“What was I thinking? 45-minutes? I never did more than 15! How the hell will I handle this? It will be a disaster! I’m done. Finished. Everybody will find out how incompetent I am. I can start looking for a new hobby. So long, Toastmasters and public speaking.”
That’s the self-talk I had after signing up for giving a 45-minute workshop for the first time. One of my problems is, sometimes I say “yes” to opportunities without much thinking.
It didn’t go that bad (here’s how it went). But looking back at it, I know I could have used some help back then.
In case you are in a similar situation – you agreed to give a workshop, but don’t know where to start – this might help you. In case you’re on the cautious side and are not signing up for giving workshops, exactly because it scares you to death: This might help you too.
How to eat an elephant? In eleven simple steps.
Step zero: Get an assignment
If you want to give a workshop: Sign-up for giving a workshop!
No matter how nice idea it seems to have a prepared workshop up my sleeve before having committed to giving it – I never made it work. With the “Creativity Unleashed”, it started with me telling our Program Quality Director: “Andrei, in case you ever need anyone to give any kind of workshop – you can count on me.” A few moths later, a message on WhatsApp pops up: “Hey Lukas. Do you have a few minutes for a short call?” Outcome: Assignment to provide a 90-minute “creative warmup” before a 2-hour brainstorming session. My immediate reaction: “Awesome!” My second reaction: “I’ve never done this before.” Andrei’s cold-blooded response: “Well, I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”
Step one: Ask for sources
No need to postpone this one. Because this one takes you no more than 60 seconds. What you need to do: Think of a few people who know something about the topic you’ll be presenting on. Ask them to recommend you materials. Books, videos, articles. If you can’t name anyone who would be even a “modest expert”, just Google. And think about getting yourself some useful friends!
For the Creativity Unleashed workshop, I asked my friend, Lukáš Hána, a professional trainer working for GrowJob. He was able to immediately shoot at me those two: How frustration can make us more creative by Tim Harford and The surprising habits of original thinkers by Adam Grant (link). Great starting point. Zero cost.
Step two: Give it a first touch
Get an initial overview of the topic. Absorb sources you got in Step one. Be specific in what you’re looking for. When reading articles, reading books or watching videos, keep asking yourself this question: How can I use this in the workshop? What questions does this answer? What is unclear about this? Don’t obsess about finding the answers yet. But having those questions in mind will make your research more productive.
I watched both TED Talks from Lukáš right when he sent me the links. I wrote a few ideas on post-its which I placed on various pieces of furniture around my desk. I re-read my Kindle notes from Adam Grant’s Originals which I read a few months ago (I love reading on Kindle – taking notes with a touch of my finger and they stay with me forever!). I googled “Mind Tools” and “Brainstorming” for some low hanging fruits. I found out that indeed there was an article on Brainstorming on the MindTools website. I clip the article into Evernote and happy & relaxed go to sleep.
Intermezzo one: Get stuck & Do nothing
Trust me, after doing the initial research, there always comes a moment when you get stuck. That’s okay. As the Serenity Prayer goes: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”, the best thing you can do is to learn to accept this as a part of the process. Realize that you’re not in such hurry and therefore: Do nothing.
With the Creativity Unleashed workshop, indeed I got stuck. “Okay, so I’ll do something about brainstorming, but what will be the main idea?” How will I make it interesting? What exercises will I do? Why the hell did I sign up for this workshop?” I was too tired to think about the answers. For a week or so – I did nothing.
Step three: Panic > Force it
One thing to keep in mind – if ideas are not coming to you on their own, at some point you’ll have to get those ideas yourself. The best way to force this is to get into a state of “Panic”. You need to realize how much work you need to do in order to put 45 minutes (or more) of content together (it’s a damn lot of work) and that if you won’t start doing something about it right now, it’s going to be an EPIC FAIL.
Are you there? Good. Now start writing ideas down. Anything related to the workshop. You can use pen and paper, post-its or shout the ideas at innocent bystanders on a tram stop (as long as you’re recording it). Most of the ideas will be useless, and that’s fine. We’re looking for just a few good ones. You don’t need to solve the whole thing, but it’s important to keep coming back to it. Force it for a short while every day.
For the Creativity Unleashed workshop, I did not have to go through this stage – the “First Breakthrough” came before I panicked. But in case you’re interested in what my “Panic” moment looks like: I tried to paint it in this post.
Step four: Let the first breakthrough come
At this point, you won’t be spending too much focused time on your workshop preparation. But it’s a nice topic of what to think about when you’re in the shower, when you’re cooking the dinner or cleaning, isn’t it? During the rest of the day, it’s sitting somewhere at the back of your head. If you’re doing it right: At some point, the “First Breakthrough” will appear in front of your eyes. If not – well, maybe you’ll need to spend some more focused time on forcing it!
“Man, how come I have not thought of this before?”, I asked myself when I remembered about a book with more than a hundred creative problem solving techniques. Thinkertoys! All I need to do is just to flip through the pages and pick 3 exercises I would use as examples for boosting one’s creativity! Then I remembered about another exercise coming from the “Improv Handbook” to get the creative juices of a group flowing. And as the last bit: “How about playing a bit of the TED Talk in the beginning and of the other one in the end?”
There we go. The concept of the whole workshop is ready. Now the only thing remaining is to work out the details – the content, the slides, and which Britney Spears we’ll sing.
