So how are your workshop skills? How do you write that workshop that is interactive and engaging?
Do you struggle with the thought of getting all of those ideas down? Working out how long it will take in real practice and whether your audience will still be awake by the end of it?
As trainers/groupwork facilitators we can be pretty tough on ourselves and feel like we have to be all things to all people. This is true to some extent as an inspirational learning environment in the form of a workshop does does have it's own requirements to be inclusive, engaging and spark the interest of all. But just how do we do this?
We all have the potential to be first rate trainers and facilitators and this is what I wanted to tap into!
I was asked recently by a website designer to write a workshop about writing and running a workshop. Just as I was posting out the advert I had a request from an amazing design business say 'I need this and I need it now'! So gulp! I thought - how quickly can I put it on? I thought it might be helpful to write a blog about my experiences to help your design and delivery process.
Now the thing is I have been in the business of groupwork coaching and training since the year 2000, running about 1600 workshops in that time. However Mariposa Coaching, my private practice started up in 2015 and although I had run workshops in that time in the Spring of 2017 I had not at this point helped others to write and run theirs. Yet!
So good coffee - check yes! Prep space - everyone left the house and gave me some quiet - thanks fam. Reading - lots of reading. It is worth blocking off time for you to help you with the creative process and also to know when the best time is for you to get into the 'flow'. You might feel like an early bird? Or maybe a night owl? Choose the best time for you. Get support like I have with my family to give me some quiet time that might be helpful for you too.
So what do you need? Props? Items to appeal to our kinesthetic needs? Not everyone enjoys the written word and in the true nature of diversity it is worth having a few different techniques up your sleeves. I remember a workshop I did where I brought in woolly mammouth hair, sand a jar and ping pong balls.
In writing my workshop on how to write & runa a workshop I needed for example: powerpoint, images, juggling balls, mad hatter tea party hat, flipcharts, post- it notes....you will adapt your materials to appeal to your USP (unique selling point) or style.
The chinese proverb reads 'I hear I forget, I see I remember. I do I understand'.
So learning by doing feels to me key to an effective workshop however we all have different learning styles. So in order to create an inspiring learning environment it has to be all about the participants.
Richard Nelson Jones, Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, in his work on lifeskill groups who uses the term leaders of the group. He states the importance of being 'sensitive to how learning experiences are understood and received'. So it is important to enable those putting on workshops or group session to consider their audience and make it about them. The whole process feels a little like a journey, as in my Alice in Wonderland theme I often use in my marketing, creating and designing a workshop is just like taking someone on a journey.
So what else do you need? A Map! or some trainers refer to a session plan to help them guide through the process. I like the idea of a map as it appeals to the visual learners.
In this workshop I designed the idea of a map so whilst I was running the workshop on how to run a workshop I could assist my participants with a map of their workshop and help them each part of the way. As workshop designers we are not so much in search of a ring but more in search of how to create that dynamic/ inspirational engaging workshop!
It helps to use a true person/participant centred fashion to provide an inclusive and engaging learning environment in which the genius of all participants is sparked and helps participants to develop their skills. In participant centered training learning is never one-way; there is an exchange between everyone involved, so it is worth including opportunities for exercises which spark off discussions. This means that everyone learns from one another in unexpectedly rich ways.
So what makes a workshop dynamic? Enthusiasm, confidence and knowlege would all be part of this. Also interaction! So the job of a groupwork practitioner is also to empower participants to recognise and work to their strengths and uniqueness, know the objectives and outcomes of the workshop and the skills you want your participants to take away with them. Also it is important to truly understand learning needs as mentioned above and knowing HOW the workshop would cover all needs.
Let's consult Richard Nelson Jones again he says
'leaders perceiving that participants show little energy for or interest in specific structured activities can check their perceptions with the group. Leaders require sensitivity to individual differences in learning styles and attention spans'..they 'rarely if ever allow participants to be passive for long periods of time. Active participation covers thinking as well as doing.' So don't forget to ask how people are getting on!
In participant centered training, your group members gain actual skills – they expand their own skill set as a result of participating in practice sessions led by the trainers and by other participants. So you are wanting to help others to apply new principles and practices. In short you are providing a transformative experience - just like the mariposa (butterfly) to create an atmosphere of change. You will have an idea of what your workshop is about according to whether you want to showcase your skills, have participants learn new skills but ultimately it is about empowering others. In my workshop on how to run a workshop I was helping others to enhance their skills to write a workshop and then know how to run it which was pretty inspiring.
So reflecting back on experience so far now I have been running these workshops for a while I am pleased to have had had some really inspiring feedback and it has been a joy hearing about the workshops that are being created. In the workshops we have fun with warm ups and learn the difference between an ice breaker and a warm up. In one session I used the desert island warm up, in another a superpower! We all considered our answers but limiting it to 3 things was tricky!. So when you are designing yours it is worth thinking about what you will use to break the ice and start the learning process off. What would work for you?
I ask participants to put what they want to get out of the workshop in the 'mad hatter's hat' and read them out as they went in. In reflecting back on what is more tricky for those about to run their workshop it was quickly discovered that ideas were not a problem but one of the challenges is to get something down on paper - to get that workshop written. So after some background theory the participants got down with their map and started to create. It felt like it was a wonderful experience. It also was helpful to include a section on overcoming any barriers and pitfalls that can arise with group dynamics.
By the end of the workshops participants had designed their map of the workshop, could define the rationale behind it and started to look at activities they wanted to use. They displayed interest in the theory behind keeping 'all the balls in the air' to be responsive to needs of their potential participants and that of the workshop as a whole.
I receive feedback that confidence is something that often needs a boost when we are taking that step of running our own workshops. Confidence is also something that you want to pass onto your participants. It is important to help those on your training to understand and appreciate what they are good at and develop areas that need more attention using the skills provided.
It has been really helpful to provide follow up coaching post workshop and have discussions about progress, discuss the structure, share tips about local venues and generally help with motivation to get those workshops out there. Have a think about what follow up you might provide and don't forget to use evaluation forms and further contact so that you are there for your participants after the session as well as during. This really helps with that support process and there maybe follow up questions. I look forward to reading all about the workshops that will come out of my training! I hope this blog has provided you with some insights and ideas and good luck with yours.
If you are interested in How to write and run an interactive creative workshop I have a workshop in designing and creating your own coming up www.mariposacoaching.co.uk/workshops or book at eventbrite.
Thanks for reading!
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