Blog Post

Finding the right training venue: Flexibility is the key

I spend a lot of my time working in training and function venues. Over the years, I’ve developed an extensive list of my likes and dislikes.

For me, flexibility is the key priority. I like to be able to set up the room in a way that suits my needs. Sometimes, I like to change the room as the day progresses.

My venue-preference list looks something like this:

  • Rectangular table that can be arranged in either a U-shape or in groups (rectangular tables are better than round troubles when participants need to shuffle paper and take notes)
  • Tables that are large enough to give participants working space, but small enough for participants to hear each other when they work as a group
  • Moveable furniture that is both light-weight and robust, so that I can change the room layout as needed
  • Comfortable chairs, so that participants can sit for a reasonable time in comfort
  • Blank walls, so that I can hang bits of paper and project onto a wall
  • Natural light that is well controlled with blinds, plus good artificial light
  • Adequate air conditioning, with temperature control
  • Plenty of power points, including power points in the floor
  • Manual/separate controls for any technology in the room; it’s frustrating when the lights change automatically or the blinds suddenly close
  • Generous rooms, that provide plenty of space for participants to move around
  • Basic stationery supplies
  • Good catering, delivered on time, and delivered in a way that allows me to be flexible about the timing of the breaks.

In recent years I’ve been frustrated by venues that offer:

  • Round, heavy tables that are almost impossible to move (sometimes a group will work best if everyone is brought together in a circle, and heavy tables can make this difficult)
  • Chairs that belong in a restaurant, not a training venue
  • White linen tablecloths that simply get in the way
  • Inflexible layout that makes it impossible for me to use my own equipment (I recently worked at a top-level hotel that could not provide a table for my projector nor enough space at the front for me to place my papers; they insisted that I use their ceiling-mounted projector, and then couldn’t accommodate my HDMI connection!)
  • Fixed assumptions about how facilitators will use equipment (like me, some facilitators prefer to work in full light, and are frustrated when the light is low near the screen)
  • Training rooms that double as party venues (standing next to a bar, with participants seated on a dance floor is not my idea of a good venue)
  • Confusing layout and difficult access (I’ve worked in venues where participants can’t find the training room and need a security card to get to the toilets).

There are numerous little things that I like venues to get right – including water jugs that are easy to hold and pour from, doors that close properly, whiteboard markers that work, and a venue host who greets me by name.

In my experience, purpose-built training and conference venues tend to be easier to work in than hotels, and city hotels tend to be easier to work in than resort hotels.

A few months ago, I won a conferencing package at Novotel Brisbane Airport. I was excited by the win, but dubious about whether a mainstream hotel could offer the flexibility I need for my small and interactive writing workshops. I knew that I’d be a tiny client for Novotel, and I thought I might get lost in the general run of their business.

I held a two-day workshop at the Novotel Brisbane Airport this week, and I was pleased to discover that they were more than able to meet my needs. They’re clearly a business-focused hotel, and the staff made it their business to help my business run well.

From my experience at the Novotel, I’ve added a new item to my list of venue preferences: any cost associated with upgrading to a real coffee machine is well worth it, particularly when you’re asking participants to concentrate for several hours at a time. No more of that horrible, vacuum-pot coffee!

Thanks, Novotel Brisbane Airport, for selecting my business card in your recent competition. I enjoyed using your venue, and I recommend you without reservation.

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