Tips for conducting a workshop that WORKS!
I’ll begin with why I love this subject so much: conducting a workshop. Oh boy. Where do I begin? Anyone who knows me or speaks to me for more than 5 minutes soon discovers I’m passionate about training and group facilitation.
One of the most fulfilling things I do is to help others succeed at it as well. Through years (and years) of training, education, and experience, conducting workshops has always come very naturally to me, and adult-learning theory piques my joy (yes, I love Marie Kondo) in ways nothing else ever could.
Conducting a workshop by setting the tone so learning will be an enjoyable process. Also, a workshop keeps learners engaged and part of the entire process. Outcomes are an important part of the workshop’s effectiveness. You also want to be intentional about every step.
Training scared me…
To be perfectly honest, it hasn’t always been this way. As a novice trainer, I was afraid of this entire process. Though “green” in the career, I was smart enough to know it was more to training than met the eye.
It’s hard work.
Like most people, I knew little about how difficult it is to (skillfully) deliver information in a way a learner can relate to it and retain it.
Where it all began… for me…that is.
For you to see where I’m coming from, you have to see where I’ve been. When my career took a turn in this “strange” new direction, I was quite intimidated, nervous, and unsure. I actually wasn’t convinced I could do it. Of course, I didn’t let anyone know it then, but I was.
After all, there I was …. a young professional with so much to learn.
Picture it: I had just entered the nonprofit sector from corporate. Thrilled and excited, I was eager to help the nonprofit reach its goal of training adults in community-based youth centers.
Crazy important work, right?
The new work excited and exhilarated me,, and I’d do almost anything to succeed. Besides, it felt good to finally find a meaningful career path in which to invest my time and utilize my creative and cognitive talents. The organization, YouthNet of Greater Kansas City, provided just that.
Let me tell you why…
At that time, “youth work” really meant something special. It represented a profession or a field of work. It signified so much more than just throwing a ball around with some kids to keep them out of “trouble.”
It was about developing young people and equipping them for life.
It meant defining a system to meet the developmental needs of those young people. That was important to me because I desperately lacked that sort of infrastructure during my own teen years. Can you see why I was passionate about being successful at it?
The work was cutting-edge and important. Deborah Craig, the organization’s president, invested a great deal of time & resources to train the staff in everything from the “Advancing Youth Development” curriculum (AYD) to performance consulting principles. It was a glorious time and a glorious job.
Since the work was very important, I invested my mental capacities, and my heart into learning how to be effective at it. During my time at this organization, I fell in love with training and adult learning theory. The training and practical experience ingrained in the ability to manage processes conducive to long-term retention of information and data (adult learning).
Tools, Tools Tools.. for conducting a workshop, and more!
In fact, this job was where I was introduced to Don Lowry’s True Colors Type Indicator. There are many implications of temperament research in team-building and in creating learning processes based on each temperament and the needs of each. I’ll talk briefly about that in a bit. So much to think about.
So, suffice it to say youth development turned on a very important light in my life. Because I cared about the work, I was willing to do something very unfamiliar and unusual – training. I was willing to travel across the country to learn how to do it and how to do it well.
Fast-forward many years later.. and I’m still conducting workshops!
I no longer work in youth work. In fact, the field pretty much disintegrated nationally. No doubt, people still devote their lives and talents to youth work, but the national conversation has been silenced. Sad.
Be that as it may, my passion for conducting a workshop remains strong and resolute. I still love training, facilitating learning, and creating development models for adults.
To be clear, I don’t consider myself an all-knowing expert in anything but being myself. But, I am a lifelong learner and practitioner of adult learning theory, and I’m good at it.
With that, I will share a bit about what I know in hopes of supporting you…a training manager, a training consultant, or anyone generally interested in conducting a workshop or basic adult learning experience.
Disclaimer…if you are not a trainer by profession, this blog post may be a bit much for you. I’m not writing to the casual workshop facilitator necessarily. I am writing to individuals who have chosen training as a profession.
