clear that we have to win that trust, that we can’t take it for granted.

So we’re committing to a data relationship that’s unambiguously clear and transparent. We will always be clear and precise with you, our members about what we are going to do with your data. Frankly we shouldn’t have much choice – you’re our owners. You will be in control of the data we hold on you.

3. Pioneering digital membership

And Digital will also play a crucial role in making membership stronger and more vibrant.

We’ve talked about the 5% for you and the 1% for your community. But the other element of being a member is having a Co-op voice. Having a say, as co-owner, in the way the business is run and the decisions it makes.

And if we’re really serious about democratic participation we need to find far more ways to make this happen. Elections and Motions are important. But there’s so much else we can do using digital.

We want members to give us real time feedback on our products and services. We want members to help shape our ethical strategy not once a year but all through the year. We want to make it easier for members to connect with each other and share the stories coming from their own communities.

This is just the beginning. Make no mistake, the future of the Co-op is digital because the future of society is digital. It’s our job to make sure that there’s a digital world out there with Co-op values, not just the values of Silicon Valley and venture capital.

Come back next year and you’ll see how we’re making that promise a reality.

And keep an eye on our blog.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Highlights from the Co-op senior leadership event.

Last week I attended an event with group of around a hundred senior leaders from across the Co-op. It’s the first time I’ve been invited and I was proud to be included. It all sounds formal and intimidating, but that’s not what I felt when I got there. Everyone was warm, friendly and keen to know who I was and what I did.

The two days consisted of presentations and workshops. I got to see lots of exciting and insightful things from every area of the Co-op. The exec welcomed feedback on what we could do better.

Co-op Enterprise Leaders Event

 I learned so much in a short space of time – I thought I’d share my favourite bits:

 Richard Pennycook and  Rod Bulmer  showed just how much they care about the Co-op. They’re approachable, grounded and witty.

 Andy Phelps shared some great tips how to best engage your team through change. He’s even lending me a few books.

Robert MacLachlan exemplified the spirit of  our Funeralcare business.

James Holland from Co-op Electrical brought a tear to my eye. He talked about his best friend who suffers from a severe health issue. We employed him and supported him through his treatment. This reminded me the Co-op has a good heart.

I’ve never felt so positive about the future of the Co-op.


Codegirl at 1 Angel Square

On Tuesday evening we screened the film Codegirl at 1 Angel Square. It is an outstanding film about a global competition which encourages young women to create digital services, and shows the craziness of our current gender imbalance in our approach to technology and digital services. The evening was the brainchild of the amazing Danielle Haugedal-Wilson, one of the leading technology architects here at Co-op Digital.

It was great to see so many people from Manchester and the North West in attendance and we look forward to seeing them again during future events and community activity that we will be hosting throughout 2016 as we ramp up our digital team.

A few people have asked me for some of the facts I presented, so below is the brief speech I made on the night – Thanks to Russell Davies for researching these statistics.


“Good evening.

Thank you for coming tonight to our screening of Codegirl the first of many such events as we work with the digital community in Manchester.

I’m Mike Bracken, I’m Chief Digital Officer here at the Co-op and I’m acutely aware that I’m both the wrong gender and the wrong age to be standing on this stage, so I’m just going to say a few quick things and then I’m going to let you get on with the movie.

First of all – thank you to you all for coming. I’m hoping this will be the first of many similar events we’ll host here at the Co-op and I hope to see many of you again.

Secondly – thanks to my colleagues at the Co-op who helped to organise and publicise this event – Polly, Nicola, Paul, Vicky and the hospitality crew who have been amazing.

Thirdly, most importantly, I want to thank Danielle whose idea this whole screening was. Thanks Danielle!

And finally, I’ve been trying to think of something practical and useful I can say so that when you leave here this evening, inspired and excited, you are armed with some facts you can use to cause practical change wherever you work.

So I did some digging and here are some useful things to remember:

According to McKinsey and I quote:  “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

i.e. companies with more women in them perform better.

According to the Harvard Business Review and Carnegie Mellon University  Harvard Business Review and Carnegie Mellon University .

i.e. teams with more women in them are smarter.

According to the VC firm First Round First Round and I quote again  “companies with a female founder performed 63% better than our investments with all-male founding teams.”

i.e. start-ups with female leaders make more money.

We’re likely to have 1 million vacancies in the tech sector by 2020. Let’s make sure more than half of them are filled by women.

And now, let’s watch the movie.”


Mike Bracken. Chief Digital Officer, The Co-operative Group