There has never been so much choice in training venues. Hotels, universities and purpose-built centres all offer ‘high-spec’ facilities and more sporting venues are also trying to cash in on the growing market.
And with a big budget, you can secure a really impressive location, as Andy Neal, a director at HR consultancy ChangeMaker, has done in the past. Neal has hosted courses around the world, from Amsterdam to China.
“Unbelievably, there is a training venue right next to the Great Wall,” he says. “It is in a traditional courtyard building that nestles under the wall. Although accommodation is basic, being located so close to the wall is really inspirational for learners.”
Neal has also used the Gaelic Football Club’s ground (Croke Park) in Dublin and the Ajax Arena in Amsterdam – both venues that can help organisations link their training message to sporting values.
In fact, sporting venues are an increasingly popular choice for training events. A high-profile stadium provides a certain ‘wow’ factor or an interesting talking point and can also offer a good metaphor for training.
But a great venue is not all about being quirky or interesting, according to Michelle Alles, a partner at Stirling Training Consultants.
“Having natural daylight in a training room is vital,” she says. “You also need room to walk around. Some venues have a tendency to squeeze you into the smallest room possible. Learners then feel claustrophobic and are not able to learn effectively.”
Check too whether the air conditioning is temperamental, that there’s a water cooler and low external noise.
“If you have a main road outside or are under a flight path you have to make the choice between being boiling hot or having the window open and having to shout above the noise,” says Alles.
Transport links are crucial if learners are based far and wide, so check a venue is accessible by road, rail or air if necessary.
Alles says she always chooses hotels over conference centres. “In purpose-built centres, accommodation usually consists of a study bedroom, which can be a bit basic. Many hotels provide good training facilities, but with better quality rooms and catering,” she says.
Clinching the deal
With trainers increasingly relying on new technologies to deliver courses, having the latest equipment at hand can be a deal clincher. Julie Wright, marketing executive at venue directory Venuemasters, says that academic venues are proving popular for this reason.
And academic institutions are investing heavily in facilities to reel training punters in.
The University of Loughborough, for example, has recently completed an £8m development, which includes 26 top-spec training rooms.
“Rolling programmes of improvements have been taking place, with facilities constantly being updated to keep up with the latest developments,” says Wright.
Once you find a good venue it can pay to stay loyal. Marie Matheson, HR director at sofa company ScS, has found that returning to a venue helps it build a better understanding of your specific needs.
“We tend to return to the Marriott Hotel in Gateshead at least twice a year because we have built such a good relationship and know we will get good service because they know what we want,” she says.
However, if venturing somewhere new, Matheson says that top of her list is having sufficient space. A close second is having on-site facilities so that last-minute preparations can be done without stress. “It is the smallest things, such as access to a photocopier, that can be really important,” she says.
So while opting for an impressive, inspirational setting can be tempting, if it doesn’t have the practical facilities you need, then training could suffer. So before booking, do your research.
My favourite venue
Ailsa Sutcliffe, senior learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development, is a firm believer that the practicality of a venue beats the ‘wow’ factor hands down.
“I have taken a course at Leeds United Football Club, which sounds impressive, but the facilities were not up to scratch. I’ve also had a training room overlooking a race course, but the room was too narrow – so again, it didn’t make a good learning environment.”
Instead, Sutcliffe rates Staverton Park in Daventry, Northamptonshire. The venue has good motorway links and is close to Birmingham Airport. As well as an 18-hole golf course, it boasts 22 training rooms and an advanced presentation system.
“This is a great venue as it is centrally based and purpose-built for delivering training courses. It is geared up to meet all of your needs so that you don’t have to worry about anything but getting on with the training,”she says.
This month in Training & Coaching Today
Is charisma a quality that can be coached to employees?
Personnel Today’s sister publication, Training & Coaching Today, is a monthly magazine dedicated to keeping you on top of training issues. Subscribe online, or call 01444 445566. Out on 21 November.