If you have any questions, I do welcome you to add them to the comments. I’ll ask him as best I can.
Channel Your Inner Comedian…Your Trainer Identity
Recognize… trainers are indeed “strange birds.” To some degree, I liken trainers and training facilitators to stand-up comedians. I know this is a weird comparison, but hear me out.
Not long ago, I broke my foot.
Stay with me…this will make sense in a moment. The broken foot laid me out completely. Honey, I spent most of my days in a chair or in bed in a big, old heavy cast, trying desperately to pass the time.
Ironically, I could not create workshops or even blog during this period. There is something about having a broken bone that usurped all my creativity.
For some reason, I just couldn’t come up with new ideas, and even if I did, I couldn’t bring them to fruition. It was an incredibly frustrating time. Have you ever had an illness that just zapped your brain with its clarity and creativity?
Let me know in the comments below.
Back to my comedian analogy…
Anyhow, during those dark days of healing, I watched Jerry Seinfeld on Netflix. No, I’m not talking about the sitcom. I’m referring to his show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Omg! It really got me through.
Stay with me…I have a point. In fact, I’m demonstrating the point right now.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen the show, you must. It is simply hilarious!
The premise of it is Jerry interviews countless comedians about their life experiences, worldview, and their careers as comedians. A couple of episodes in, and you quickly notice some similarities among these funny men and women.
Comedians are a breed all their own. They’re not like you and I (or are they?) They see the world in a way that is unique and unconventional. I think it’s the way they are wired.
Unless I’m mistaken, I believe Jerry and one of the comedians actually discussed this in detail. During the exchange, the comedians concluded they do, in fact, see the world incredibly different from most folks. They see things that aren’t there (nor funny) and put a humorous slant on it.
Frankly, I think trainers are the same way!
If you ever get a bunch of trainers in a room, get ready! It will be a spirited and bumpy ride! You’ll see many fun-filled moments with laughter, analytical exchanges, and demonstrative, exaggerated body motions.
Trainers have a way of seeing the seed of learning/opportunity in just about everything. Since we are conveyors of knowledge, we use everything we can as props, including our voices and bodies.
The first step toward being a good trainer is understanding you are different… and that is okay.
Follow your intuition when designing workshops. You may have a unique “take” on info-delivery, but embrace it! It may lead you off the beaten path…so what? Trainers have a gift to do this. Don’t fight it to fit into a traditional classroom sort of “box”. Pique that creativity and see where it takes you!
With that established, let’s proceed with my tips and ideas on conducting a workshop.
You can love the unlovable, but you cannot teach the unteachable.Unknown
I. Know what a workshop is … and isn’t.
Not long ago, I was in a meeting with several less-informed colleagues. We found ourselves debating what the term workshop actually means. It was all I could do to control my frustration. I think the definition of “workshop” is not up for discussion. It is what it is.
It is what it is.
For instance, I can’t look at an orange (fruit) and say, “I don’t really consider this an orange. This is more like a grapefruit. I’m gonna call it a grapefruit.”
No, it is what it is!
The orange (fruit…not person) has characteristics that distinguish it from a grapefruit. Just as a workshop has distinguishing characteristics that make it a workshop. Without those key components, it is something else (i.e., seminar, coaching session, lecture).
Conclusively, I’ll state there is only one definition of a workshop.
However, in that person’s defense, I can understand the confusion. Many people have attached many ill-fitting definitions to the term “workshop.”
“That ain’t a workshop!“
People call just about anything a “workshop.” As a matter of fact, sometimes, conferences will host a 30-minute session and label it a workshop.
That’s not a workshop. That’s a quick “push” of information to listeners who will likely NOT be able to retain it.
You can’t label something nimble, vague, and imprecise as a workshop just because you have a person speaking.
Some of those sorts of scenarios are nothing more than what I call a “professional hostage” situation. I’m sorry, I’m being obtuse. But this is my blog and my opinion.
If you disagree. No problem.
At any rate, if you Google the word “workshop,” you’ll get a pretty good definition.
