I was helping someone plan a workshop today. While I was no expert in the content, it made me realise there’s a common structure I’ve come to use.
1. Briefly introduce the workshop leaders. You’ll demonstrate your expertise later, and presumably the attendees were impressed enough by your credentials to book a place.
2. Allow participants to say something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but you could ask them to rank how they’re feeling out of 10, or finish the sentence, “if you really knew me, your know that…”
3. Get participants to do something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but if you’re using a new tool later, this is a good, low-stakes opportunity to ensure everyone can access it. You could ask people to add a stick note to a physical wall or a Google Jamboard indicating what they’re hoping to get out of the workshop.
4. Go through the structure of the workshop. Explain what you’ll be covering, when the breaks are, etc. Ideally, link this back to the previous activity, outlining how the workshop will meet the participants’ requirements.
5. Provide some input. If you need to explain a concept, go through some theory, or otherwise lecture participants, do it now! Try to keep it to 15 mins, then stop for questions. If you’ve got two workshop leaders (always a good idea!) switch it you need to provide more input.
6. Stop for a 15 min break. Tailor the length of your breaks to the needs of your participants (accessibility, age, etc.) but give them at least 15 mins.
7. Practice. After asking for any further questions after the break* give participants a chance to practice what they’ve been taught. If there’s no immediately-obvious way to do this, break into pairs or small groups to discuss how they could apply what they’ve learned in their job/life.
8. Provide a space to park ideas and people. Deal with latecomers, off-topic ideas, and other miscellaneous things by having a ‘clinic’ breakout room and ‘Parking lot’ board.**
9. Check in after lunch. Ask people what they had to eat. Food is an easy way for a group to bond.
10. Ask participants to commit to next steps. If there’s a follow-up workshop, set homework. If there’s not, ask participants to commit to an action, and then follow up with them via email / social media / pigeon after a specified amount of time.
There’s plenty more workshop advice I could give, but I’ll stop there for now. Perhaps one more bit: although you should have dedicated Q&A time, there should never be a time when it’s not OK for participants to ask a question.
* always pause for longer than you think you need to (e.g. drink from a water bottle or coffee cup to prolong the pause)
** my friend Laura Hilliger calls this a ‘zombie garden’!