Want more engaging workshops? Here are our top 5 workshop tips!

After having facilitated hundreds of workshop and training sessions, I have come up with my own system which works like a charm every time. But that definitely took a while to master, and I’m excited to give you my best tips now. This list was written with 1 to 4 hour workshop sessions in mind. By workshop I mean a facilitated training session that actively engages the participants. Here are the questions you should ask yourself in order:


1. Is a workshop or a training really necessary at this time with those participants?

Are you adding value to the participants’ time, or are you doing it because of an old habit, because it’s already been scheduled, or because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

If your entire session can be summarized in an email which will have the same effect as you verbally presenting the details, I would advise you to save everyone’s time and create an article or a newsletter instead. Also, with regular or pre-scheduled workshops, if you keep finding yourself wondering how to fill in the allocated time, that’s a red flag showing you should either decrease the time slot of thesession, or drop it completely and revisit the need for it. Let’s be honest, the last thing you want is for your workshop to become one of those “this meeting could have been an email” memes.

If you need help determining what approach would be best suited for your company’s needs, contact us here!  


2. Start from the end – what’s the end goal of the session?

The easiest way to determine the goal is by answering the question: what do we want the participants to leave with? Perhaps a better understanding of a new process, or the feeling that they have been heard, or the satisfaction of having provided valuable insights? The purpose of workshops is usually more closely related to employee engagement than a training would be.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen (and made) with pre-scheduled monthly sessions was to take all the information I had for the month that I had to cover, and then structure my session around it. Why is this a poor approach? You easily lose the goal and purpose of the session if you focus on a bunch of details and your biggest concern is how to spit them all out in the allocated time. At each step of the planning and creation process, ask yourself - would that add to the purpose of the session in a meaningful way or not?

My advice is to write down what you want to achieve with this particular workshop first, and organize the information and structure around it. Say you have a new process to communicate to your employees. If your end goal is to present the new procedure and get them to understand it better as a hard skill that’s one thing (more of a training), if your end goal is to make your trainees feel valuable and improve your retention, that’s a totally different structure you should aim for (more of a workshop).


3. Keep it short and simple and allow for discussion time – people need sufficient breaks in between!

Team managers are often under the impression their employees need to have 100% of their time booked and utilized, including the period while they’re in training or any other instructor-led session. This approach is quite ineffective though. Why?

Research by Dianne Dukette and David Cornish (2009) uncovered that adults can only sustain attention for about 20 minutes. The same study uncovered that the short-term response to the stimulus that attracts attention is only 8 seconds. What this means is that you only have eight seconds to get the employee’s attention, and if the instruction or information that you’re presenting takes more than 20 minutes, you’ve lost them. (source: trainingindustry.com) Even by keeping track of these instructions, the average learner starts to get distracted in 40-60 minutes overall. Once you’ve exhausted this time-frame, you need to give your learners a break.

My recommendation is to structure your content with this rule in mind, especially if you are doing it in a digital environment. In addition, try to actively planfor discussion points which will engage your participants and time these segments during the session to avoid extending the session. Which brings me to my next point:


4. Attitude – be open and receptive, but still incharge.

No matter how open and discussion-based your workshop is, you need to be in charge of the event and set the frame. This means – you start and end on time, you time your segments, you make sure everyone who wants to speak gets the chance to do so. Some people mistake this approach for micromanagement but that’s not what we want. In order to make your participants feel safe and relaxed in the meeting, they need to feel like someone is structuring the meeting for them.

If you skip this step you risk to have your session derailed by one or a couple of attendees, and more importantly – you risk having most of your participants feel unnoticed and insignificant which is the last thing you would want if your goal is to increase their level of engagement.


5. Make your attendees want to participate!

One of the worst things I have personally seen during a workshop is directing questions specifically towards participants who don’t wish to speak up or have nothing to say. Psychologically, that’s a big no-no. You make everyone in the room feel like they are back in high school and their least favourite teacher is cross-examining them.

Instead, I would suggest making people want to speak up as opposed to you pressuring them to participate. Refer back to point 4 - as a facilitator, I cannot stress this enough – your mood sets the scene. Make sure you feel open and receptive yourself before you expect it from others. They will always mirror your energy to a certain extent because as the facilitator you are the authority figure in the situation. Stay tuned for our article with tips on how to set your mood and intention to match what you need from your meeting, training, or any interaction online or in real life.

In addition, make sure to verbally express your openness and the details of the workshop format. Never assume the audience knows what to expect – this is never the case. Each participant will have their own perception which may or may not match your plan. You need to communicate it at the start of each session.


Martina Simonyan