I attended a marathon-like workshop a couple weeks ago that left me feeling exhausted, dehydrated, my head hurt, my brain was foggy, and I was a little moody.  I thought I had a hangover but I hadn’t been drinking.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms of a hangover:

– Fatigue and weakness                                              – Thirst

– Headaches and muscle aches                                 – Poor / decreased sleep

– Decreased ability to concentrate                            – Increased sensitivity to light and sound

– Mood disturbances (anxiety / irritability)              – Dizziness or a sense of the room spinning

– Shakiness                                                                    – Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain

I did have a hangover, a conference hangover, and I know why.  The people hosting the event didn’t care enough about the participants to design it to support us.  Instead, they designed it to be the cheapest event possible (for them, we paid on average $2,000 for the online course and in-person event).

That first day we walked into the ballroom at 9 a.m. and we were greeted with 100 banquet chairs surrounding a stage (theater style).  We sat in those chairs for two straight hours before we were given a 15-minute break.  The presenter didn’t tolerate people moving around and would tell them to stay seated until the break.  After the break we were in our banquet chairs for another 2 hours before we broke for lunch.

It’s now 1:15 p.m. and we’ve been given no food or beverages since we arrived.  We were instructed to bring a water bottle with a cap and snacks if we needed them because these were going to be long days.  When we broke for lunch 100 of us overwhelmed the only onsite restaurant.  By the time the lunch hour ended a third of us hadn’t been served.  Our “host” had commanded that we be back on time.  So we went back to the ballroom without food or drink.

The cycle repeated itself.  Another two hours in banquet chairs (note taking is fun without tables), followed by a 15-minute break before another two-hour session.  The only difference was these two hours weren’t on the subject we paid to learn about, instead it was a two hour sales pitch for the companies “next level” of services.

We received an hour and 15 minutes for dinner and then were back in the room for three hours of processing what we learned and creating something meaningful to our businesses.  Still no tables, just 100 banquet chairs.  We weren’t allowed to leave for the night until everyone in our group received their “stars”.  Our coaches gave out stickers when we achieved what they considered appropriate materials for our organizations.  At 11 p.m. I headed up to my hotel room.

We were back at it again the next morning at 9 a.m. (after again getting breakfast on our own) and the cycle repeated itself.  Two hours of sitting in the banquet chairs, 15-minute break, two hours in the chairs, one hour for lunch, two hours of crafting materials on our laptops (tables finally!), another 15-minute break, 2 more hours of sales pitches (with bigger bonuses tonight), before a 1-hour dinner break, and finishing with 3 hours of writing time.

The third and final day was not a surprise.  We started at nine with two hours in banquet chairs (alas, the tables were gone), a 15-minute break, a one-hour sales pitch for the presenter’s friend followed by two hours of presentation, one hour for lunch, two hour sales pitch, a 15-minute break, two hours working in groups before the final wrap up, and were released at 8 o’clock.

Their “swag bags” they promised us held 2 chocolates and a set of photocopied handouts from the event in a paper bag.  Those that purchased the next series of products (upwards of $12,000) were invited to a catered reception, the rest of us were reminded to stay in touch on the Facebook page.

A few of us started meeting up for meals and talked about what was happening, how we were being treated, and how others were reacting.  Everyone at my table had the same observations, “the content is good”, “I can’t believe there’s no beverages or snacks”, and “really, they didn’t even warn the hotel to be ready for 100 hungry guests who have 60 minutes to eat and return to the event?”.

We discussed at dinner if the reason so many people bought the expensive programs was because they were so susceptible to the hypnotic tones of the presenter’s voice after they were weakened and dehydrated by the event design.

I had an especially hard time with the event design because I could see all the mistakes this “expert” on workshops was making, and in my mind was willfully choosing to make.  The furniture wasn’t conducive to the event, the sessions were too long without movement, there was no fuel for the participants, they didn’t make the participants feel valued (except for their check books), and so on.

I was wiped out after this event and because of their design I stayed away from my home and business a day longer than I needed to.  Had they cut their six hour sales talk down to 2 hours and placed it at the end I could have arranged a flight home on Sunday night rather than add one more sleep deprived night in the hotel before I caught the early morning flight to get back to work.

We as meeting participants shouldn’t have to be subjected to in meeting abuse and suffer conference hangover.  We have the right to meet, learn, create, and collaborate in a healthy environment!  What was your worst workshop / conference experience?


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