A workshop is one of the most efficient ways to learn new skills, polish or improve an existing skill, or bring back to memory a forgotten skill. Unlike a seminar or a lecture, where the emphasis is usually on pushing information to the audience, a workshop relies primarily on the audience actively practicing a skill. Research shows that learning new skills is facilitated by actual practice. Have you ever heard of somebody trying to learn to swim without getting into the water?
Most probably, a good deal of you have already been to a workshop (or at least a seminar, or a lecture). Have you ever wondered if the presenter (trainer, instructor) has ever read all the slides to the end? Have you ever secretly smiled when the presenter is surprised by the existence of a specific slide. “Wow! When did they add this?” Who’s “they”?
If you ever find yourself owning and organizing a workshop, this article will help you create the best possible environment so that your students can benefit from the experience. “The best possible environment” usually means smooth, distraction-free. As well as prompting the students (or listeners, or attendees) to actually work on the skills that you are presenting to them. The end goal is two fold. As a presenter you need to walk out the room with a good feeling that “most of the things went well”. And the students need to walk out the room with a set of new tools so that they continue practicing the new skill.
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Time to read: 17 minutes (based on 150 words per minute).
Have you ever had a presentation due when you were so sure that “you’ve got this“, but failed to deliver, because of unexpected circumstances? Have you ever been thrown off-course by an odd question from the audience, struggling to regain foothold after that? Or, have you ever had one of those presentations when after 10 minutes you realize that nobody is listening and everybody is busy sending emails?
Many of us fall into one of these traps (or one of the many others). Sometimes, you can be too sure of yourself and fail because of your ego. Other times, you can be too unsure of yourself and postpone the actual presentation over and over again until you reach perfection (which you never do).
This chapter is about tips and tricks for organizing the perfect workshop. I’ve picked this specific type of presentation, because I feel it is the most beneficial for everybody in the room. But most of the material in this article can easily be translated to other types (lecture, seminar, sales pitch).
The main problem, in my opinion, is that there is so little information on how to organize a public event. Yes, we all know or have heard of, the massive events that presentation gurus like Tony Robins organizes. Note: If you have never visited his Unleash the Power Within events, you should! We have all attended some workshops that went well and other that did not went so well. And we have always noted down a few things to follow (or avoid) when we have to do that. But this is not enough.
The other main problem is that you are probably way too focused on the material that you neglect everything else. From communication theory we know that only less than 10% of the information that the audience receives is the words. And the vast majority is non-verbal. Even the fact that you are comfortable in the space where you will be leading the workshop can drastically increase the reception level of the audience.
The benefit of this chapter is a tool set of tips and tricks for the non-verbal part of the workshop. The small details that will either leave a memorable impression in the audience, or will make them forget you, the topic, and the training material overnight. You will get in detail from how to prepare for the workshop before the day arrives, how to make sure you deliver the message that you want to deliver, and how to follow up and assure retention.
My personal story is that I’ve always wanted to be writer, speaker, and some day a professor. Ambitious, I know. But hear me out. I grew up as a very shy, introverted kid, who read way more than he should have. Luckily and thanks to my parents, I was into sports (soccer, tennis, skiing, basketball, volleyball, you name it). So, at least, I was going out from time to time.
When I became a teenager, I made the firm decision to get out of my comfort zone and learn how to speak with people. I started small and safe, by calling the phone numbers of institutions so that I can talk with random people. It was hard and it took a while. After I managed to overcome this feeling, I started talking to strangers on the street (while waiting for the bus, while waiting in line for cinema tickets). It may sound creepy, but it is not. Most people are very skilled in these social situation, while I was not. And, finally, I knew I was there, when random people started talking to me. This was a signal that I no longer had a closed posture that prevented any communication.
I continued to fine-tune my skill, but when I did my MBA I realized that I am still afraid to do public speaking. I overcame that easily in the safe environment with my classmates as I got to know them. But, once again, I was determined to break that barrier and learn public speaking.
I tackled that goal of mine with my usual go-to skill. I started reading books and I started practicing. The main thing that I learned as part of this process was that preparation and familiarity with the material and environment can do wonders to your performance. This is what prompted me to write this article. I wanted to share with everybody my tips for achieving this feeling of being prepared before a workshop so that you can be at your best and deliver the message that you want to deliver.
My next step will be learning how to speak in front of people who are either my superiors or know a lot more than me. It is always good to be the dumbest person in the room (because you learn a lot), but it is also hard to speak up your mind in this environment. Stay tuned for more articles on this topic.
How can you organize and lead the perfect workshop?
Once again, my definition for a workshop is a one-day training on a topic with which you (as the presenter) are very familiar. That you deliver to an audience which is either not familiar, or somewhat familiar. The slides can either be prepared by you, or at least you know then well enough to know which slides follows which one.
The first phase is the learning phase. It can start as early as an year before you target giving your presentation. This phase is about acquiring the skills that you need to become an expert in the field. And about accumulating enough examples from your daily life so that you can response to almost any comment from the audience with a somewhat related personal example.
This is a hard part and you’re probably thinking that it is way too much. But I believe in preparation, in practice, and in having the examples to fortify your position at every step.
