Dos and Don’ts for Great Workshops

Every workshop facilitator is different, and every group needs a different approach, but these handy hints could help when planning and delivering a great workshop.

Dos

Practice makes perfect

If you’re planning a workshop, you can always try out activities on your colleagues. For instance, if you’ve created a ‘Plan Your Research’ tool, ask someone in the office to fill it out, check whether it works and how long it takes them.

Timed agenda

Make an agenda with detailed timing. This way, if there are multiple facilitators at the workshop there’ll all know how long things are supposed to take.

Timekeeping facilitator

If you have the luxury of having more than one facilitator, then appoint a timekeeper. It’s best if the time-keeper is not the main workshop facilitator as they’ll already have a lot to think about and keep track of.

Schedule lots of (long) breaks

It’s important to give people time to breath during the workshop, to have a cup of tea and relax. It’s also important for people to know when the next break is, so that they feel comfortable, you could simply put it on a piece of paper on the wall. Schedule long breaks in case one of your activities runs over.

Audience appropriate

Tailor the location of the workshop and the activities to suit the needs of your participants. If the workshop is for young people make sure that; it’s short, it’s in an easily accessible environment and it doesn’t interfere with exams or other important commitments. Similarly, if you’re working with new parents you’ll need to think about childcare needs. If you’re not sure what location or activities your target audience will enjoy, then schedule a call with one of them before the workshop and ask them what they think of your agenda and location.

Back up activities

Occasionally you have a group of workshop participants who are so on-the-ball they get everything done in half the time. Make sure you have a few activities up your sleeve for if this happens. We recommend; Never Have I Ever, the game where everyone stands in a circle. The person in the center says ‘Never Have I Ever… spoke to a friend about mental health’. Everyone who has spoken to a friend about mental health swaps places. The last person to find a place asks the next ‘Never Have I Ever…’.

Share the workshop

Unless you’re running a top secret workshop, it’s a good idea to encourage people to share what they’re doing at the workshop. If it’s a big workshop or one in a series you could even create a hashtag that everyone uses. If you’re doing this, make the wifi code known to everyone.

Laptops away

People might be tempted to check their emails during the workshop. We recommend having a no laptops policy, so that people are present physically and spiritually at the workshop. You could suggest putting phones away too, unless it’s to share the workshop on social media!

Capturing

Capture the flavour of the day with photographs, quotes, voice recording and video. It’s important to capture what people say in their own words, so noting down quotes is the most important thing. It’s up to you whether you feel photos and video are appropriate, but they are very useful when sharing your work with people in reports, talks, meetings and funding applications.

Experience

Think about what your participants are getting out of the experience. Are they learning something? Are they getting an opportunity to meet others or share their experience? Make sure you balance your intentions with what they might want. For instance, if you know you need to do a complex mapping activity that might not be fun but is important, make the next activity something that they gain skills from, or have fun doing.

Feedback

Give people an opportunity to share how the workshop went anonymously. Put two pieces of paper on the wall asking ‘What went well?’ ‘What did you learn?’ ‘What would you change?’ and ask people to put a post it note on each. If you take the feedback on board then every workshop you do you’ll get better at facilitating.

Don’ts

Focus on outcomes

The most important part of running a workshop, focus group or meeting is that everyone in the room is safe, happy and having fun. If you prioritise the workshop outcomes over people’s wellbeing the data you collect will be less useful.

Cram too much into the agenda

It’s hard to get everyone in one room sometimes, so once you do it’s tempting to cram a lot into the agenda. You’re better off having less activities to give people room to chat and feel comfortable. Think about one key think you want to get out of the day.

Take it too seriously

Remember that great facilitation comes with practice, it’s OK to not be amazing at it every time. And what makes a great facilitator anyway? Just someone who is enthusiastic about the workshop they’re facilitating. So you can’t go wrong!

Written by

Service designer, eager to use design to reduce inequality and influence positive social change.

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