Your day will start badly – and get worse. You will gather in some sparse ante-room, clutch your teacup and redundant saucer for all you’re worth, and try desperately to guard your personal space. If the course is with strangers rather than colleagues, you will find yourself answering such riveting questions as ‘how did you get here?’ and ‘did it take long?’
So, even though it’s a day off from the office and an opportunity to wear ‘smart casual’ clothes, the best bit is that it takes place in a hotel. For most participants this translates as a fancy sit down meal or at very least a pile-your-plate-high carvery. While neither is that unusual, it is the unmitigated joy at scoffing it all down on company time/expense that will seem so attractive.
Approximately 15 minutes late, everyone will find their labelled Conference Room. For openers, your trainer, or facilitator as they may prefer, will probably ask everyone to introduce themselves. This will be done either by ‘creeping death’ around the U shaped table formation, or else pick-a-victim-at-random style. Either method will leave you sweating in your seat, palpitating over what to say and how to make yourself sound funny and attractive. Of course your trainer will start, immediately rhyming off a witty, clever repartee about himself, which he has rehearsed and used many times before.
Once that is over with, the course proper will start and the slides, PowerPoint, flipcharts etc will be produced. No more than three minutes in, the following question will be heard from the floor;
‘ Are there handouts?’
which can be directly translated as
‘ Can I go asleep now?’
If you are particularly unlucky, you might have handouts, slides and trainer voiceover to take in. Simultaneously. Can you ever recall watching a film, while reading the book of the same name, as the audio version plays on your iPod? Didn’t think so. And you might also be expected to write notes on said handouts, to fully complete the sensory overload experience.
After the obligatory tea break – more saucer juggling, cigarettes and conversations that start turning towards lunch and possible home time – something will happen that will completely upset whatever course momentum/interest that has so far built up. Unless previously headed off by a canny course organiser, a hotel staff member will arrive into the Conference Room, bearing a pristine printout of the upcoming luncheon menu, for everyone to tick off their preferred choice of fare. Rolling a hand grenade in the door would probably be less disruptive. Even if the choice-making is dispensed with quickly – and that would be unusual – the balance of the morning will now be completely overtaken by such ponderous thoughts as;
‘Should I have gone for the soup?’
‘I hope the beef comes with mash’
‘Will the apple pie be warm?’
The participants are now completely lost to the trainer, and so is the morning, whether he realises it or not.
Once the highly anticipated nose-bag is over, some might take a short walk outside, with others aimlessly hanging around the lobby, reading tourist pamphlets about places they will never visit.
Then, well sated, the afternoon session will probably start enthusiastically enough. But as time ticks on, the next incendiary device is just around the corner. No alarm will ring, but on the hour, all attendees will fall into a ‘3pm Carb Coma’ with devastating effect. Those that don’t actually nod off, will struggle to sit upright, bore holes in the table with their elbow propping, and develop a deathly stare.
Absolutely the only option now available is another break for tea, or perhaps tar strong coffee. Then after that, the Finishing Time Shuffle will commence. Sensing the finishing line, delegates will start looking at their watches, squirming in their seats, checking their phones. And so, the afternoon is now also lost. A fact which could too be lost on your facilitator, who may lumber on regardless. A wiser trainer would just wrap it up quickly with a final cheesy flourish.
Did I say virtual torture? The actuality is now complete. And as you trudge out bleary eyed to the car park, you will start dreaming excitedly about returning to work tomorrow.