Focus Group Suites – The Place to Have Your Next Off-Site Meeting, Training Session Or Seminar

O.K., you’re going to have an all-day training session, and you need a place to meet. So you call the local hotel and explain that you need a room for the day.

o In the morning you want some coffee, Danish, and fruit. In the afternoon, you’d like sandwiches and cold drinks. And maybe some mid-afternoon munchies as a pick-me-up.

o You need the session audio- and video-taped. And maybe an adjoining room it can be transmitted to, where observers can see and hear the proceedings in real time.

o Then there is the playback equipment necessary for showing your materials.

o And, finally, a host or hostess available throughout the day in case there are any other needs.

Now for the over-and-under pool: How long will it take for paramedics to revive the hotel’s salesperson from a dead faint? Because, as we all know, what I’ve just described has the capacity to send hotel personnel into an advanced state of apoplexy.

But don’t despair. There is a place where personnel will not be fazed by any of these requests; a place where, instead of a promise to “get back to you” after half the hotel staff has been consulted, you’ll get a smile and the words, “No problem.” I’m talking about a focus group suite: the next-generation training room.

As most people know, focus groups are informal panel discussions conducted among some number of people (usually about eight to 10, but it can range much higher). Typical focus group facilities can run three to five such discussions simultaneously. But some are even larger. Importantly, focus group facilities are ideal for training sessions. (Full disclosure time: I am the president and co-owner of National Qualitative Centers (NQC), a focus group facility with eight suites in downtown Chicago.

Let’s see why, by comparing a hotel’s capabilities to those of a focus group suite:

The room: A hotel meeting room is generic space. That is because the hotel never knows what it will be used for. Today, it is your training session, but tomorrow it will have a seafood buffet; the next day is a wedding reception; etc.

By contrast, our focus group suites are dedicated meeting rooms. You need 10 to 12 people sitting at a table? Or maybe a larger room that accommodates 50 to 60 people sitting auditorium-style? That’s what you get. Not because it hurriedly can be cobbled together in some way, but because that’s what it is.

Food and beverages: Ordering hotel food means being restricted only to what the hotel serves. And, oh, those prices!

But a focus group facility has no such restraints. Whatever kind of food you want, from whatever place you prefer, is available-almost always at far lower prices.

To research this article, I called a name-brand hotel within a few blocks of our office and asked how much it would cost to provide food and beverages for 15 people. The prices were staggering. Continental breakfast? $32 a head. Sandwiches and salads for lunch? $43 a head. Soft drinks? $6 a can. Focus group facilities charge about half this amount, and the food will be at least as good, usually better.

My favorite example is coffee. Hotels sell coffee by the gallon. Having checked five different hotels in downtown Chicago, the average price for that gallon of coffee is about $70. Two of the five charge $95 — plus a service fee of about 20 – 22%. That comes to almost $1 an ounce. Is that not unbelievable? Gas, at its highest, cost us a little more than $4 a gallon, but hotel coffee is $95 + 22% more: a total of $116!

Audio and video: The reason these services are so expensive at a hotel is that the equipment is not permanently installed. The A/V person has to figure out how many microphones are needed, put together a mixer and recorder, and then lay a few miles of cable covered by duct tape that, if you’re lucky, you won’t trip on. Plus, if you’re video-taping, the camera operator will be in the room with you as an added distraction.

But in a focus group suite, the audio and video capability is just like the room setup itself-permanently in place. All that’s needed is the flip of a switch. And the equipment? Other than the mikes, it isn’t in the room at all. Not even the camera, which usually operates from a ceiling-mounted location in the adjoining two-way observation room.

Two-way observation: If you’re at a hotel and want your staff, clients, or others to observe the session, you have two choices. You can stuff them in the same room as the training session. Or you can rent an adjoining meeting room and set up closed-circuit transmission there, by renting an additional monitor that connects to the training room with a few more miles of cable and duct tape. The cost? Slightly less than a king’s ransom.

But all of our focus group suites have an adjoining observation room with a two-way mirror and sound system. Observers sit in comfort, seeing and hearing the proceedings, while being non-existent to the training session participants. No extra room rental, no extra charge.

And, importantly, every observation room offers Wi-Fi as part of the standard service. (The hotel I contacted wanted $500 to provide Wi-Fi for 10 people.)

Video Conferencing: Try though you might, it is almost guaranteed that you will not be able to find a hotel meeting room with this service. If it exists at the hotel at all, it will be in the business center, not where you’re meeting. And it will cost an arm, a leg and assorted other body parts. By contrast, NQC has the capability of videoconferencing right in your meeting room, and at dramatically lower prices.

Auxiliary services: By this I mean printers, disc-burning capabilities, etc. At a hotel, they are in the business center, which may or may not be anywhere near where you are conducting your session. In a focus group facility, they are close by and easily accessible to you.

Hosting services: No hotel as a matter of course will provide on-call hosting services-i.e., someone in the immediate vicinity who can take care of any needs you have during the session. You can ask for one-but expect to pay through the nose. Focus group facilities offer hosting services throughout your session at no additional charge. At my facility we provide ongoing hosting services for all of our meeting rooms as part of the basic service.

There’s more to say about the benefits of using a focus group suite over a hotel meeting room, but I think I’ve covered the major areas. The next time you have any kind of meeting in downtown Chicago, I urge you to contact You won’t regret it.