Looking back! - [website] Email Print
Published: 18th of Jan 2017 by: Debbie Engelbrecht

This year Staff Training enters our 16th year of training. Over the years we have had some great laughs in our workshops and with a minute or two to reminisce I thought to share our undoubted highlight with you.

Quite frankly I am still not sure that we were not the victims of a candid camera prank at the time!

Carolyn and I set off on a road trip to a small South African town where we were scheduled to do customer care training for 30 delegates coming from the surrounding towns, some as far as 400km away.

So bright and early on the Friday morning these two city girls arrive in high heels, with brief cases, manuals and training paraphernalia such as games, the projector and speakers and of course our laptops - quite a load to carry at the best of times. More so when the only secure parking that has been arranged for you is about two blocks away and being summer in Africa the temperature at 07h30 is already 29 degrees Celsius.

Undaunted, we enter the building where the client is situated on the 2nd floor only to find a line of people outside the locked office doors. Standing in the passage chatting to approximately 20 already waiting clients, we start getting the feeling that we may not be set up and ready in time for the first delegates as the doors only open at 08h00 – despite all arrangements completed prior to our arriving there.

And true to form, this is exactly what happens, luckily the waiting clients, now understanding our predicament due to our friendly morning chats, allow us to enter first and we are quickly escorted to the training room. An empty one barring a few chairs and an air conditioner. Thank heavens for the latter! But no wait, it is quickly established that the aircon has not been working for about two years and that the budget for repairs has simply not been approved.

Being totally flexible and used to all the curve balls we thought we could possibly get, we opened the windows. Much squeaking later, we can now (sort of) breathe and turn our attention to the lack of tables and chairs. Gently knocking on the training co-ordinators office door we establish that we need not worry, more are on their way. This process of setting up one tiny coffee table and nine additional chairs bringing the total to 14 only took about 30 minutes and it was now only 08h45, but luckily no delegates had arrived for our strictly 08h30 starting time yet.

At 08h45 in walks the first delegate who seems a bit perplexed at the lack of people and equipment in the room and we quickly explain to him that everything is a work in progress and we are sure that we can start by 09h00 at the latest. Appeased, he sits down and we chat about how far he had to travel for the day. I think that this is the first time that we realised exactly how challenging the workshop could possibly be as this gentleman had woken up at 04h00 that morning to take a 350km taxi ride to work. On the plus side he was quite happy to catch a snooze whilst waiting for his colleagues. On the negative side we actually had no idea yet!

Eventually both Carolyn and myself started knocking on all office doors and asking for office chairs that we could use for the day. With this happening, one of the office managers came to look at the room and immediately instructed that the newly purchased tables be brought up from a storeroom somewhere and be installed to ensure that all delegates had a table to sit at. Well in principle that went well, except that the room was not big enough, nor did they have the tools to securely fasten the legs of the table and we were thus left with six table tops resting precariously on the 24 table legs. To the naked eye this looks fine, but those of you who have any technical knowledge, know that those tables would sway like branches in the wind with every person or thing that touched them – no small bit of information if you consider that the room we were in was only designed to accommodate about 18 people. The hustle and bustle was heating up and the magnificent dives to rescue swaying tables brought much laughter to the room, a great ice-breaker.

Being eternally optimistic we now saw the small room as a plus as once the delegates were in the room there was no room for the tables to sway too far and there were certainly enough people to catch them!

As you may recall it was a hot day and now nearly two hours later, the heat had cranked up a notch or two and was indeed heading to the mid-thirties, sadly the delegates had not, and at 09h30 we only had about 15 in the room. The other half all arrived after the 10h15 tea break.

One of the aspects that we pride ourselves on is our flexibility and our ability to keep the delegates engaged no matter what challenges they (or we) may face. At this point we were still really hoping that we would be able to maintain our high standard, but our conviction was not at the same levels they were before.

With more bodies and the confined space the temperature in the room with a broken air conditioner was rising rapidly and at one stage I could swear that it hit 50 plus degrees, in hindsight that may just have been how it felt at the time.

So just before tea we actually got started, and during the first exercise recognised that the noise level with the windows facing the main road had increased somewhat, in fact there was a furniture store just across the road that was now playing their music full tilt to bring in clients from what we thought may have been the neighbouring town, as each speaker casing was large enough to house a small family. This made teaching tough, very tough, but not as impossible as the huge horse and trailer trucks that were now gearing down and using their exhaust brakes to stop at the stop street just outside our open windows, on this busy through road on a Friday. Nope, those trucks made teaching impossible.

It thus took us about three hours to set up a make-shift, noisy training room at 30+ degrees, with no oxygen and over populated. Now it took us 30 seconds to recognise that no matter what we said, we could not be heard.

Thus we developed a system of window monitoring. Eight delegates stood next to the windows and closed them so that I could speak for two minutes in an oxygen deprived room crammed to capacity with delegates that had already been awake for the duration of a full working day, only to open them with the accompanying squeaks so that we could continue to breathe and the delegates could discuss the concept of what they had just heard. At one stage we asked them to take a deep breath just before we closed the windows! Rinse and repeat.

Thank heavens for Carolyn who as the assistant trainer acquired some amazing acrobatic aerial skills using all kinds of props to get to every delegate thereby ensuring that they had indeed understood the concepts. In the meanwhile I held onto the projector table, marshalled the window monitors and answered the questions of the few delegates who were within earshot, with intermittent truck stops, really loud Reggae music, dodging perspiration drops and gently encouraging those who were exhausted just from their early morning travels.

And then suddenly we were in a zone, the attention was sharp, the sun had moved off the windows and was now overhead, our window marshals were in the rhythm and the delegates were all helping each other beautifully, we recognised how much time was lost and how much time would need to be made up and every overheated and exhausted delegate was in agreement that we would work at least 20 minutes into lunch time to ensure that we cover the necessary material. Life was hot but good, we were winning, and at that point ladies and gentleman, the new tenant on the 3rd floor of the building started drilling up their dry wall partitions so that they could move in the following week!

© Debbie Engelbrecht

Debbie is the MD of Staff Training, a soft skills training company offering more than 60 short courses including Etiquette, Diversity, Customer Care and Conflict Management. Find out more here.

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