Are you facilitating a workshop for the first time? Do you have experience with facilitating workshops but want learn other ways to hone your development or facilitation skills? There’s a lot that goes into a workshop, including logistics, anticipating what questions or insights may come up during your workshop, and how you will measure the workshop’s effectiveness based on participant feedback. This is Part One in a four part series on planning, facilitating, and evaluating a workshop, designed to assist you if you’re new to the world of workshop facilitation or want to find more ways to improve what you’re already doing. This week, let’s discuss some things to consider when planning your workshop.
Workshops are a great way to share information with others in a short amount of time. They can be hands-on, full of discussion, an ideas generator, connects like-minded and open-minded people, and what participants learn can be sent back to their offices, homes, campuses, or communities. The best part of facilitating workshops is seeing the “a-ha” moments participants can get, and most of the time these insights come from the participants themselves, rather than from the facilitator. I’ve been developing workshops and facilitating them for a while, and one thing is always constant:
Things probably won’t go as planned
There’s going to be some type of hiccup during your workshop. 35 participants are signed up, and only 6 are in attendance. Your workshop is tailored to participants who have a working knowledge of the topic, but when the workshop begins you see that most participants are being introduced to the topic for the first time. You were informed when you signed up that you’re allotted 90 minutes for your workshop, but on arrival to your venue, you discover that that it’s been shortened to 45 minutes. Things happen, and you need to be prepared. Here are some important things to consider:
Have the key points you want your participants to walk away with
Oftentimes, I may over-prepare, because you may be given more time than expected. And oftentimes, my time is cut short. Regardless of the amount of time you’re given, or who actually shows up, always make sure you have your main points on hand as take-aways for your participants. I would recommend having at least 3 “take-aways” so that your participants aren’t on information overload, and you’re not scrambling to get everything in. When you have your key points, it’s easier to flow.
Consider who may be in the room
Chances are, you may know at least something about your participants. If you’re doing a workshop conference setting, most likely you would have already submitted a workshop proposal and it’s been accepted. In your proposal, you have designated the topic, the target audience, and the skills to be learned. You’ll have a mixed bag of participants: ones who have a working knowledge of the topic, and ones that will not. In some cases, you may be able to designate the level of skill that someone would need in order to keep up with the workshop, but many people are quick learners as well. In other cases where you won’t know who will show up, contact the staff or community member who has asked you to facilitate a workshop to give you an idea of who may show up. If you’ve been invited to facilitate a workshop, you’ll know at least the skill level and/or the age range of your participants. You may also be given a broad topic area that you can generate from, or something more specific.
Recognize that your participants bring their own biases
At conferences, participants choose which workshops to attend. In other spaces, such as a school or at a facility in which participants are mandated to attend, you will be up against other distracting factors, but don’t let that deter you. Regardless of the circumstances, your participants will bring with them their own experiences, knowledge, skills, and ways of looking at things. You can definitely utilize their knowledge and experiences in ways that are engaging, and I will discuss that more next week in Part Two: Breaking Down Your Workshop.
Team up with a co-facilitator
If you’re facilitating a workshop for the first time, it may be helpful to solicit the partnership of a co-facilitator. As I was learning to facilitate workshops, I would often be with other co-facilitators, ideally one or two. I would also take on smaller roles within the facilitation—such as recording what was being said on flip chart paper or leading the welcoming or the closing—until I felt comfortable taking more of a lead role. I also observed my co-facilitators, their mannerisms, and how they connected with the participants to see what I could implement in my own facilitation style until I developed a style that worked for me.
Use the parking lot/bike rake
If you’re asked a question that you honestly don’t have the answer to, don’t fake an answer. Instead, have a piece of flip chart paper designed as the “parking lot” (or the “bike rake” if you want to be more environmentally-friendly). When a question is posed that no one knows the answer to, write it on this paper and make sure to find the answer for your participants. Before and after the workshop, pass out a sign-up sheet for those who want to learn more information, or who are interested in what you find out about the question posed.
Follow-up is key
This ties into the previous consideration, If a question is placed in the parking lot/bike rake, make sure to get back to your participants (or to the staff member that oversees the participants) to let them know more information on their questions posed. It could be additional resources such as books, websites, organizations, or policies. Try not to go more than a week without following up. Also, if you pass out some type of evaluation (such as a survey) to gather feedback on what the participants learned, share some of the results them as well. Did participants mention that they would do something differently as a result of attending the workshop? Did several mention a particular activity that stood out? Let your participants know.
Get ready for Part Two…
I hope you’ve found these considerations helpful. If you want more in-depth knowledge on creating a workshop (or if you are interested in inviting me to facilitate a workshop for you), read more about my consulting services and contact me to see how we can work together. In Part Two, I will give some tips on how to plan out your workshop.