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Be My Guest

I am going to be honest. I would rather present to the board of any major corporation or stay up all night preparing for a training event than host an event. Read over any bad Level 1 training evaluations and you will find comments about the accommodations or the food. I know my strengths, and event planning isn’t one of them. I have hosted just two parties ever, and both rank as the most stressful events of my entire life. 

Being a good host isn’t listed as an attribute on the ATD Competency Model™, but hospitality can make or break the success of a training event. And though it doesn’t come natural for me, I have learned a few things to make hosting a training event less stressful.

Resources

Hospitality is not my strong suit so the first thing I do when I am charged with putting together an event is to find someone who is good at it and enlist their assistance.

Think about other meetings or events you have attended that were well planned and executed, find out who put them together, and give them a call. If they are connected with the client of the training, they might be willing to assist you. At a minimum, they should be willing to give you advice about locations, food options, or meeting planners they have used. 

Even if you are only responsible for single-site events, never overlook local talent. I was once faced with many consecutive days of on-site training, and by asking around, I discovered (quite to my relief) that we had an hourly employee who catered in his spare time and was an extraordinary entertainer. I enlisted his services, and he was a life saver. In addition, people knew his stellar reputation for preparing good food, so they were happy to come to training.

Location

One of the biggest decisions we make in manufacturing is where to have hold our training events. Although it might be more convenient and cost effective to host a session on site, that comes with the risk of frequent interruptions. Many meeting and training rooms in manufacturing facilities are adjacent to operations, and even if your participants have coverage, they will be constantly distracted listening to the equipment and pages over the PA system. If it is more than a four-hour training session, I recommend holding training away from the production floor.

Check around your local area and you might be surprised to learn of many free or low cost options. In my last mill town, the volunteer firehouse let us use their meeting room for free. Community colleges will often let you use their meeting rooms for low or no cost, as well.

If you are hosting training for multiple facilities, then you have to decide on both training room and city. Sometimes training sessions need to be held at the corporate office to make it easier for presenters or trainers based there. If the training does not depend upon corporate resources, consider selecting a city that is centrally located for the participants to make travel easier for them. This means also thinking about the location of the nearest airport for those who have to fly. Many manufacturing facilities are in rural areas, so consider what type of location would be more comfortable for your participants.

Most hotels offer package deals if you use their meeting rooms in addition to lodging your guests there. This is a particularly good idea if you are hosting training during a time of year that the weather is less than desirable. This option also makes it easier for you as the host and presenter, as you don’t have far to travel with your materials and supplies. Be advised that if you choose this option and the hotel has a restaurant, you will most likely be limited to food and beverage provided by them so be sure to check in advance.

Consider hosting the training in the same city as one of your manufacturing facilities. This will minimize cost for those who are local. Often in manufacturing, our participants rarely get an opportunity to see other facilities. By conducting training in the same city as a facility, you can provide visitors an opportunity to take a plant tour and even make that part of your training agenda. Again, you have local resources who know the area and can provide you with recommendations for meeting space, lodging, and food. They might even offer to provide assistance.

Travel assistance

When training requires your participants to travel, provide information and assistance to make it easier for them. Those of us who are road warriors forget how daunting travel can be for those who do not travel often. Many of us also take for granted that nothing replaces personal experience, not even an app. Just because information is on the Internet does not make it true, and sometimes even the best app in the world won’t give directions to avoid high crime areas in cities or wildlife crossings in the country at dawn and dusk.

First, make sure your participants have a good address for the location of the training and some general directions to get there. Often our manufacturing locations are on streets or country roads that have had a name change that hasn’t made it into the GPS maps. Also remember that due to the remoteness of some of our locations, travelers may lose their GPS signal. It’s a good idea to communicate this ahead of time to your travelers so they don’t get lost. There’s nothing worse than having someone show up two hours late because their GPS stopped working and they didn’t have a cell signal to call for help.

If you are hosting training in a large metropolitan area, be sure to provide information about other events that may be happening in town that participants might want to attend or that could cause disruption. Also provide information about any recent crime events that they need to be aware of. This also means providing some additional information about the part of town where they will be staying, such as safe pedestrian areas and security or police coverage of the area. For example, downtown Atlanta has an Ambassador Force that canvases Peachtree Street during day and evening hours. These ambassadors provide tourist information and, more importantly, surveillance along this part of the city.

