I think I’ve mentioned before that the strangest place I have given a workshop was in a client’s kitchen. It was in an office, and an open plan office at that. So there was quiet a bit of space. The client was in the middle of moving into the office which is why we ended up there. Not ideal, but I like a challenge!
I have also given workshops in a church, a stately home, hotels, some state of the art training rooms, several community centres, classrooms, an entrance hall, a front room, and a whole variety of office spaces. Some of these were wonderful venues, some less so. Sometimes a venue might initially seem to be brilliant, but then turn out not to be. At the end of the day you can be in the finest venue in the land, and still have a duff workshop. But a good venue does help, it’s so much easier when your physical space is right.
Some of my more tricky experiences with venues have included:
- Not being allowed to stick things on the wall even when I had said that I needed to be able to.
- Ceiling fans blowing Post it notes off the walls (this was in the sweltering heat in Lumbini in Nepal and not a problem I have encountered since!)
- Not being able to move the furniture around (very heavy)
- Not being able to open windows (stuffy)
- Bad acoustics (large echoey room)
- Heating that can’t be turned off (or turned on!)
- Over zealous catering (hotel staff coming in and out of the workshop with immense frequency to top up water on tables, clear up coffee etc)
- Geese making goose noises outside
- Seagulls tapping on the window
- Drilling going on in an office next door
Some of these things I would put down to “unforeseen circumstances” – you can’t predict everything (no one told the geese there was a workshop!). In truth, even if you do ask the right questions and think you have covered everything, where you hold a workshop is not always completely under your control. Often it is the client that books a venue, or more commonly may want to use their own space. So a desire for clean clear walls that you can happily plaster in workshop ‘stuff’ is not always an option. If you are putting on an open workshop, you may have the freedom to choose, but much of the time you will also have a range of budget, time and availability constraints. So getting the venue right is not always that simple…..
So what do you need to think about? Here are some of my top things to think about:
1) Walls. There is no doubt about it, I get very excited when I see lots of empty wall space in a workshop venue. For me this means I can stick up pieces of flip chart paper, cards, bits of paper, post it notes and all sorts of other workshop “stuff” all over the walls. I am never more pleased that when I see all of our work plastering the walls.
TOP TIP: Check you are actually allowed to stick things up with blue tac or whatever your chosen sticky stuff is. If you can’t, you might want to check out something like magic whiteboard.
2) Space to move around. I am very keen on movement in my workshops. Even a little bit is good. Even if it just to go and write something down on a flip chart, or to swap places with someone. If there is space for break out groups, and to get people mixing up and moving around then I am very happy.
TOP TIP: Most venues will have a maximum capacity for the room ie the number of people they will allow in that room. However that number may only be possible with a given room layout (the way the tables and chairs are arranged). Always ask about this.
3) Furniture. This follows on from 2. I like to be able to be creative with the space I am using and it’s much better if the tables aren’t bolted down (or more likely bolted to each other), too heavy to move or not the right quantity for what I need (too many is as bad as too few). Chairs tend to be less problematic but equally it’s much better if they are not too heavy to move, too comfy (remember I like movement!) or in fact just too many. I have done many workshops sitting on cushions on the floor – there is nothing that says you have to have chairs and tables!
TOP TIP: Check how many tables and chairs are available and what type they are and ask for them to be set up the way you want them prior to the workshop.
4) Acoustics. While it is not always possible to block out external distractions such as traffic (or geese) it really helps if the acoustics inside the room are good. If you are delivering a participatory and engaging workshop (the best kind!) with movement, hopefully a lot of discussion and potentially even some laughter, a room with a lot of echo can really make your ears ring.
TOP TIP: Visit the venue beforehand and make some noise to see what it sounds like.
5) Lighting. Good natural light is brilliant for workshops, strip lights or poor lighting in general is not. Especially when you are writing things down, and reading things from a distance, bad light can be a real headache (literally).
TOP TIP: Check the lights actually work!
6) Accessibility. There is no real excuse these days for us not to think about this. If you have someone will additional physical needs attending your workshop they need to be able to comfortably get into the building and the room you are in. If they can’t then you will look stupid to say the least.
TOP TIP: Ask the venue about accessibility and what help is available if needed. Remember accessibility does not just stop at physical needs…..
7) Outside space. Is there any? Depending on the weather it’s often nice to be able to get outside when you are doing a workshop, even if it’s just for a short while. Even better if you are able to actually do some of your workshop outside.
TOP TIP: If there isn’t much outside space, check out what there is available so you can let participants know where they can grab some fresh air.
8) Parking. This will be an important question for all your participants – is there somewhere to park? Even if this is only on street parking, make sure you have thought about where people can go. You don’t want participants to be late because they have spent hours trying to park.
TOP TIP: Check the nearest cycle racks, bus stops and train stations too – not everyone will come by car.
9) Those little extras. Sometimes a venue may have brilliant facilities and a wonderful light airy room with fabulous walls. But it might still look a bit dull. You can always take some things to brighten things up, for example flowers for the tables, table cloths or pictures for the walls.
TOP TIP: If you are bringing extra things into the venue, see if you can make use of them in some way within your workshop, even if they are just a talking point.
Choosing the right venue can be time consuming, but it is important to dedicate some energy to thinking about it. You don’t want too many surprises, you want things to run as smoothly as possible. You want your physical space to be appropriate both for both you and your participants. Good planning and preparation are vital for a good workshop and finding a good venue is a part of that.
What are your own workshop venue tips?