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Trainer’s Diary: A Journey too Far?


Management consultant and writer Byron Kalies kicks off the first in a new series of articles with a journey into the world of residential training.

I hate staying in hotels. There was a time when it was the best thing ever. Go away for a few days, see another part of the world, eat properly, meet new and interesting people. This all seemed so civilised and sensible once upon a time.

The more travel and staying away from home I do, the worse it becomes. Hotels become one and the same - whether they're in Africa, Hungary or Watford none of them are real - they all have that problem of being someone else's place.

And of course, training in hotels is fraught with dangers.

My first rule is - don't believe anyone. Check everything. Don't let anyone book anything for you. Do everything yourself. This is based on many bad experiences of projectors not being there, chairs not being there, doors being locked etc.

A few months ago I thought I'd got this sorted. I was due to run a teambuilding event in a local hotel. I knew where it was, and had used it before so there was no need to go there the day before - was there?

I arrived and was told I was in the Barker Suite. There were four huge tables with 16 chairs and a flipchart. I had specifically asked for no tables, 12 chairs in a horseshoe shape and a flipchart. "Ah well," I thought smugly, "it's a good job I'm an hour early."

So I set about moving the tables and chairs all the time muttering my mantra: "Check everything. Don't let anyone book anything for you. Do everything yourself."

Forty-five minutes later it's sorted. People start coming in. "Hell they're keen," I thought, but I still feel more than a little self-satisfied. "Excuse me but this is the Scarborough Suite isn't it?" asks one of the attendees. I looked at the door - Scarborough Suite. I had to explain to two very unhappy trainers what I'd done and sneak away to the immaculately laid out Barker Suite with 12 chairs in a horseshoe shape and a flipchart.

The best tip for training at hotels is to get friendly with the staff. Get on first name terms with the waitresses, night porters, chefs and cleaners. It will pay dividends in the long run. You never know when you'll need a favour.

One day a few years ago there was a petrol shortage in the UK. I had visions of being stuck on the south coast with no petrol for the weekend. On the Thursday evening I mentioned this to Kevin, the barman at the hotel in Bournemouth.

"Leave it with me" he said "Just leave the keys for your car in reception." The following day the car was full of petrol.

* Byron Kalies' latest book "25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes" (Management Books 2000) was published January 2005

2 Responses

  1. Don’t do everything yourself…
    Oh dear – a clear case of being hoist by your own thingy!

    Not only did you not double-check the suite name, you didn’t double-check that the hotel staff hadn’t moved your event to another room. My motto in these circumstances is not ‘Do everything yourself’ but ‘Check and double check’.

    Did you check your car’s odometer? You might have found that, in addition to a tank full of petrol, your car had another 650 miles on the clock!

  2. Know their culture
    Having done training over a large part of the world this is not just a hotel problem, even in client offices the problems are similar (and less excusable).

    The worst I have ever had was Moscow about 1o years ago. Tried to do all the pre-night prep, but told I could not see the room until the morning. Went down at 7am, but no one would let me see the room. 8am, no one owuld let me see the room, so I was told to go to my room and wait the phone call.
    8:45am, no phone call, went down, 60 delegates queuing, room locked, no tea/coffee. 8:59am (1 minute before official start) room opened.


    10:00am, everything turned up and we can rock and roll.

    Russia and South Africa have always provided the most learning for me in how to ‘not’ run a training venue.

    But the real lesson is to me was to not expect my westernised expectations to be met, and most of the time the locals are expecting a level of chaos that would not work in Northern Europe of USA

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