Workshop Crafting: Demystified

 

2 months ago, I wrote a post that illustrated what my preparation for a workshop looks like. In the meantime I toured the world (ok, to be precise, I visited once Slovakia, Germany and Hotel Nahac near Prague) with the workshop titled Workshops: Demystified (in case you’d like to see it recorded – here you go.

I try to improve it every time I give it and its current state is captured below. These two posts are complimentary, each of them is looking at workshop crafting from a different angle.

There’s a big chance you’ll find them both useful. And if you feel like sharing: Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.


In the workshops I gave over the past three years, there was one thing that was a clear differentiation between those that were easy to create and those that were not:

Clear purpose.

Without a purpose, the ideas just would not come. Reason: I did not know what problem I was trying to solve.


Start with the Problem

If you want to have a starting point: List the problems that you currently see. I’ll use a Toastmasters case for illustration, but the same applies when you are preparing a workshop for your colleagues at work or for any other group of people and occasion.

Here are a few Toastmaster Club examples:

  • Very few guests, if any, come to the club meetings
  • The evaluators in the club are inexperienced and the speakers don’t receive appropriate feedback
  • There are too many members in the club and the queue for speeches is too long
  • The mentoring does not work in the club; the mentors don’t know what to do with their mentees; the mentees do not see value in having a mentor

Whichever problem you have the next step is to – write it down in clear words.


State the problem

To stay with our example, let’s continue with the first one:

Very few guests, if any, come to club meetings.

This can point to the following:

  • Weak Public Relations
  • No online / social media presence
  • Club members are failing to invite their friends
  • Club members not even trying to invite their friends
  • (and many others)

Okay, now you know what the problem is: How can you fix it? Or better: How can everyone help in fixing it?

What is the skill you need to teach them?


Define the skill

For each of the points above, a few topics come to my mind (hey, I’m sure you could come up with many more):

  • Use of Facebook as a PR tool
  • Basics of online advertising
  • Elevator pitch (how to promote Toastmasters in 60 seconds or less)

For the sake of this example, I will stick to the Elevator pitch. 2 reasons:

  • Every member can put that in use
  • Teaching the topic will not require any specific knowledge from you as the workshop leader

We have our workshop theme:

How to pitch Toastmasters to normal people in 60 seconds or less?

What comes next: How are you going to teach them?


Tools of the Trade

Before going into further planning, let’s have a look at the basic tools you can use in a workshop.

1. Lecture

The classical presentation. You as the trainer speak and the audience listens. Imagine yourself saying the following:

“An elevator pitch, elevator speech or elevator statement is a short sales pitch, that is, a summary used to quickly and simply define a process, product, service, organization, or event and its value proposition.”

(pat yourself on the back, you just used word-by-word the definition from Wikipedia)

Advantages:

  • You have full control over the content and timing.

Disadvantages:

  • Lower engagement of the audience
  • Only your ideas are heard

When it’s only you speaking – it’s not a workshop but a lecture. The following tools will help you make it more interactive.

2. Discussion

After presenting the definition of Elevator Pitch, you ask the audience: “Can you raise your hand if you have experience with giving an elevator pitch?” Six people raise their hands. “Would you like to share your experience?” The tall man with glasses in the back starts speaking. When he finishes, you ask: “Does someone else have similar experience?” And so on.

Advantages:

  • Increased audience engagement
  • You can leverage experience of the participants (and learn something new yourself)
  • You have visibility of the conversation that takes place in the room

Disadvantages:

  • Most of the audience are still not actively engaged

3. Individual work

You continue: “Now I’d like each of you to take a pen and paper and write down 5 skills you can practice in your Toastmasters club. You have 1 minute to complete this.” Then you wait. The participants write.

Advantages:

  • Everybody has to put their brain to use
  • You can take a short break

Disadvantages:

You don’t know what the participants are writing down and can’t give feedback on it (until you ask them to share it; but that’s only in the end).

Individual work is something that I find underused by most workshop leaders. But as Nikola Tesla suggested: “Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.” The participants in your workshop may benefit from some time for their own thoughts.

4. Group work

You say:“Work with a partner / in a group of four / six / etc. and put together as many situations where you have an opportunity to pitch your Toastmasters club. You have three minutes.” Then you wait and the group work begins.

