Six Steps to a Successful Workshop

At The Growth Coach, our coaches do quite a few workshops around the world. And whether they are working with C-Suite business leaders or facilitating a teamwork session, they keys to a successful workshop are the same. Assuming your materials are in place and you know the content of your presentation, here are six ways you can wow at your next workshops:

Understand Your Audience

It’s easy to figure out who, generally, you are presenting to or working with at a workshop – executives, employees at a company, a group of managers, a small business network – but taking it a level deeper can make a real difference when it comes to working through your materials.

Assuming you have access to the names of your participants and the group is small enough, do some reconnaissance ahead of time. Look up your attendees on LinkedIn, research their companies, consider your first impressions and take notes. While this additional research will certainly help with discussions, it will help you build trust and have a warmer start to your workshop.

Set Your Goals

This one is tricky because it’s actually much more than setting your goals – it’s really about taking a step back, considering why each participant is coming to the workshop and then setting goals that are in line with what they are expecting to walk away with at the end of the day. In most cases, a workshop is more intensive than a keynote, so it’s should be more hands-on activities and learning than presentations and slideshows. Take a step back and ask yourself how your workshop is built around helping your participants meet their goals. If you’d done this presentation before, be sure to consider any feedback you’ve received previously and make adjustments if they make sense.

Create – and Stick to – an Agenda

An agenda might seem like something more relevant to a meeting, but when participants understand what to expect and can plan the day in their own minds, everyone is more likely to be on point throughout the workshop. For example, if you know you run out of coffee at 9:30am and there’s a coffee break slated at 10am, you can probably get through 30 minutes without leaving the workshop for more coffee. The same is true for email checks, bathroom breaks, lunch and even the end of the day. Setting an agenda is really about setting expectations and letting everyone know what to expect throughout the day. It also, of course, can help you keep track of time as well.

Build Trust

OK – we’ll say it – almost everyone dreads an icebreaker. But are they terrible because the activities are lame or because we don’t really want to open up to someone we don’t know? Icebreakers continue to be a go-to activity because they work. That said, we wouldn’t advise that you spend an hour of your day warming up the room and helping people get to know each other. We’d suggest that you have everyone do an official check-in, where they introduce themselves and talk about their personal goals for the workshop, and then do a quick icebreaker. By the way, if you’re going to build trust, you have to participate too!

Once the proverbial ice is broken, take some time to talk through your background, what makes you an expert, what you are hoping each participant will get out of the workshop and what’s on the agenda. Be sure to present yourself as the facilitator of the workshop, not necessary the leader.

Encourage Conversation and Documentation

Even people who hate talking in class will probably tell you that a class discussion is more helpful than a PowerPoint presentation. A workshop is supposed to be an engaging and educational activity – a 1 to 1 experience, not a 1 to many keynote. While some people might be excited to be part of discussion, as the facilitator, you might need to help encourage that conversation.

Also, whether you bring everyone a notebook, put activities onto worksheets or just give people time to take notes, it’s impossible to expect people to remember everything. Offer them the highlights either in a printed document or a follow-up email and encourage them to write down the things that might be helpful to have later.

Assess and Follow Up

Before you send your participants out the door, ask them to take a quick survey and then ask questions that will help you improve. For example, you can ask people how, on a scale of 1 to 10, they think the workshop went, but other than a batch of hopefully high numbers, you don’t have much to work with for your next presentation. Ask for things like, “What was your favorite part and why?” “What do you think you’ll use the most and why?” or “How could I improve for the next workshop?” It might be difficult to accept negative feedback, but it’s vital to make note of what you could be doing differently.

A few days after the workshop, if you have their contact information, at least email your participants to thank them for coming to your workshop and to solicit any additional feedback. If you have additional professional development opportunities – in person, online or through another avenue – or follow-up materials, this is a good time to make those connections as well.

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