2. Polish and personalize
It does not really matter if you created the slide deck or not, but in any case you need to polish and personalize it so that you are comfortable with it. For me this means, somewhere between 5-10 sessions where you go through the deck alone and talk aloud so that you hear yourself. Followed, by at least 1-3 dry runs in front of somebody way better than you so that you can get instant feedback. A good idea is recording yourself presenting portions of the deck and sending them to your mentor to review and comment on.
This, for me, was an important step to commit to actually giving the workshop. It almost felt like burning the bridges behind me so that I cannot change my mind and not deliver the workshop. Once you have some people signing up for the event, it is very hard to back off. Especially, if you charged them money.
But, your work does not end there. You need to also reserve the premise for the event. And make the required arrangement for the room or the hall.
- How do you want the chairs organized? Classroom or working tables?
- What types of helping materials do you need? Whiteboards, sticky notes, markers, drafting paper?
- How many groups of attendees do you need to make it interesting for everybody? Remember that practice is very important when learning a new skill.
- How are you going to organize the breaks?
I cannot stress this enough. You need to go and see the room yourself. Walk around it and picture yourself presenting. It can be on the previous day, or even on the day of the presentation. But you have to feel comfortable so that you can deliver the message.
You need to be familiar with the equipment and you need to test before the presentation. There is nothing more irritating than technical issues just as you are about the start. And such issues will happen! I promise.
On the day of the presentation, arrive really early. Print the printouts and arrange them on the tables so that the people who are late can silently pick up everything they need and you don’t have to interrupt your though and explain what is going on. Make sure that everybody has easy access to pens and/or pencils, whiteboard markers.
What I like to do is to have a small treat for the attendees. I usually go with donuts, or coffee, but something to show them that you care about them and you’ve thought this through. It is priceless to see the smile on a person’s face when they are surprised by the smell of fresh coffee or donuts when they enter to room. Under-promise and over-deliver!
6. Establish trust
You can afford to start 5-10 minutes late to make sure the majority of the attendees have arrived, but no more. As soon as you are ready to start you need to establish who you are. Start with your name, your title, and your experience. You have the initial 3-5 minutes to establish trust and captivate the audience or you’ve lost some of them forever.
Speak in a loud confident voice (or fake it till you make it). Do not fold your hands or keep them in your pockets (very tempting for introverts) but show your palms to everybody. Do not look down, but face everybody and concentrate on random people for a few seconds. Ask if everybody hears you OK to grab everybody’s attention.
Immediately after that establish the rules. No phones, no laptops! Everybody has urgent things to do and if they do, they can go out and talk there. But having a few people working on their email while you do your introduction and set the pace and the foundation is very irritating and distracting.
What I like to do is a stretching exercise. You tell everybody to raise both their hands. Then bend over forwards as they are sitting. And … close their laptops. Everybody usually laughs and obeys. And this way you’ve established your authority over them for the time being.
Right after that, I follow with a get-up-and-do-something exercise. I usually make everybody write the goals they’ve set for themselves on a sticky not and then getup and stick it to a white boards. This helps everybody’s blood circulate and once again solidifies your authority within the workshop.
9. Deliver the presentation
I can probably dedicate another article only to this step, but this is something that is covered pretty well in my other resources. I will just add a few tips:
- Manage your time and pace. If this is your first time, also measure your time and pace to learn from it.
- Keep your posture, keep looking people in the eyes, keep switching to random people.
- Keep your voice up. Make sure that everybody hears you. Walk around the room.
- Plan and give regular breaks.
- When the groups are doing an exercise walk around and make yourself available for questions and clarifications. Guide, but rarely give away the correct answer. The idea is that each of the attendees reaches their own decision and conclusion.
- Use as many personal examples as possible.
- Attune your pace to the pace and the goals of the group. If they are not interested in your second section, go over it faster (but don’t rush it). And emphasize on the most important and the most useful material for the group.
10. Lunch break
The lunch breaks is especially challenging, because everybody is already tired and after eating most of their blood is “in their stomachs”. Plan something physical for immediately after lunch. Make them do a constellation (e.g. draw an imaginary scale in the room and make them stand around the number that corresponds to their familiarity with the subject after the morning session).
11. Wrap up
Most of the people would have made plans for after the workshop is over. Make sure you end earlier or at least on time. The energy of the group will be visibly lower after lunch. People usually also try to work during their lunch break, which makes things worse. If you are an attendee, try to avoid that and dedicate your lunch to being mindful and thinking about what you’ve just learnt.
Make sure you finish the presentation with a recap of what you presented (increases retention) and with next steps that they should follow if they want to dive deeper into the subject.
12. Follow up
After the presentation (or on the next day) send out a thank you not to your attendees, share electronic copies of the materials, and remind them for the next steps that you proposed. Here is a good place to either turn them into followers or returning customers (e.g. share the book you have on the subject, or an internal info page in case this was an internal workshop). And finally, remind everybody to share any feedback that they might have.
Organizing and leading a workshop can be an intimidating but also a very rewarding task. When you are the presenter, a workshop starts months and maybe even years before the actual day. You learn the content, you book the location. But all the work you do in advance and all the investment of time that you do upfront, pays off during the day itself. Remember that only less than 10% of the information is transmitted by the words that you use.
This article gave a set of tips to use for your next workshop and a framework for setting yourself on a successful path. If you follow them for any type of presentation, you will notice improvement in the quality of the final product and an increase in retention of the information.
What are the next steps?
If you have liked my article, please proceed to my contact page, where you can view various ways to contact me.