What Speakers Need From a Venue

The venue is crucial, whether you’re a Training Business, a Freelance Trainer, an Associate or a Conference Speaker. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re hiring a room yourself or just making use of it to deliver for someone else. If you’re a venue supplier, then pay close attention.

  1. Respond to requests on booking, pricing and facilities quickly. We are often comparing multiple venues, and we will <> those who respond quickly. Once a booking has been made, continue to respond to requests for additional information promptly. Otherwise, we may need to make use of that cancellation policy.
  2. Speakers often need IT equipment, whether to stay online during a workshop day, demonstrate technology to an audience, or display slides. Ensure that your IT equipment is up-to-date and don’t say you have equipment when you don’t. Trainers need to know that they are not required to bring a laptop, projector, flipchart, pens, paper, extension cables, network cables, their own freakin’ web connection, multiple versions of software, along with manuals, handouts, handbags, manbags and other props!
  3. If a speaker turns up early, don’t go apoplectic. We can manage to amuse ourselves with setting up the equipment, having a cup of tea, walking around the room to get a feel for its size and possibilities, checking our fringe is OK, reading the news online etc. Arriving early means we have time to get “in the zone”. Trust us, we have multiple years of experience in arriving not quite early enough, so just let us be, alright!? (I was once berated and treated abysmally by a conference manager for turning up half an hour earlier than I’d advised – one and a half hours before kick-off. And, yes, the seminar started 40 minutes late, because it took them over 2 hours to get their web connection working.)
  4. Have an IT person on hand, especially for the start of the session. Often, trainers and speakers are depending on the equipment t0 work, notably during a workshop. If the trainer has requested that access to certain websites is crucial to the success of the day, i.e. Facebook, Twitter etc, ensure someone checks this. Assume n-o-t-h-i-n-g. If it fails, everyone has to go home. It’s happened me more than once, despite multiple phone calls to check it has been checked.
  5. Have a conference person on hand. Often, last minute hitches, ideas for table configurations or memory lapses will alter how a session could or should be run. Accommodate where possible.
  6. Paper, pens, flipcharts, notepads, water, quality tea, coffee, scones and sweets all make things so much nicer. Attendees love them too. Make the experience as pain-free as possible.
  7. Locate a water fountain in the room. Trainers drink a lot of water before, during and after a session. It helps lubricate their vocal chords, making for a pleasant speaking experience for both trainer and attendees. If this is not possible, supply a glass and a jug of water. Top it up just before the session commences. It is very embarrassing to have to ask during a session, then wait while it arrives.
  8. The toilets facilities should be spotless. Otherwise, don’t advertise that you provide “excellent facilities”. If unpleasant or unable to cope with the demand of multiple users, especially at larger venues, it makes breaks run later and people get snappier.
  9. Be on the ball! Ask the speaker what they thought of their day. Was everything OK? You should not get any surprises, as all should have been dealt with before or during. However, this might reveal some things you’d not thought of, perhaps new ideas!

Who most recently delighted this customer? SIGNAL Centre of Excellence, Bangor, Northern Ireland, UK.

Image credit: Incase Designs.

How to Write Customer Personas

Customer Personas are funny things. Like lots of professional documentation, and immediately filed under Forgotten. If imprecise or dated, they can restrict and mislead your people, everyone from PR, marketing, website developers, copywriters.

What is a Customer Persona?

Think of a customer persona like an avatar of your regular (or ideal) customer, plus or minus the blue paint! This avatar represents them and reveals their environment, resources, style and priorities.

For example, just one of our customer personas is: male, over 50; more senior than middle management and a decision-maker, though not an expert in the area they hire us in to help with; in possession of influence over others, but confident enough to listen to their team; someone who moves around because they own transferable skills at this stage in their career; and, it amuses us how many of them cycle crazy distances on the weekend (something that in our experience is closely tied to understated intelligence)! It’s not our only customer persona, but it’s the one that made us giggle the most when writing it down, because it’s just so reassuringly consistent. (And when the person approaching us with similar work in a very niche field varies from this persona too far, and we ignore our gut instinct, the experience is invariably disappointing.)

OK, let’s keep it really simple. Go somewhere quiet (the conference call pod will do), close your eyes and imagine one of your regular customers walking into your store or calling you to enquire about your services.

Ask Yourself Questions About Your Typical Customer

Unless you have niche product, you will have more than one typical customer.