I. Defining what a workshop is.. for real.
A terrific definition of a workshop is:
“is a meeting at which a group of people engage in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject or project” (Source: Lexico.com)
See, a simple “blah blah blah” session does not constitute a workshop. One of the ingredients in the workshop’s secret sauce must be “engagement”. A seminar doesn’t necessarily work to engage listeners because it is a “push” of information. The data is being pushed out to the learners.
Workshops include processes where the information is a “push” and “pull” process. The facilitator pushes the information out, but they pull the learner in and along by drawing upon existing knowledge and creating processes for them to build upon it. That’s a whole other blog post entirely.
In the end, you need engaged listeners. High-quality participants are emotionally invested and focused. One of the reasons they are engaged is because they realize they are respected and valued for the information they bring into the room.
Want to know how to shut down an adult learning experience? I’ll tell you: pretend you know everything and they know nothing. You do this, and your engagement will go completely out the window.
II. How to engage learners when conducting a workshop
When people are disengaged, they tend to create barriers between you, your information, and themselves. Sometimes, it’s a mental barrier, other times; it’s a cell phone/tablet or even disruptive behaviors such as whispering or heckling.
In my opinion, once you lose learner engagement, the rest is a monumental waste of time for both you, the training facilitator, and your learners. They will not retain anything you share without capturing their interest, passion for the subject, and intellectual buy-in. *sigh* Time wasted.
May I share my tips for engaging adult learners when conducting a workshop?
Okay, when most people enter your room or training venue, there’s a sense of angst that is only natural and primal. You know this.
You’ve heard of it: it’s the “fight or flight” sensation. Your first task is to coax them out of that protective state of mind so they may learn and become invested.
You can accomplish this in many ways.
One of the most popular ways to transition your learners is icebreakers. Part of me wishes that these wonderful engagement activities would get a new name. The term icebreaker seems almost cheesy in today’s modern training world. Yet, it’s still incredibly valuable in the learning process.
It’s best to do icebreakers at the very beginning of conducting your workshop. I consider these mini-activities as a way of “disarming” my learners. I need them to put down their “emotional weapons,” trust me, and trust the other learners in the room. I’ve created some trust-building activities for my city. Check them out!
Accomplishing this is so much harder than simply doing a fun little game to make people laugh.
A few “tried and true” practices that help me plan intentional icebreakers.
I. Trainer Revelation: “Who is the trainer, and what are they about?”
This will not be the full unveiling of yourself as a person, but this is just a simple peek behind the curtain of who you are. Your learners need to see “who you are” before they trust you with their ego or their knowledge system. The best icebreakers allow trainers to share a bit about themselves as human beings. More about that later. Plan to tell them something about yourself and your connection to the information.
II. Colleague Revelation: “Who are these jokers?”
Look, whether the learners work together in the same company or organization, they are colleagues in your workshop environment. They are united with the same learning goal and rely on one another to some degree. Tell them that.
They may not know it fully yet but will need each other. The best icebreakers are low-risk for the learners while allowing participants to get to know who else is in the room. Otherwise, some temperaments will spend a great deal of time mentally processing the other people in the room, snatching their attention from your process, data, and information. Icebreakers can help.
III. Workshop Tone Revelation: “Will this workshop be fun or boring?”
All your learners are wondering this when they enter the room. Heck, they thought about it as they drove to the venue! They want to know how rigid the environment will be and whether or not they will get what they need from it. Your icebreaker can elude to the answer they seek.
IV. The Purpose Revelation: “Why did we do this?”
Everything should have a purpose. Make sure you debrief the icebreaker to guide the learners and unpack their experiences. Let them know what they received. Sure, it was fun, but it was also so much more.
Go ahead and tell them those insightful little tidbits they got from each portion of the icebreaker. Say something like: “Icebreakers are fun, but this one was also intentional; here is why…”
A skillful debrief presents you as an intentional workshop facilitator with a plan and a positive agenda. If done well, it will confirm that you will not waste their time but will use it well with everything you do, even with processes as “run of the mill” as icebreakers.