Step five: Prepare the f**king workshop!
Look, I really belive you’re good at planning and that the word “procrastination” is completely alien to you. Still, I don’t think you’ll find time finish the stuff earlier than one week before the workshop. However, it’s a good idea to have a draft version (that means – full content ready for editing) ready the weekend before the workshop date.
Pull together the slides (I go for simple text and full-screen downloads from Unsplash or Creative Commons from Flickr) and in the notes under each slide, write what you want to talk about. If you have exercises – write them out and show them either on the slides or in the handouts. It makes everyone’s life so much easier when the audience can refer to the instructions somewhere. And if you want a big gain for very little work: Prepare a handout. It does not need to be complicated. I usually go for three questions pointing to three takeaways. Or, in case of “Creativity Unleashed”, I listed the exercises we did in the workshop. Have a look at the handout here, if you like. As I said – nothing complicated, right?
Intermezzo 2: Last week – Let it sink in
Having the workshop prepared one week before actually delivering it has one great benefit – you’ll get relaxed about it. Only when you’re relaxed, the best ideas come to your mind. Shoot a teaser “trailer” video to be sent out before the workshop? Play the video with cats scared by cucumbers? Invite a random girl from the audience to sing a Britney Spears song in front of everyone? It’s so much easier to think about the “fun” bits once you don’t need to worry about the “must haves”.
Step five point five (optional): Test it
If you have a chance, do a dry-run a few days “before” in front of a smaller audience. It will give you that last bit of confidence you need by eliminating uncertainty about things such as timing and whether your exercises are explained well enough so that the participants understand what you want them to do.
I didn’t do it for the “Creativity Unleashed” workshop (as there I was sure the content would work well), but did it for my other workshops (Prolific Toastmaster, Teams on Steroids). At work we have Wednesday’s meetings of our corporate Toastmaster club, with usually 4-8 participants. I tested the workshops there. Outcome: I knew the workshops were okay before I really gave it & got lots of useful feedback.
Step six: Run the last mile
If you’re doing a workshop on Saturday, what will you feel like on Friday night? My guess is: A bit anxious (at least). But probably also motivated. This is a great opportunity to use the momentum for walking through the workshop for the last couple of times, rehearsing the stories, the giving a try to the delivery and perhaps discussing with someone (in person or over the phone) the spots that you are the least certain about.
The last night before giving a workshop, I don’t party. I go early to my room and review everything. I try to go to sleep early. This attempt usually fails. I wake up with an alarm set to 5:30 and walk through the whole workshop again, adding or changing a few slides here or there. I almost don’t eat for the rest of the day until the time of the workshop comes.
Step seven: Check everything else
Seating in the room, flip chart, projector – if you’re delivering a workshop, chances are, there’s someone else taking care of all this. There always is, however, also a chance that this person will not do it right. Reasons may vary. But they’re not relevant. It’s you who will look incompetent if there is no way how to project your slides, no audio or no flipchart markers. As early as you can – check that everything you need for the workshop is prepared and works. If you find out that something is not – you have time to either fix it – or at least to adapt.
Step eight: Supercharge yourself
Do you think you will feel nervous the last ten minutes before the workshop? You don’t have to be. Using words of Floyd Mayweather (former professional boxer): “I’m either ready or I’m not. Worrying about it right now ain’t gonna change a damn thing. Right? Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen. I’ve either done everything I can to be ready for this, or I haven’t.” (Source: Tools of Titans, p. 130) So, relax and get yourself into a positive & energized state of mind. It will make a difference.
I don’t remember whether for the Creativity Unleashed workshop in Poznan I did the usual “find a quiet place and jump up and down for a while”. What I remember though was that I was energized by my audience. I was about to give the workshop for District 95 DECM (Area & Division Directors & District Core Team), many of whom are my good friends. I could not wait to get in front of them, make them sing “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and start discussing.
Step nine: Deliver the workshop
Just do it!
If that’s not enough for you – look at this brilliant post on how to lead a workshop by Florian Mueck.
Step ten: Collect feedback.
I know that now you’re thinking this is overdone, that once the goal of surviving the workshop is accomplished, it’s time to open the champagne and celebrate. I agree. But before that: Collect feedback. It will help you in all the following workshops you’ll be preparing. Even more importantly, it will make a difference for step eleven.
Step eleven: Reuse!
With all the effort you’ve put into the preparation – the research, the stories, the slides: Do you really want to throw it away right after you deliver the workshop? After you celebrate with champagne, vodka, or diet vanilla milkshake, start looking for some more opportunities where to deliver it. What other audiences might be interested in seeing what you’ve just shown? Even if you think that the whole thing is not worth doing again – at least some parts of it are. Get the maximum return on the time you’ve invested. Reuse. And again. And – again!
I did a shortened (45-minute) version of the workshop at a Division Conference in Hamburg and a discussion session based on the workshop with Erasmus Student Network of the University of Economics Prague (we were using the techniques to solve real problems of the organization). I still plan to incorporate the feedback, enhance it and craft a paid version for general public in 2017. Let’s see how that goes.
This is just the beginning
If for the first time, the preparation looks too exhausting, maybe you’re right. But keep in mind: The next one will be easier. It’s no rocket science. Just take those eleven simple steps.
As if you were eating an elephant.