After the number of hits and positive feedback I received from my last post about workshop facilitation: How to Facilitate an Epic Training Session, I thought I’d post more detailed information about facilitating a workshop…
So here goes!
Let’s face it, facilitating your first workshop is going to be tough. It’s hard to put yourself out there in front of a group of people, especially when you have a boring topic to talk about. It’s even worse when you are locked up together for a full day!
In this post I will list, and elaborate on, the key things I have learned from facilitating workshops over the last almost 10 years.
Prepare with an outcome in mind
What is the goal of the workshop?
Do you want participants to be ready to do some computer-based training? Prepare for the revised performance evaluations in-use from this year? Maybe, begin using a new process or software?
Whatever it is, you need to be clear from the get-go. If you have clarity around what it is your attendees should do differently following the workshop, planning your session becomes a whole lot easier.
Imagine the goal of your training session is to have participants ready to use some new software. They will use the software to submit their monthly timesheets, apply for vacation, and record sick leave. With so many employees this software is a huge implementation effort and you would like to minimize the number of support calls at the end of the month.
Knowing the above allows you to prepare so that you can incorporate relevant discussion and activities throughout the day to get your participants exactly where they need to be.
You don’t have to practice what you are going to say, but you need to understand your topic well
Don’t waste time practicing what you are going to say.
Your workshop attendees should be doing most of the talking.
As a facilitator, not a lecturer, your job is to give participants enough information that they can explore concepts on their own. As they explore, you remain in the background, available to answer questions when they come up.
You are there to facilitate discussion, exploration, and development so it is important that you don’t talk too much. It is, however, vital that you understand your topic well so that you are able to answer questions confidently.
If questions come up that you can’t answer, that’s okay. Just say you are not sure and promise to put someone who can answer the question in contact with the questioner.
Context is more important than explanation
It is important that you don’t spend a lot of time explaining during a workshop. Your audience will quickly tire of you if you do.
What you would normally explain is what the participants should discuss and explore together during a series of activities you will set up for them.
The context for why the participants are doing particular discussions or activities is important. You set up the context as an introduction or lead-in to each discussion activity you ask your attendees to do. This also helps you to transition and link activities together into one cohesive workshop.
Let’s imagine the first part of your workshop is convincing your participants they need to accept a change in the way they submit their monthly timesheets. Your first activity could be a discussion where small groups list-up three problems or time-wasters with the current method of submitting their timesheets.
Your context setting for the above could be: “It’s the end of the month. You are busy getting your financial reports done. Your boss is pressuring you to close off all your important accounts. Suddenly you realize your haven’t submitted your timesheet! It’s not important to your boss, but it’s important to you: If you don’t submit your timesheet you don’t get paid. Trouble is, submitting your timesheet can be a difficult process, one that will prevent you getting other work done on time. This is a common situation. What I would like you to do is take 10 minutes and work in small groups. In your small groups I want you to discuss the current timesheet system and list-up some of the problems or frustrations you have experienced using the system.”
Observation beats talking
The success of your workshop relies on you doing the least amount of talking possible. The more you talk the more reactive your attendees become. The more reactive they become, the more likely they will disengage.
A successful workshop is one where the attendees are doing most of the talking. This allows you to move around the room and observe.
As you observe you will notice some participants are talking less than others. Someone participants are generally less engaged. Take note. Try not to directly encourage them to talk (calling people out can exacerbate their reluctance to participate). Instead, mix groups regularly. You’ll find that people dynamics are the most common cause of under-, and over-, participation.
You can’t force attendees to be engaged… Okay, yes you can
If you try to force participants to engage with a topic directly you will have little success. No one responds well to “Come on. You need to take this seriously and get involved.”
It is, however, possible to engineer engagement. You do this by having participants stand up often. Regularly change the people they are working with. Have participants make decisions on their own about some aspects of the workshop, eg. how many minutes they have for a discussion or break time.
Just do it!
Best of luck with facilitating your next workshop.
I’d love to hear how you go.
Also, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to help out.