What a confidence booster for the learner! From the very beginning, you want them to have confidence in you and your processes. Their confidence is as valuable as gold, and you need it!
In summary, make sure your icebreakers are intentional, not just “fun and games”. Craft them to reveal who you are. Make sure they get the same benefit of discovering something about their colleagues.
How to conduct a workshop that is intentional and effective.
I always work to keep my learners at the top of my priority list. Many well-intentioned trainers make the mistake of esteeming “data and information” king of the training.
No, the king and the queen of any training is the participant. The participant learner is the ultimate gauge of whether the training is successful or a huge, massive waste of effort.
Have you ever attended a training or a workshop only to discover subpar information? Or, worse, you attended a session to realize the trainer was unprepared- and even worse -unknowledgeable.
You may have attended a workshop so jam-packed full of information that it made your head spin. UGH! This is disappointing for even a free workshop, right? But, if you actually paid to attend the workshop only to experience a horrible process or lackluster facilitation, you feel as though you were violated and cheated.
You don’t want your learners to feel this way ever!
Did you know you can prevent this entirely? How? By considering your audience and all of their varied needs and ways of processing.
II. Critical Analysis of the Workshop
Hey, before you conduct a workshop, ask yourself:
· Why is my audience coming for this information? How will it make their lives/jobs better or easier? Write it out.
· How can I meet the needs of each learning style in my workshop delivery? Record your answers on paper.
· What type of delivery and information might appeal to each of the four temperaments? List it out.
· If you have control over the venue, think about parking, how they will maneuver to your classroom, and even the look and smell of the space.
Another point to ponder: why is my audience coming?
Some people attend training because it’s mandatory …plain and simple. They have no choice.
These are your captive audiences. While they are guaranteed to show up, they’re not guaranteed to engage.
This type of learner will make you work a little bit. Here is a tip: remove any and all barriers to engagement.
Consider having a U-shaped room instead of a classroom full of chairs and rows.
Have refreshments if it is in your power to do so. Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold.
Have the training at a convenient time. Avoid right after lunch or too early in the morning.
I could go on and on. But you get the picture. The next part of conducting a workshop is easier.
Make sure you have a clear statement of how the information is beneficial to the learner.
Consider the “what’s in it for me” … from the learners’ perspective.
How is it gonna make his or her life easier? Can you connect the workshop content to other areas of her life?
How will it make her job easier? How can it make her more effective? Will it make her more efficient? Will it save her time?
Have a clear, written statement of all the “gets” your workshop will offer. Do this early in the planning process. Trust me. It’s worth it.
III. Incorporate Learning Styles
Learning styles are a huge part of being a good training facilitator and engaging trainees.
I will not cover that in this blog post because it is everywhere on the web. However, if you do not know about the learning styles (auditory, kinesthetic, and visual), make it a priority to learn about them immediately!
This way, you will know how to shape the learning experience to meet the needs of each learning style. Conducting a workshop without considering the learning styles is a big mistake.
Temperament plays a humongous role in learning – and almost everything else too.
Basic knowledge of the four temperaments enables you to create processes and environments conducive to learning. It has implications for how people engage in processes and how to create fulfilling experiences.
Here’s a quick rundown of the four temperaments from the model I like (True Colors):
The Gold temperament strives and thrives in a structured, well-organized environment that values tradition and precedent.
The Blue temperament needs to know how the information will impact others and is eager to interact with their fellow learners.
Green is the temperament of cognition. They need to know why you’re qualified to deliver the data, and it must be sound data.
Orange is an adventurous temperament. These learners need lots of opportunities to move around and even ” shine ” themselves. They will enjoy answering questions, small group work, and reporting out.
One of the reasons I went into such detail about my history at the very beginning of this blog post was to meet the needs of the various temperaments. A good trainer is intentional in all she/he does. 🙂
IV. Plan for the learning space
Now. Let’s talk about meeting space and your learner.
Make no bones about it; a funky meeting room is the worst!
