I love helping people and sharing what I know. This post is a way to do both–and will be of interest to individuals who are keen to build their facilitation skills. The “bigger” message is: (1) don’t dismiss your experience as insignificant and (2) share what you know, in ways you enjoy, because there are always people who can benefit!

A Strength: Workshop Facilitation

I regularly plan, design, and facilitate workshops and have extensive experience doing so as a result of my educational developer career. I didn’t recognize this as a strength, for many years, because most of my colleagues at the teaching and learning centre, where I work part-time, also have extensive workshop experience and solid skills. It is only in the past 5 years that I have acknowledged that facilitation was a unique skill of mine.

(Side note/thought bubble: Is there a chance you’re doing this too–i.e., dismissing something you have talents and experience in as “oh, that thing–everyone does that well, don’t they”?)

Recently, I was interviewed on the GradBlogger podcast about how to run effective in-person and online workshops (click here to listen to the episode). Below are 10 suggestions I shared during that conversation.

10 Tips

1. Clarify your understanding of the client’s needs

Often, the organizer will email you with a vague request. To learn more, have a conversation early on to ask about their needs: why did they contact you and what need are they trying to address by offering this workshop? I guarantee that your questions will help the client think through what they’re hoping the workshop will achieve.

2. Learn more about the workshop participants

Unless you send out a workshop survey to the participants ahead of the session, it is rare that you’ll have contact with the participants. You will, therefore, have to rely on what the organizer knows. Ask the organizer about the people who will be attending. Some of the things that are helpful to know are:

  • do the participants know each other?
  • are they accustomed to doing professional development activities together?
  • what are some of the typical methods of communication and interaction the participants are accustomed to?
  • is there any other information about the participants the organizer can share that can help you plan the workshop?

3. Based on what you learn above, determine the workshop learning objectives

Learning objectives will help you focus and design the details of your session. For sessions that last between 1-3 hours, I usually create 3-4 learning objectives. I normally share these on the workshop handout and also in pre-workshop messages that are sent to the participants.

4. Create a detailed session plan by starting with the end in mind

With your learning objectives front and centre, plan how you will support the participants in meeting these. You’ll need to decide what activities, resources, and steps will help the learners “get to” where you want them to go (based, of course, on what you and your client decided early on in the planning process).

As you write out your session plan for every part of the workshop, include what you will be doing, what the learners will be doing, and any resources you’ll need.

5. Have an accordion plan

The day of the workshop, things will rarely go exactly according to plan. For example, an idea you present may spark a lot of interest or un-anticipated questions, etc. That’s ok–nothing has gone wrong! In anticipation of this, make sure that your plan has built-in flexibility. Ahead of the workshop, identify sections you can cut or expand upon, as needed.

6. Build rapport with the participants before the workshop

In my experience, sending out 1-2 friendly messages ahead of time, to the participants, helps to build rapport and ease the participants’ comfort levels. Because this is important to me, I ask the client for permission to contact participants (either directly, or via the organizer) early on in our planning process. My messages to participants are brief and usually include:

  • a warm welcome (text or video)
  • a concise description of the purpose of the workshop (with a focus on “what’s in it for me, the participant?” and/or the learning objectives
  • pre-session tasks and estimated time of the tasks

7. Create resources to support learning

Resources may include presentation slides, handout(s), polls, and pre- and post- workshop messages. If you are offering your workshop in-person and can visit the workshop location, doing so is helpful in visualizing how you can use the space. If you are unable to visit the location, ask the organizer to send you photos or give you a video tour of the space.

8. Take notes on what actually transpired

During the session and shortly after the workshop, take notes of what actually happened during the session. For example, how long did an activity actually take, what time did you start X? You won’t have time for keeping detailed notes while you’re facilitating, but try to capture the basics of timing.

Soon after the workshop, reflect on how things went: include what worked well and what changes you might make if you were to offer the same workshop in the future. I add notes about items I needed to explain or set-up better/differently, questions that came up from the participants, ideas for next time, etc.

9. Evaluate and reflect

Prior to the session, I ask the organizer about their plans for evaluating the workshop. If it is a large organization, they often have a standard evaluation process in place. If the organizer has not planned their evaluation, you can co-create it so it is useful to you and the client.

Once you receive the results, reflect further on the implications for future workshop offerings. Make notes.

10. Give yourself enough time

Give yourself sufficient time to be able to plan the workshop as it will help you be confident in your design and facilitation on the day of.

Over to you

What about you? Do you have additional tips to share?

Please be in touch and let me know–it is always a pleasure to hear from you: isabeau@isabeauiqbal(dot)com

Photo credit: Tim Gouw from Pexels


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