Advantages:

  • Good balance between individual engagement and sharing ideas

Disadvantages:

  • If groups are too many, you lose control over what is being discussed
  • Even in smaller groups, some people will take the lead while others will stay quiet and may be disengaged

You can mitigate the disadvantages by visiting the groups when they are discussing, perhaps having one or two assistants to help you give feedback to the groups.

5. Role play

When you ask for two volunteers to come up on the stage and play a scene: Two friends meet in a bar, one of them is a Toastmaster, the other is not: And the Toastmaster of them gives her 60-second pitch to her friend. They perform the role-play, with an applause come to their seats and you discuss with the group what happened, what went well and what could be improved. That is a role-play.

Advantages

  • Interactive
  • Refreshing for the audience (new people on the stage!)
  • Potentially humorous
  • Practical (in role-play / demonstration, if the concept is misunderstood, it comes to the surface)

Disadvantages

  • You have very little control over what is going to happen on the stage during the role-play. You structuring the role-play to make the objective clear and easy-to-follow is the key to success.

Combining those different tools will allow you to manage the level of interaction in the workshop and make people experience what you teach, not just to listen. Now, when you’re aware on what tools you can use, let’s have at the next phase: Ideation.


Ideate

How can you teach people to give elevator pitch?

Here comes the creative part! With a pen and paper, keyboard or flipchart marker and post-its – write down everything that comes to your mind that is connected to the topic.

In case you’d like to give your creativity a boost by a specific framework: I suggest you have a look at the book Thinkertoys – there’s a ton of exercises you can use. One thing I’d like to point out: You don’t have to be alone in this! Use others to get more ideas! One of the things I like to do is Reverse Brainstorming (taken from Mind Tools). In the case of the Elevator Pitch, what we want to do is: “How to teach people to convince their friends to visit a Toastmasters club?” The “Reversed” version of that problem would be: “How to teach people to discourage their friends to ever visit a Toastmasters meeting in 60 seconds or less?” You’ll be surprised how happy your friends will be to generate destructive ideas that will make your problem even worse! In order to make it work and aim for positive results, the only thing you do is take every (negative) suggestion – and write down the complete opposite.


Research

Once you’ve got a list of ideas where to go, it’s time to do some research. One of the mistakes I often made was that I wanted to completely research my topic at the very beginning. Because I did not know what I was looking for – I spent too much time browsing the web, reading irrelevant articles and watching irrelevant videos. When you start with your research only after you’ve listed the ideas – you know what you’re looking for. This will cut the time you spend on research significantly.


Develop

Here comes the real work. Once you collected and wrote down the ideas, you filled the gaps by your research – it’s time to think through how you will start the workshop, develop detailed instructions for the exercises you will use, elaborate the stories stories from your experience or from experience of others you will tell. This is where you will spend most of the time. The good news is that because of the preparation you did in the previous phases, you’ll know what to do.

So: Enjoy!


Timebox

Have you ever attended a workshop or a presentation where the speaker said, one minute before the end: “Oh, I have gone through just about a half of my content and our time is almost over!” You don’t have to be that guy. Write down your workshop structure and mark each part with how much time do you expect it to take. Calculate the total time. If the total time is longer than the time you have allocated for your workshop: Cut, cut cut! This will be difficult (I know that everything you’ve put there is important!), but trust me, once you’re on the stage, you will be grateful for taking the extra effort. And so will be your audience.


Deliver

Once you’ve got it all prepared: Deliver! Again, here I won’t go into the details here. If you’d like some tips on delivery in the workshop: Go for this post by Florian Mueck.

One thing to keep in mind: You gave the workshop in order to solve a problem. You may want to define the next steps for your audience. Maybe each of them should try to give an elevator pitch at least three times in the next week?


And that’s it!

Don’t forget to follow-up on how your club members were able to use the skill you taught them – maybe in one week / two weeks time. Nothing makes giving workshops so worthwhile as seeing the impact you made.


If you’re hungry for more material on giving workshops: Next week I’ll add a post with 80/20 tips – things to do in workshop that will cost you little effort but will make a big difference.


Featured Image taken from unsplash.com, used under Creative Commons Zero.