Facilitating a workshop is a tough job.
More often than not you’re stuck with a bunch of demotivated, salaried staff sitting cross-armed and un-receptive.
Locked in a room with 20 or so characters from the Living Dead, it’s your job to resuscitate and engage them; Perhaps even help them learn or develop.
In my years of experience as a trainer, facilitator, and speaker I have seen every type of group imaginable. From groups who were made for each other, to groups who could barely look at each other. Groups with out-going personalities, to groups who don’t want to speak out at all.
Through training all different types of groups, and experiencing many difficult training-room issues, I have devised a repertoire of activities to motivate and engage even the most difficult groups. Listed below are some of the most common and easy to set up activities.
This activity is so named because I use it at the start of most workshops to set the tone. It helps create the right atmosphere and makes participants aware of what will be expected of them. It can be used as an effective icebreaker.
I have a list of ground rules that should be followed in the workshop. The ground rules exist so that if participants get off-track for too long, or begin derailing the workshop we can point to the session parameters and get things back on track.
I hand out the list of ground rules and explain that everyone, including myself, will be expected to abide by these rules for the duration of the session.
Examples of some rules are:
- Question to understand, but don’t criticize others’ ideas
- Avoid monopolizing discussions, by asking for input from others
- If you don’t understand something, or have a question, please ask
Explain to participants the ground rules (or whatever you want to get them acquainted with) are very important for the smooth-running of the session. Ask participants to quickly read the list of ground rules and let you know if they have any questions.
Ask participants to stand. Put them into groups. Any group size works, but 3 – 4 people per group is best. Explain that, in their groups, they should discuss the ground rules and reach consensus on the 3 ground rules they believe are most important for their development and smooth-running of the workshop. Give them a time limit and kick-off group discussions.
When discussions are complete ask each group to nominate a presenter. Explain to the presenters they need to come to the front of the class and present which ground rules their team selected and why.
The beauty of this activity is it gets participants up, moving around, and engaging in discussions early. Participants collaborate to reach consensus on their 3 items. They support their nominated team member when he or she delivers their first short presentation outlining the selected ground rules. Finally, the activity sets the tone for the workshop, ie. the participants will get the idea they are going to have to be engaged and active.
Original discussion style
Want to have your participants so engaged they will volunteer to lie on the floor, crawl under the conference table, or dance in class? Then, this is the activity for you. It keeps participants active and engaged throughout the day even if they have just come back from lunch and feeling sleepy.
Before we go any further, I should let you know that I can’t claim credit for this activity. The original idea comes from colleague of mine. It is an activity I observed him deliver, tried it once, and have used ever since.
To explain the setup of this activity we need some context. Let’s imagine your workshop is training to introduce some new privacy legislation. You have 3 new laws to introduce and it’s important people understand the holes in the current system these new laws will fix.
The holes in the current system are pretty much understood, but you would like to do an activity to discuss these first as a warm-up. The topic of the discussion is “what problems have you experienced with the current privacy rules?”
Explain to participants they will discuss the current privacy rules and what problems they have encountered. Participants should try to list at least 3 problems.
Divide participants into groups of 2 to 4 people.
Explain to participants they must choose an “original” discussion style for their group discussion. Explain a “discussion style” is the method of conducting a discussion. For example, the first discussion they had was sitting at their desks facing each other. They must now choose an “original” discussion style, a style they have not used before. For example, discussing while standing one leg. It must be original, can only be used once (ie. next “original” discussion style cannot be a repeat), and groups cannot copy each other.
Push participants to select their original discussion styles within 30 seconds. Once everyone has selected, they should get in position and commence their discussions.
It is important that participants be allowed to choose the style themselves. If they decide to crawl around on the floor on their own no problem, but you don’t want to instruct them to do crawl on the floor. Avoid instructing them to do anything crazy to avoid the wrath of HR. Remember to mix groups up regularly to best results.
This activity is great because it loosens up even the stiffest participants. Because you are closing off options each time you do this activity (they can’t do a style they’ve done before) the discussion styles get crazier and participants use creativity more and more. The relationship between each participant improves. As participants use their creativity and build relationships in class, their engagement naturally improves and the workshop runs more smoothly.
Which brings me to…
Unique and creative presentation
This activity is one that I created on-the-fly as a challenge to participants following their first attempt at the original discussion style activity.
They had taken to the original discussion style activity very quickly. At their first attempt, groups were doing very interesting discussion styles, such as singing while discussing, lying on the floor while discussing, etc.
Given their first attempt was so creative I was concerned that having them just report out their findings after their discussions would be a bit of an anti-climax. Maintaining momentum in the room was a high priority for me so I decided to try something new: The unique and creative presentation.
Following participants original discussions, I asked them to present their results in a unique and creative manner. The results were amazing with participants reporting their discussion results as street interviews, or presenting results as if they were presenting an irresistible product on a home shopping network.
Here’s how to set this activity up:
Participants are required to have something to report out about prior to the commencement of this activity, which is why this works well as a follow-up activity to “original discussion style”.
Explain to participants that you would like them to report out the results of their discussions. Explain that you don’t want them to simply report out by standing in front of the class and listing out the points discussed. You want them to do something creative!
Explain to participants they should report out their discussion results in a unique and creative way. They can do any kind of presentation they like but it must be unique and creative, and every member of their group must play a role.
Give participants a maximum of 2 minutes to come up with their presentation. Don’t worry if they say it’s not enough time. Let them know there are no prizes for perfection and improvization is okay.
This activity builds on their creativity and forces them to collaborate and come up with solutions together quickly. Often the presentations are quite funny, the whole workshop laughs, and it builds a stronger relationship throughout the session.
Please give these techniques a try in your training workshops. If you do try them, or you have other ideas I would love to hear from you in the comments below.