This evening I thought I’d share a little workshop wisdom in the form of some top tips for keeping workshops fresh and interesting. Workshops can vary in length and when they are short it is often much easier to keep people interested and engaged. When they are longer, or when there are people who feel under pressure from time constraints or other problems, or when people perhaps don’t want to be in the workshop (it happens) it might be much harder to keep the momentum.

workshop attendees having fun

One of the main jobs of a facilitator is to keep your participants engaged and motivated. So here are a few things to pay attention to:

1) Build in some kind of physical activity to keep people moving. This doesn’t have to be some crazy ice breaker game, or dancing, or role play. It could simply be getting people to move from one table to another, or to take turns in presenting or moving cards around on a wall. Physical activity keeps people fresh.

2) If possible (and this is not always easy) try to hold the workshop in a light and airy environment away from lots of noise and distraction. I did a workshop a couple of months ago where we had the noise of drilling from builders downstairs. We got though it, probably in part because the participants were keen and motivated in the first place, but extra distractions can really put people off. Fresh air and perhaps some greenery in the room often make things just that little bit easier.

3) Have a range of planned activities. There are a million and one facilitation tools and techniques and practice and experience allows you to build up a good ‘bag of tricks’ to choose from. Doing any one activity for too long can be boring – it’s as simple as that, but even if you are working on the same topic for along time you can still use a range of different activities. It could be as simple as using cards first and then changing to flip chart paper, it is good to mix it up a bit.

4) If people are sat down at tables, sometimes it is good to provide ‘fiddle toys’. These can be odd little toys that you may find in a pound shop, or puzzles, or even something to doodle with. All sorts of studies show that fiddling or doodling somehow can get the creative parts of our brains going. It also helps keep people alert.

plasticine in workshop

5) Give participants snacks! I am a big fan of biscuits personally, although it has been pointed out to me that the sugar crash element post biscuit consumption may  be detrimental to staying focused. Fruit and nuts then – whatever you choose snacks can keep people going.

6) Mix people up. This very much depends on the participants and sometimes there is not much scope to be able to do this. If possible though it is good to get participants working in different pairs, groups, and teams throughout the workshop. Fresh ideas often come from working with new faces. Moving people around also alleviates  clashes where you may inadvertently have put people together who really don’t get along, or don’t feel happy to be open in front of each other. These participants will have the opportunity to work with someone new.

7) Always have some extras up your sleeve. A good facilitator makes workshops look easy. In fact they are quite the opposite, and can go horribly wrong if they are not well planned. It is best to spend a lot of time planning and preparing for a workshop so you have a whole host of ideas at the ready. Being able to “wing it” when necessary and manage those situation where things don’t go according to plan is only possible if you have done the preparation right. Have some extra activities to fall back on, sometimes participants don’t show up, you are in a different location to the one you had planned for, or the time gets cut short. Be prepared as the Girl Guides say!

8) Have fun. This is sometimes easier said than done, but participants respond much better to someone who is energetic and enthusiastic, rather than dry and serious, or even worse nervous. Obviously this depends on who the workshop is for and if you are facilitating a high level corporate board meeting then you don’t want to act the clown. You also don’t want to be telling inappropriate jokes or dancing around the room. But take stock of your participants, try to get a feel for them and be yourself, try to relax a bit and a few carefully chosen anecdotes or asides can sometimes make all the difference.

So there is a small selection of some of the things that might make doing a workshop a little bit easier. If anyone does give them a try I’d be interested to see how they got on and what difference they have made to you!

My Workshop Essentials on line course will be launching soon…..so watch this space.

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