The Lead and Their Priorities

  • How did they find out about your organisation?
  • Why did they contact you initially?
  • Why do they continue to buy from you and not someone else?

The Person

  • What do they look like and sound like?
  • Are they make or female?
  • What age are they?
  • Do they like surfing, for example (details like this can be revealing)?
  • What are they wearing?
  • Are the confident or halting?

Professional Experience and Style

  • Are they experienced in their industry or not?
  • Do they manage from a distance, or get their hands dirty?
  • Are they risk takers or risk averse?

Their Feelings

  • What are they stressed about?
  • What makes them smile and relax?

Their Questions and Concerns

  • What do They Need to Know? What questions and concerns do they have?
  • What are the key things for them? Price, value, support, management, expertise, detail, speed or something else?
  • What are they not interested in?

Are They the Decision Maker?

  • Can they make quick decisions bout what and when to purchase?
  • How much do they typically spend? How often? Is this a particular time of the year?

And, finally:

  • Open your eyes and write it all down. No, I’m not kidding. This is your first customer persona.
  • Repeat the exercise for each of your regular customer types. Complete one or two for ideal customer types instead, if you are a startup.

Why Do I Need Customer Personas?

If you know who your customers are, or should be, among other things, you’ll be able to:

  • Decide whether or not your product is something your target customers want or need, and will pay for
  • Write a content marketing strategy that addresses the individual concerns of each persona
  • Implement a digital marketing schedule that includes things they’d be interested in reading and engaging with or sharing
  • Decide which networking events to attend in person and where to network online
  • Figure out which forums and social media platforms you need to use to develop a presence
  • Write website content and blog posts that address all your customers’ biggest concerns
  • Avoid wasting everyone’s time on stuff the customer doesn’t care about

How did you find that? Have we left out something you’d add in? And, what are you going to do, now that you’ve learned how to write customer personas? Tell us in a comment.

If you need help writing customer personas, contact us on 0845 527 0474 or hello@sensei.ie.

Bungle and Zippy Were Right

This week, a friendly colleague sent me links to what he thought might be two new competitors for us. I admit it’s been some time since I did any market research on what the competitors are doing by way of training. So, in a few minutes of waiting for something else to happen online, I thought I’d quickly check them out and put them in the to-do list for perusing later.

Ditch the Dullness

I read the first page and was immediately appalled by the dull language used, the missing commas and the stock photography. It looked like the type of template style site that inhabitants of The Office office might appreciate. “Come on, competitors!” I thought. “Can’t we do better than black and white typical, corporate photography – showing a typical corporate training shot – from a typical, corporate (oooo, that word makes me shiver!) CD purchased online?” And, then, “Isn’t there something more gripping to write about than ‘business strategy’ or ‘people development paradigms’!?” Please.

Recently I’ve been dipping my toes into website design. (And, all the purists may laugh uproariously. :P) Continue reading “Bungle and Zippy Were Right”

We Don’t Care What Dress the Customer Wants

This week, I was contacted by someone looking for training in sales and customer service. She told me I was the first supplier of training to mention the ‘tailoring’. Everyone else she had made enquiries with had told her she’d be getting a standard course, with no effort to match up with what they particularly needed. Imagine a bride walking into a bridal gown boutique to be told that there’d be nothing there to fit her? (She I walked out.) Why wouldn’t the assistant search the earth, to help find me the dress? And, then get it tailored to fit? Bridal boutiques aren’t selling dresses. They’re selling insults glamour. Unfortunately, many brides tell the same hurt tale. And, they aren’t going to make an expensive purchase after being harangued for not being the perfect size ten. They’re going to cross the road. Continue reading “We Don’t Care What Dress the Customer Wants”

American Schmaltz or European Laissez-Faire?

A man walks into a shop. He lifts a bacon-and-egg roll, a banana milkshake, and a Finger of Fudge choc bar. He then walks up to the counter to pay. Nothing remarkable so far. Except… this is Northern Ireland. Here, regular customer service is a tale told by weary travellers. As for exceeding customer expectations, that concept is as mythical and woolly as the mammoth.

The man waits. And waits. And waits. The till attendant sees him but is more concerned with finishing a conversation about last Friday ‘s pub-crawl. This riveting dialogue presumably with another ’employee ‘ is of first importance. The customer is secondary; an interference, an impertinence, a fly on the Continue reading “American Schmaltz or European Laissez-Faire?”

Why Your Customer Service Strategy Needs a Hulk Smash!