Once, I had to do a training in a place that was previously a retirement home. After that Friday night, I learned to carry some sort of air cleaner with me at all times. I also learned to carry colorful tablecloths to brighten up a space when needed.
Lord knows I have done many a training in musty old school buildings, college classrooms, and stinky libraries. It’s hard for the participants.
Let’s be real. Sometimes you cannot control your meeting space. However, if you can, make it inviting. Transform it someplace the learners will feel relaxed and comfortable.
After all, you need to help them transition into a mental space to learn.
I’ve been known to do everything from open the windows – to let in light and air- to firing up a candle because the room was rank.
I almost always carry some sort of air cleaner. Usually, I get that popular spray that eliminates noxious odors like this one. Click the image and get some from Amazon. I’m an affiliate, so I stock up!
Boogie Fever, Baby…
We’re still talking about engagement. One of the best ways is to use music to set the stage and tone before and as the learners enter the room.
I want them to hear cheery, fun music as they walk toward my room. I usually opt for Michael Jackson, the Beach Boys, the Temptations, or something similar.
Don’t let a gloomy, boring room hinder your participants’ learning. Trust me; you’ll have enough barriers to remove. Don’t let simple things like rooms and spaces be one of them.
Let me share a few more barriers to consider when conducting a workshop.
V. Minimize Learning Barriers
A common barrier to learning – especially for adult learners – is the notion they already know all they need to know about the subject you’re training. You can remedy this by knowing your stuff inside and out and doing your due diligence about your subject.
Don’t forget adult learners need you to recognize that they, themselves, are resources. Find the balance of leveraging what they already know about the topic and presenting fresh information about it.
This part may take some practice, but you can do it. Your trainer’s intuition will kick in!
You know, sometimes, in my planning, I will list all the reasons a person might be averse to attending my training with an invested mindset. After I list them, I’ll devise ways to counter each during the workshop.
Go ahead and try it. It works for me and helps me to structure a training that addresses those barriers before I even meet them.
As previously stated, the learner is the most important part of conducting a workshop. Do what you can to make it easy for them to learn.
So far, you have learned the importance of connecting with your learners. You’ve also learned how important it is that they connect with one another. You now know what a workshop is and what it is not. Great progress!
From here, you can have a learner-centric view of training. Now, let’s talk briefly about your training outline and planning the big picture of it all.
Steps in planning and Conducting a workshop
VI. Design the outcome of your workshop
Aye, the outcome. You couldn’t and wouldn’t believe how many trainers plan a workshop without any consideration of what they hope to accomplish in the end. It’s sad, and it always shows up in the delivery. Get ideas here.
No matter how good you make people feel or how many smiles you may see, if you do not define the outcomes of your workshop, you risk merely entertaining the learner and not educating them. To be clear, you also need to measure to ensure they learned, but I won’t go into that now.
You see, conducting a workshop is not just about entertaining people. Hey, my personality is entertaining. I know that. But nobody’s gonna pay me $300 an hour to come and entertain their team, right?
They could turn on Netflix for that.
The outcome of your training or workshop is the roadmap for planning it. Without it, you just throwing things together ‘willy nilly” and hoping for the best.
Why not begin with the end in mind and build from there? Before you define your outcome, start with solid learning objectives.
Learning objectives are bite-sized indicators (or proof) the learners received what you intended them to receive or learn.
They keep you on track and enable you to measure the effectiveness of your workshop.
Conducting a workshop without learning objectives is like throwing a random party. That’s it. There’s no road map, no plan, and no purpose. It’s just hanging out.
More about these objectives…
Learning objectives are measurable statements of what your participants will learn during the training. It’s that simple.
They speak to what I mentioned before because they’re focused on the learner and what they will know or be able to do after the training.
This isn’t it; learning objectives could also change the way a person views or perceives something. I have worked on workshops and training solely designed to impact feelings (how a person feels about a topic). They are hard to measure, so I don’t do many of them anymore.
I actually love to refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.
The five levels of Bloom’s are knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. You can Google Blooms Taxonomy to find verbs to describe each of these in great detail.
