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The Bottom Line in Training?

Companies usually give a great deal of thought to what training they invest in, and who they choose as trainers. But they give far less thought to training location–often picking a nearby hotel for convenience and reasonable rates. This can be very short-sighted, and limit the value of the training! Here’s my recent experience–read on!

The Context–In the Hands of My Client and a Very Old Castle!

I have just returned from teaching a Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) course just outside Paris, France. This was for a client–a well known global corporation. The client had made all the local logistics arrangements, including choosing the training location. Participants were traveling to the course from across France, Italy and the Czech republic. Some of them were known to each other, but not all. They were hoping for a training experience that would provide the knowledge they needed and help them develop as a Business Relationship Management team. A couple of weeks before the scheduled training I was informed that I’d be teaching in an old castle! Oh dear–what could this mean?

Location, Location, Location!

As a trainer, choice of location is extremely important for a couple reasons:

  1. I need a facility with high quality audio-video, a very large screen, a comfortable setting, and responsive staff, capable of dealing with last minute needs and ensuring refreshments are served on time and that everything goes like clockwork.
  2. Perhaps even more important, the trainees need a comfortable room and chairs, plenty of space, and an environment conducive to learning, sharing and bonding.

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A Brilliant New Concept in Training

My client had chosen Château de Guermantes, a 17th Century listed monument, run by a company called Châteauform’. The concept is brilliant–the execution superb! No, this is not a paid advertisement. I simply want to recognize an innovative training facility, and point others to what I discovered by accident. Quoting from their website:

The Founder of Châteauform’, Jacques Horovitz, has spent more than thirty years of his professional career organising residential seminars… throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. What struck him was that, very often, the chosen venues were completely incompatible with the type of seminar organised! Sometimes it was the meeting rooms that were not suitable, sometimes the place itself: often too big, where you felt lost surrounded by other groups, weddings, business men or even families on holiday. A break or a sports activity was almost never planned during the working day: either through lack of activities offered or quite simply because there was nothing to do to relax, discuss or simply get to know one another! He also noticed the lack of flexibility with regard to meals: too long or too heavy, when they should have been light to enable people to work throughout the day, or seated when they should have been informal…

Châteauform’ finds listed buildings (stately homes, castles) that are anachronistic in terms of purpose (a home) and upkeep (expensive!) and finds a wonderful new purpose–training and seminars. (Downton Abbey fans–think about the dilemma facing the Earl of Grantham as England changed and the upkeep of the splendid family residence became unsupportable.)  Châteauform’ has created venues–houses in the country, away from the noise of the city–dedicated to business meetings, where learning and relaxation blend together and where you can take the time to reflect on and process what is being taught. I believe they obtain government subsidies for putting these treasures to good use.

As their website continues:

They are not restaurants, but spaces for communication and discussion. They are not multi-purpose rooms, but places for work and reflection. The most important part: in our houses, you are not received by hotel staff but welcomed by a host couple into their house!

Gaining Knowledge (and Weight!)

20150121_123702The food was outstanding!  (Have you ever tried training or learning when you are hungry?) Chef Patrick described the dinner and wine pairings to our group each evening. His performance was so polished that I was able to use him as an illustration in the final course module, “Powerful Communications.” He had spoken for about 10 minutes in French about the meal he’d prepared for us, and the wines to go with it. His eloquence, presentation style and non-verbal cues were such that even though I did not understand much of what he said, I was salivating for the food and really excited by the menu and wines–the power of great communication! (He did also talk to us in English, but by then I was “sold” on the meal! The English language can never do justice to fine French gastronomie.) By the way, for those whose diet requires them to avoid things such as foi gras and rich sauces, there was a plentiful supply of ‘healthy’ food.

Service That Speaks “Quality” and an Exceptional Customer Experience

I arrived Monday morning into Charles de Gaulle airport on a long flight from Atlanta, GA. Our group met for dinner that evening, and my last words to them were, “Remember, we start at 8:30am sharp–please be on time!”

Horror of horrors, the next thing I remember was waking up and looking at my travel alarm clock to see it was 8:40am!  I had blown in badly! With the quickest shower I’ve ever taken, no breakfast or coffee, and, for the first time ever, appearing in front of a client unshaven, I made it to the meeting room by 9:00am. Fortunately, my participants were good humored about my tardiness, but I knew I could not make that mistake again. I asked our hosts if there was any way to get me a really loud alarm clock–clearly with jet lag, my little travel clock was not going to be sufficient.

20150120_221645When I got back to my room, I found not one, but two alarm clocks, with large, old-style bells! I was also informed that I would get a wake-up call, just to make sure I would start the day in time for a healthy breakfast. (By the way, I learned that the hosts had driven into town to buy these clocks specially for me, and tested several different types to find the loudest!)

Designed to Relax and Network

In addition to the exquisite setting, ambiance, wonderful cuisine and superb service, the Château featured places to relax and play, including bicycles for enjoying the grounds, indoor and outdoor games, and areas to sit and chat. Bars seemed to be liberally placed and stocked–just help yourself! Even a well-stock cigar humidor for those so inclined!

20150122_190054Châteauform’ has properties all over Europe. But this post is less about an innovative company that provides exquisite facilities for training events and seminars. It’s more about thinking beyond the obvious and mundane–reaching passed the ‘usual’ to provide an outstanding training experience–one that taps into the emotions and senses to create deep learning memories for a lifetime.