You could say I’m mad as heck, but that wouldn’t even begin to describe it. I research. I ask. I read. I listen. I choose. And, finally, I pay. And, you just keep dishing out the crap. I’m talking to you, Northern Ireland supplier. Here’s why your Customer Service strategy needs a Hulk Smash.

  1. The last time your customer complained, you blamed your supplier, your customer’s (not straight – I wish I was kidding!) walls, their phone. Anything but yourself.
  2. The last time your customer complained, you didn’t apologise. Instead, you put on that whiney voice. Not masculine, not masculine at all. More like Gollum.
  3. The last time your customer sent an ironic email updating you on the status of their claim, your were too dumb to get mad, and therefore missed an opportunity to apologise and make things right.
  4. The last time your (potential) customer rang to book a table for a meeting, and you said this would upset your customers, will be the very last time they try to book a table (for that or any other reason).
  5. The last time your customer rang for an update on their delivery, you blamed them for taking the wrong day off work.
  6. The last time your customer asked to see the manager, your Admin Assistant giggled with nerves. True, your customer was looking pretty Clint Eastwood, but don’t you have a procedure, knucklehead? And, why are you employing a millie?
  7. The last time the customer complained of damage you did while completing a job at their home, you pretended you couldn’t see it. You’re a liar, pure and simple; and you know where liars go.
  8. The last time your customer sent the food back to the kitchen, you simply turned it upside-down, claiming a fresh piece was cooked. (But, they’d sliced into the meat, to make sure, and it came right back.) Oh, and it wasn’t the only returned plate from that single table.
  9. The last time you pretended to change that tyre and the customer’d already marked it with chalk to make sure? Well, guess how many local competitors we rang up to let them know to warn their customers, families et al? All.
  10. The last time your customer puked after yet another episode of food poisoning, they couldn’t be bothered to tell you because there’s no light behind them there eyes. They’d prefer to pay, silently seething, than face the zombies.
  11. The last time your customer complained, you made them so mad, they spelled out the password they were trying (that you said was wrong) in swear-phonics (a little-known technique to help those forced to speak to non-English speakers in pidgin English).
  12. The last time your customer demanded to talk to an natural English speaker because he couldn’t understand the Indian (with very poor English) and you said No, was the very last month you will deliver a service to him. Ever.
  13. The last time you sent out yet another surveyor to check the property claim, your customer noted it in their record of all your dipstick moves. This is going to the regulator. This is not a threat.
  14. The last time you did anything remotely not worth my freakin’ hard-earned cash and research time, it went online. And, the time before that and the time before that. Until you learn your lesson.

Your business is going down the tubes, you dweeb, and I am leading the green rage.

Image credit: kiwanja.

When to Fire the Client

As an avid reader of Clients From Hell, and listener to others’ horror stories, I think I can safely say this list is a good starting point for knowing when it’s best to fire the client.

When the Requirement is Urgent, but Responses Are Tardy

“Getting this proposal back to us is urgent. Can you have it for this afternoon?” (Said at 2pm.) One client followed their panicky requests with long gaps between emailed requests for feedback, and unreturned voicemails. So, it wasn’t all that urgent was it? In seven years of running a business, not one urgent request has turned out to be urgent in reality.


Decide now how much time you need to get an order ready, or prepare a service. Don’t let a client rush you into mistakes and unmet promises.

Decide now how long you will wait between responses. If it’s taking more time that it’s ultimately worth, then maybe they’re just not ready, or committed to the purchase, change or effort required on their part.

When the Client is Defensive, but Explanations Are Absent

It rarely happens, but sometimes we encounter a client who appears aggressive as we settle into our seat. This, even before a cup of tea is proffered. It induces immediate panic, followed quickly by rehearsed client-calming measures. While the calming measures work, the alarm has been sounded. It may be time for retreat,before further aggression can be unleashed.

Almost all of these situations are born out of constraints we know nothing of, nor have power to do anything about. Conducting a Training Needs Analysis while guessing at the gaps and unmentioned stresses is not conducive to solid training design. Working blind is no fun at all.


Ask for the truth (or the truncated version of it that they are permitted to reveal). What is really bothering them? If it is outside your control, either work within the constraints, or walk away. You’ll be surprised what people will tell you. And, it often results in a modified solution neither of you had thought of before playing the truth game.