If your company does not provide travel assistance, then provide suggestions for local airports, lodging, and local restaurants. Include information about any landmarks, museums, or other local points of interest so visitors have something interesting to do during their off hours. Be sure to also let your participants know if your company offers any discounts for tickets to local attractions and events.

Food and drink

People can’t learn if they are hungry or thirsty. The general guidelines for food and beverage that I have found to work the best are as follows:

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• Less than one hour—Provide beverages
• Four hours—Provide snacks and beverages
• Greater than four hours—Provide whatever meal occurs during the time of the event. 

One exception to this is any event that occurs during a normal mealtime. If you are disrupting anyone’s mealtime, it’s a good idea to provide the meal or schedule your training at another time.

When planning food, be sure to consider who will be attending. A typical continental breakfast of pastries, fruit, and yogurt might be received differently by a group of corporate sales managers than a room full of sawmill supervisors. In my experience, most manufacturing people are very active during the day and rely on a hearty breakfast. Don’t skimp on protein. 

Know ahead of time your company’s guidelines around alcoholic beverages, and be sure your participants know that, as well. Getting a huge bar tab when you are the one picking up a group dinner is not the time to learn about your company’s policy. Sometimes you can handle this by having an open bar and giving participants tickets for the allowed number of beverages. Decide ahead of time whether it will be permissible for people to give away their unused drink tickets and communicate that. When it comes to alcohol, don’t make any assumptions.

Attire

Don’t make any guesses about how people are to dress. Most corporate offices have some type of dress code, so if hosting there be sure to your participants know in case they need to make a quick shopping trip to supplement their wardrobe.

Even when hosting training on site when others are coming from a different facility, clearly communicate ahead of time if employees will need their PPE (personal protective equipment) or if any of it will be provided. Typically most facilities can provide ear plugs, safety vests, and hardhats, but not steel-toed shoes. Give notice, so participants can pack appropriately.

Meeting planners

A meeting planner can be a valuable resource, especially if you are planning a meeting in a city in which you do not live. Check with your company and see if they have an approved service. 

When using a meeting planner, you want to know upfront about the meeting sites, hotels, caterers, and restaurants they work with. Find out in advance the range of decision making you have in the process. If the food provided on the first day was a miss, you need to know if you can make changes. As you are not working directly with the meeting venue, be sure to know if you can bring in food from outside or if all food has to be purchased through them. 

Although there are many upsides to working with a meeting planner, it could create a problem for your participants. For example, your participants may not have a confirmation number for their individual reservation and that could cause them some concern. This could also cause them some problems in working with the hotel should they need to make any adjustments to their reservation. Talk about all of this with the meeting planner and make sure you know how to handle participants’ needs.

The most important thing about working with a meeting planner is to ask about every detail. They don’t know your people as well as you do, so don’t leave all the decisions about lodging and food up to them.

Emergencies and information

Last but not least, make sure to provide contact information should your participants have any unexpected needs. Think safety first and know ahead of time where the local hospitals and after-hours clinics are located. Make sure someone on the host team is appointed to handle any after-hours calls, and provide that contact information to your participants should they need it.

Know where the nearest gas station, drug store, department store, or mall is located in case someone in your group has forgotten anything or needs to know where to find anything during their stay.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to know your audience. If you don’t know them very well, ask those who do. And if you do know them, check and adjust. If on the first day of a multiday event you find that breakfast was not good, be sure to adjust for the following day. If you always remember you are the host then it makes it easier to take care of your guests. I believe Maya Angelo said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
ATD Field Editor Melissa Westmoreland is the training and development leader for the lumber division of Georgia-Pacific Corporation in Atlanta, and is responsible for supporting talent development for 16 locations across the United States. Westmoreland has more than 20 years of production, quality, compliance, and T&D experience in food, packaging, and wood products manufacturing. She has developed or supported talent development solutions for operations, leadership, and craft skills. She has been an active member of ATD since 1995. You can email her directly at MelissaAWestmoreland@gmail.com.
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