I've been lucky enough to have spent the past nine days working in Budapest. For those who don't know Hungary's capital, it really is one of Europe's loveliest cities.
Work-wise, the trip was a roaring success. Feedback scores on the six courses I ran – for over 110 attendees in total - was, in order, 98%, 99%, 93%, 94%, 98% and 95%. (These days, for what it's worth, I view a score in the low 90s as disappointing! I'm a hard taskmaster to myself). And that was for events containing lots of refreshed material on, for example, leading virtual teams - drawing on our own experiences as well as the latest research.
The delegates' comments were generous, too. Whilst 'happy sheets' at the end of the day don't always correlate with real business impact, I left with confidence that we’d engineered a step change in motivation, confidence and capability for the participants. Near-shored proposal teams can bring such benefits to their organisations. They can also face such challenges. Helping the mainly young, invariably enthusiastic course participants to navigate some of those was a delight.
Alongside the lovely people were the delights of the city - especially, here, some excellent food and even better wine. Under the tutelage of my favourite UK wine merchant, I've come to appreciate the joys not only of a good Tokaji dessert wine, but also some of Hungary's finest reds, rarely exported. Top-notch Cabernet Franc from the Villany region, for example, or the sensational yet scarce Barbar.
I ate this time in two outstanding restaurants - at my cost, I might add, not the client's! The first holds a Michelin star, yet is the most relaxed and informal place you could imagine. Sitting outside. Wearing jeans. Joking with the waiters. And eating food that was simple yet sublime. The second, not yet starred - although recommended by Michelin. An excellent meal. Yet trying just a tad too hard.
Outside tables... crisp tablecloths.
Relaxed informality... staff taking themselves oh-so-seriously.
A short yet excellent wine list... a tome.
Plain tableware... appetisers arriving on beds of polished stone, amidst forest twigs.
Food that seemed almost surprisingly marvellous... dishes that tried just a shade too hard to impress. (“Please use the pestle and mortar to crush the herbs we have cut freshly for you, in their bed of liquid nitrogen, before we add your wild apple sorbet”…)
A meal that had won that coveted star... and one that felt so desperate to do so.
And if my week working with the proposal folks highlighted one thing, it was the need to create that apparently effortless rapport with the client. To write proposals that create genuine empathy, showing passion for delivering the proposed project professionally. That takes real effort. Real skill.
But, you know, I can't help thinking that some proposals come across like the second restaurant: as if they're trying too hard to impress. The true art is in creating documents that feel naturally engaging. How do yours fare?