When the Client Wants the Entire Menu of Options in One Tenth of the Suggested Time

This is a warning signal. It shows that the client is unrealistic or stingy, to be sure. But, more, it reveals that they simply don’t know what they want.


Reduce the menu of options to the three things you think they need, from the conversations you’ve already had, and ask them to choose. Often this brings relief, and clarity ensures. If the pilot goes well, you can add options if you think they are needed, and progress in stages. If they continue to persist in wanting everything, walk away.

What types of clients do you find difficult to work with?

Image credit: clagnut.

No Tyre Kickers!

As an employee, I got sick of incompetence. I got sick of placing myself in departments and organisations where competency was a hazy illusion. Training is often seen as an extra, and if it’s not integrated into the fabric of staff development, customer service and business goals, then it’s better to get out. So, I quit. I quit several times. I swore I’d never work with or for such idiots again. (OK, they weren’t all idiots. I met some people who were interested, really interested, in staff development. But, honestly, they were few and far between.)

Now, as an entrepreneur, business owner, freelance trainer, blogger, coach, writer… etc, etc… I find that it’s not competency or skills or professional development that people are strangers to, but paying for it. Significantly, organisations do not expect to pay (much) for the product I provide.

Here’s what typically happens when you come to me with a project:

  • I think about it, a lot. I research it. I look to my previous experience to see if I’ve done anything similar. I consider my professional training and education, for inspiration. I ask other professionals for their advice. (Allen and I will have a pow-wow; his expertise may be more suited to the project than mine.) This may take up to several days.
  • I contact you to give you a rough estimation of price and schedule. If this sounds OK to you (it invariably does over the phone), we arrange a meeting with you to discuss details. We talk. I listen, a lot. I then ask questions. I make suggestions. I listen to your responses. I ask what the REAL issues are. What problem are you trying to hit? I check your budget. (It’s at this point that the crunch conversation happens. Or at least, I can read your thoughts. “You know… well, we were hoping for something a little… (insert hourly rate well below the minimum wage, if we spread the work over the REAL time it will take to do it, as opposed to your IMAGINERY schedule.)”

Can I just go off on a rant here? I’ve been designing training since I was in my early twenties. I’m now in my mid thirties. Do I know what I’m doing? Yes. Do I know how long it will take? Yes. Do I know how to charge? Yes. So, please don’t tell me “it couldn’t possibly take that long to get a piece of training ready”. “Couldn’t you, you know, just come along and talk?” JUST TALK!

Newsflash – training is not “just talking”.

Incidentally, I regularly have this conversation with developers, graphic designers and others whose time is chargeable. It seems people aren’t willing to pay for someone’s time. Unfortunately, that loaf of Sunblest Veda is still the same price.

Please continue…

  • I go off to write a proposal for you. This takes anything from 2 days to 3 weeks, depending on how much additional research, pricing and investigation is required. (This might involve a second meeting, or more likely another phone-call.)
  • I email you the proposal, asking you to read it and send off any queries or comments.
  • We meet again. (Mr Bond. Oh never mind! :P) We discuss the proposal and any amendments that are required. You agree to get back to me with a decision on whether you want to go ahead.

One of two curious things then happens:

  • You get back to me at the pre-arranged time, with a good-to-go instruction. I’m happy, you’re happy. Everyone’s happy. Or…
  • You do not get back to me. I follow up with a phonecall or email or two. Nothing happens. I begin the wearying process of putting away all the research (kicking myself because all my instincts were telling me this person was gonna waste my time, but I felt obliged to provide a proposal anyhow) and getting on with whatever needs attended to.

I’m getting rather good though at sifting through the tyre kickers*, so if you look like you’re gonna waste my time… you’re not. Gut instinct will take over. If you look like you’re gonna waste my time, then refer to the sentence you read some moments ago.

*If you live in Northern Ireland, you’ll know what a tyre kicker is. For those who don’t, if you’ve ever advertised a second-hand car on a website such as Auto-Trader, then grimaced as tyre kickers out for the evening come along to dent your plastic wheel-trims for the sheer heck of it, then you’ll know what I mean.

What are Businesses Getting Wrong in the Recession?

Everyone ‘s falling about with worry. The recession has us all cautious about spending more money than we absolutely have to, taking on new staff, renting more premises or bringing in too much product in advance.

How can we hang in there? How can we thrive? How can we ensure that our largest and possibly most expensive resource is working to maximum capacity? Continue reading “What are Businesses Getting Wrong in the Recession?”