How many people will be attending your meeting?

October 22, 2012

One of the things that frustrates me about booking venues for workshops and training sessions is the way event coordinators manage space requirements.  There seems to be a pattern to how event coordinators determine the space your group needs.  For the most part the intentions of the event coordinators are well meaning.  However, there are some fundamental challenges which I sometimes get bitten by when requests are not made strongly enough ahead of delivering a workshop or training session.  Here are a list of challenges that we at CE often face:

  • The number of participants and room configuration results in being cramped in a small room.
  • Not demanding windows for natural light likely gets you into a “dungeon” room.
  • Walls are often not accommodating for hanging post-it notes or table work outputs (i.e. flip chart artefacts)
  • The room is reasonably priced but beware of extortionist catering charges!
  • A/V charges still remain quite high in many venues.

Now we are getting much better at booking venues by following a set of heuristics.  Note that these are primarily appropriate for workshop or training sessions that use complexity facilitation approaches and CE methods but I’m sure they are appropriate for other sessions requiring similar venue characteristics:

  1. Always book a room for 2 or 3 times the number of participants.  Then when you adjust catering and other session requirements needing you to disclose actual numbers say you need the extra space and keep the large room.
  2. Pay attention to ceiling height as this does help with smaller spaces if you need to make compromises.
  3. Always request round tables and ask for water and candy bowls to be placed at the back of rooms rather than on tables (I can’t believe how many times this request is not satisfied!)
  4. Before booking ask for a couple photos and request the event coordinator to confirm that there is open wall or window space for wall exercises.  For walls ask them to test if post-it notes stick well to walls (avoid textured wall paper at all costs!)
  5. Always, always, always request a room with windows.
  6. Arrive early to move tables around and rearrange the room.  Even detailed layouts communicated by email and/or diagram are often misinterpreted.

Now I’m sure other facilitators and trainers have other tips to add (please share if you do) but these seem to be some basic ones that we go to frequently now.  We have learned through some errors and mistakes in past bookings, many of which were due to assumptions, however from time to time you also get burned.  The photo on the right is from an event held at a Westin in Washington, DC and we unfortunately realised the extortionist cost of tea and coffee refreshes too late on day one to recover.  At the end of the day when I had to approve the catering charges I realised that on both tea/coffee breaks we were being charged a fixed price of $85 for each break for the tea refresh alone not including coffee!  Alarmed by this ridiculous fee I checked with the participants at the end of the day how many cups of tea were consumed… the answer was 3!  Now contrast this to a very positive experience this week of hosting our training session at the Canadian Management Centre in Toronto we paid a flat fee of $45 per participant for a full day meal package.  Our participants were given UNLIMITED access all day long to tea, coffee, filtered water, and soft drinks.  The room was great too!

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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