March 16, 2013 by Sian Rowland
As trainers my business partner and I are always on the lookout for training venues. Being in the capital we have a wealth of venues to choose from but being London they cost and arm and a leg and if we’re to keep prices reasonable for teachers we can’t afford fancy hotels or conference centres. Anyone who has a bit of space larger than a telephone box tends to hire it out at eye wateringly high rates to make a bit of money (we all need a bit of extra cash nowadays) so here is my guide to booking a venue for a training session. These are all true stories.
1) Arriving. If you book a room for a course starting at nine am you will need to get into the room from say 8.30am at the latest to set up. So when you book the room ensure there’s enough time at the beginning and end of the day for preparation and clearing up. And then be prepared to arrive at the venue to find it locked and in darkness. Find a random caretaker/ cleaner or passerby and ask if they have keys. Send them off to find keys. Wait in the rain or snow while they come back with someone official wielding a clipboard who explains angrily that there is no booking, they know nothing about anyone using that room today and who did we book through? Wait in the rain as they stomp off to find someone else and then return with the keys and an apologetic, ‘it turns out that you did book the room from 8.30 so here’s the key. Have a nice day.’ Enter room at 8.59am at the same time as your delegates arrive.
2) Size. The description of the room as being large enough to hold 50 people doesn’t mean that it will hold 50 people sitting down. It means it will hold 50 people standing elbow to elbow, breathing in with at least five on the window sill and another ten standing on one leg. When you actually measure or visit the room it’s usually the size of a postage stamp and comfortably holds five people. Thin people. With no bags.
3) Furniture. Always check if there are enough tables and chairs for the group. And then ask if the tables and chairs sort of match. It doesn’t matter if they’re not identical but it’s not great if every table is a different size, height, shape and in varying degrees of wobbliness. With mismatched chairs. Shabby chic work in our local vintage café but not in a training room. Check, check and check again that there will be enough chairs. People don’t like having to sit on the floor all day although you can usually rustle up a random swivel chair that’s waiting to go to the dump because its swivelling days have long gone.
4) Setting out of said furniture. You’re given an option in how you want the furniture set out. We ask for classroom or cabaret style. Sadly, cabaret style doesn’t mean it comes draped in red velvet and feathers. It’s just boring old groups of tables with, say, six chairs around, set so everyone in the room can see the speaker. Writing this on the booking form, describing this to the booker, drawing diagrams and expressing the set up through the medium of creative dance does not mean this will happen. Chances are you’ll be heaving tables and chairs around the room yourself when you arrive at the venue and find it’s set up for a playgroup/ reiki healing class/ bible class or empty. Empty is quite common despite the descriptions, checks, diagrams and dance. Or used as a dumping ground. We once booked a room which, when I went to see it and check it out, was empty. By the time our training day came around it was stacked wall to wall with about two hundred folded chairs and we had to squeeze into the corner. All the power sockets were hidden by several rows of chairs which we had to scale like the lower slopes of Everest.
5) Equipment. Venues are savvy about equipment. They charge extra for stuff like projector, flipcharts, projectors, pens and breathing. You think you have enough in the budget for the venue hire when in actual fact you have enough to hire a packet of drawing pins and a biro. Hiring a projector for presentations doesn’t mean that it will be
there or indeed work. Venue projectors are also often at the, ahem, cheaper end of the price scale and are only good for projecting a picture the size of a postcard on a wonky projector screen which if often portable and never stable. Oh and ordering a flipchart does not mean you get paper. You need to check that there is paper provided. And not a pad of used noted describing how to do CPR or someone’s sales projections. Other givens: the flipchart will have a wonky leg and will collapse when you try writing on it. There will be no flipchart pens or they’ll have dried out. You’ll end up crawling round the room looking for plug sockets. There won’t be enough. Your equipment won’t reach the plug sockets without an extension cable. There won’t be batteries in the projector remote.
6) Refreshments. My favourite. In an ideal world there would be a selection of teas and some freshly brewed coffee and very occasionally that happens but more often it’s a flask of tea with seventeen tea bags in it and some coffee sachets. Sometimes you get to play ‘guess what’s in the flask’ and have to squeeze out sample liquids and sniff them to try and work out which is coffee, which tea and which hot water. The hot water always tastes of old coffee. When ordering refreshments it’s always good to check timings too. And then check and confirm and check and confirm again. If you’ve ordered drinks for an 11am coffee break it’s worth checking that they will be there at 11am and not that the urn might or might not be switched on at 11 and will arrive in the room somewhere between lunchtime and next week. As the trainer you won’t end up with a cup of something comforting because you’ve forgotten to count yourself in when giving numbers and there aren’t enough (mismatched) cups. You’ll also spend the coffee break running backwards and forwards to the kitchen asking for spoons, milk and sugar which usually turn up about half an hour after you’ve given up and are hard at work. More often than not nowadays we ask delegates to bring their own coffee or find the nearest non-tax-avoiding coffee shop or vending machine and point them in the right direction.
7) The trainers. Given the above caveats, as well as all the training materials don’t forget to bring pens, paper, water, bluetack, scissors, screwdrivers (various), extension cables, camera for recording state of equipment on arrival so they can’t charge for breaking anything that was already broken, copy of the booking form and follow up phonecalls/ emails, warm coat for when you’re waiting outside, headache tablets, chocolate, waterproof mascara, flask of gin. Start the day looking fresh and well dressed and be prepared to end up filthy, damp, sweaty, crumpled and stressed before you’ve even started.
One of these days I’ll find a venue where everything runs smoothly and goes to plan. Meanwhile, it’s all part of the big freelance adventure. What are your training venue adventures?