Early on in my career I worked for a really fun company, whose away-days were legendary.
Not because of the venues (the usual out-of-town grey hotel with lumpy mattresses and dusty trouser presses) but for the evening Bacchanalian partying.
Once the formal dinner had finished, we’d really let our hair down.
Rounds and rounds of blazing sambucas.
Dancing on tables.
Colleagues ‘getting to know each other better’ in the disabled toilet…
The kind of behavior that these days would have you hauled up in front HR and handed your P45.
Except back then, the HR director was normally passed out face down in a plate of pork scratchings.
At the end of one of these nights, we all went to our rooms and crashed out.
But for the firm’s graphic designer, Ed*, the night was to get take a darker turn.
He got undressed in his room and passed out on the bed. Waking in the night, needing to go to the loo, he drunkenly opened what he’d thought was the ensuite door, but was in fact was the door to the corridor.
The door slammed shut behind him and he was left stranded in the corridor. Starkers.
Now he had two choices at this point – knock on the door of the female MD in the room next to him and ask for help, or go down three floors to reception. In a glass lift. In his birthday suit.
He chose the lift.
The reception staff watched his slow descent with slack jaws, hardly believing their eyes. They quickly sorted out a replacement room key, stifling their giggles, and Ed scurried back to his room, mortified.
The reception staff spilled the beans to us the next morning. Luckily Ed took on the chin, although he wasn’t so keen on his nickname (‘Naked Guy’ – a reference for all you Friends fans out there…) that stuck with him until he left the company.
Now, if you want your away-day to be memorable for all the right reasons, here are my top ten tips:
- Book a room with windows (even if the basement suite is on special offer). It will make all the difference to your attendees’ focus.
- Bring a couple of external speakers with experience outside of your industry to bring in fresh ideas
- Allow more breaks than you think you’ll need (no-one ever said ‘I wish there’d been less free time’)
- Have a consistent person to MC the day so it feels fluid and professional
- Don’t let any one person speak for too long – however good a speaker is, you need variety
- Make every session interactive – don’t make people listen for more than 20 minutes without doing something
- Get everyone to stand up and move around at least every 45 mins, swapping seats or tables
- Offer plenty of food but not too many sleep-inducing carbs.
- Schedule one of your most dynamic, energetic speakers for the post-lunch slump slot
- If possible, don’t go on past 4.30pm. After that time, you’ll usually get diminishing returns
And of course, go easy on the Sambuca shots…
*name changed to protect what’s left of his dignity.