There’s no way in the world I would burden you with a bunch of samples and ideas of learning objectives in this post. As you know, so many web sites will define and explain this concept to you.
Suffice it to say you need to have at least three learning objectives to reach during your training. Remember, they are learner-focused. As a rule, and again, make sure you define your learning objectives prior to planning your training or conducting your workshop.
A note to training consultants:
I usually can’t form learning objectives until I speak to my client.
I have a specific set of intentional questions I ask the client so I may get the information I need to decipher their desired outcome.
From that conversation or meeting, I craft my learning objectives.
Tying it all together – the end and the beginning.
Yes, you have your learning objectives. Yay for you for being a smart training facilitator!
VII. Your Training Process – the “How”
Now, it’s time to plan how you’ll get learners to the desired outcomes (or end result).
I’ll often ask myself:
What steps does the learner need to experience to get to the end result (i.e., objective)?
As you plan a workshop, brainstorm the activities, the experience, the visual aids, etc., you can use to help your learners remember the information and satisfy the learning objective too.
Maybe you could find a great video to describe how a team forms.
You can also find some great conflict resolution videos. Would that reinforce learning?
Brainstorm the many ways to get your learners to the destination point (or the learning objectives).
Maybe small group activities would reinforce the learning.
Perhaps, the opposite is so. Maybe the best way to deliver the information is for learners to be in pair groups or work solo in an introspective, individual activity. The possibilities are endless.
The key is to create a “road map” to get them on the path to learning and retention. I could easily begin talking to you about creating a learning path based on your learning objectives. However, this blog post has gotten quite long. I love this topic! Maybe I’ll write an ebook about it.
Anyway, let’s move on.
VII. Your Workshop Evaluation
Your next step is to create an evaluation tool to link your learning objectives (hope) to what the participants actually learned (result).
Here’s a random sample:
Learning Outcome: at the end of the workshop, participants will be able to log complaints and forward them to the appropriate department
To reach this outcome, they must understand the various departments and which ones should get which complaints.
My solution: during the workshop, I’ll cover each department’s function and have them do an activity, or a fun jeopardy game, to learn the purposes of each department.
A handout is a must! So I’d create one with some “fill in the blank” statements about each department. I’d also have a small bookmark sized cheat sheet they can take with them. I may laminate it for them or print it on card stock.
Let’s talk workshop planning!
I know it sounds weird, but I would even ask them if they knew anyone in each of these departments so they could make a mental connection to the department.
If not, I’d ask the large group, “Tell me some things about this department that stick out to you.”
This question can be a crapshoot. But, sometimes, people come up with some great things. I’ve heard stuff like, “That department eats pizza every month” or “That department is on a beautiful floor.”
Basically, anything I can do to connect those mental synapses in the brain I will do. Again, sometimes it works it doesn’t.
What to write on your “example” post-training evaluation:
“Which department accepts customer complaints about deliveries?__________________________”
“Which department accepts online customer complaints?____________________________________”
Do you see the connection?
The learning objective stated what I “hoped” participants learned in my workshop.
Using my example, let’s recap: to log items appropriately, I need them to know to which department to log a complaint.
In this case, you’ll see I listed out specific scenarios so that I could essentially “grade” them after the training had ended. If very few people got the answer correct, what does that mean? It means I failed to deliver the information in a way they could retain it or even receive it.
Begin your workshop with the end in mind so you’ll know how to structure and plan the learning experience.
Well, that’s it! These are my tips for conducting a workshop!
In the end, conducting a workshop isn’t difficult at all. It just requires intentional, methodical processing…that’s all. You can do it! Just think through each piece of the process, and you’ll be fantastic.
I certainly hope I have given you some tools and tips that will prove useful in the future.
What I do with personality types:
Leveraging the four personality styles to help you when working with different personalities in the workplace. You can also learn how business personalities affect how you approach work and manage work personalities in general. I also answer the question” “how does personality influence communication at work?” Your temperament plays a role in everything. I love talking about it and exploring exactly how!