Workshops that make a difference

Workshops have been the go-to development tool; but their effectiveness is always questionable

Updated: Mar 21, 2018 05:44:00 PM UTC
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All of us have been there and done that – Workshops. But their effectiveness is always questionable. It follows the same old method of conveying a message like verbal diarrhoea. This is what diverts the focus of the audience from the workshop to the fancy food and beverages waiting in the dining area. It is high time that organisers realise that workshop is not a lecture. It is not a place to talk non-stop and boast about oneself. It is about making your audience experience the learnings first-hand by getting things done.

Those who evolved with the changing circumstances managed to carve a place for themselves. Those who didn’t adapt became just another namesake workshop conductor. Expert speakers must utilise their skills and knowledge to add value to the audience. Here are some key things to keep in mind to make your workshop unique and effective.

Define the goals clearly First things first, jot down the target to be achieved. To hit the bull’s eye, the centre of dartboard has to be highlighted. In order to define goals perfectly, seek answers to three questions. Where are you now? Where do you want to reach? And how will you reach there? This will help create a roadmap and milestones.

Venue matters
Where you conduct the workshop can largely impact the attention of your audience. One of the deciding factors is the headcount, the other being the topic. If you have to do a team-building workshop for 50 people, do not be confined to a four-wall meeting room. Take them to a lawn or an open ground. Before finalising, also consider the logistical arrangements you may need. Equipment, activity kits, white boards, accessibility, accommodation, etc.

Develop right content
Your content has to be like water. It should take the shape of whatever it is put into. The content for your workshop needs to be structured. It must progress seamlessly from one point to another. You cannot jump from talking about risk management to change management. Include non-verbal content as well. Prepare your visual aids and cue cards. Make a list of group discussion topics, activities and time allocated. The content of your workshop has the power to make or break it.

Break the ice
Talking about breaking, always begin with an ice-breaker. Your audience does not know you and neither do you know them. Play a game, get them involved, be a part of the activity, build a rapport. You are there to answer questions and listen to issues of the employees. Adorn the role of a confidante and not just a mentor or a speaker. They must be able to share those facts with you which they are not comfortable sharing with others. Example: A workshop on communication skills must also address the communication gaps in the organization. Your audience should confide in you about these gaps.

Tell stories, not speeches
The logic is simple. Speeches put the audiences to sleep, while stories grab more attention. These could be real-life or fictional stories. Your job as a workshop conductor is not to lecture the audience. Your role is to enable learning through examples. The audience must associate the characters in the story with themselves. The moment they connect, half your job is done. Now you have the power to steer them through the path leading to the destination you want.

Make it interactive
Ensure that the communication is both ways. Use chart papers, colours, sketch pens, prototypes, etc. You can begin by informing the audience how to undertake the task and what steps to take. Then, form groups and give them real-life situations. Let them solve and overcome those problems. Once completed, discuss the solutions; ask them about the pain points and their learning. Encourage them to share similar situations they faced in work life. Think of unique tasks for every topic on your agenda. Each exercise must teach a certain skill to the employees.

Attention to detail
Right from planning your agenda to executing it on the D-day, check everything down to the last detail. Form groups with a mix of employees from different teams. Make sure the group size is not too big. The shy ones may be overshadowed. You also want to avoid social loafing. Decide on how the groups will present their work – on the stage, from their place, with or without a microphone, on chart paper/OHP/PPT. Decide on the time for each exercise including the discussion, presentation and question answers. Draft and share a detailed agenda with the corporate. In case, someone from senior management plans to visit, they know when to be there.

Keep the audience at the centre
Let the audience be the hero, and you take the role of a supporting hero. Make everyone comfortable. You have to just guide them throughout the workshop. The whole idea is to not be at the centre. Be a facilitator. Oversee how the groups are undertaking the exercise. Encourage non-contributors to participate. Keep a watch on the watch. If a group has divulged from the objective, bring them back on track. Ask questions, such that solutions come from the employees. You can play a game like 20 questions.

Take regular breathers
Even if you have only 3 hours in hand, take a break at halftime. Do not consider this as a waste of time. It actually helps the audiences rejuvenate. A break of 10 minutes gives them enough time to stroll in the lobby, freshen up, get their dose of caffeine and gain some renewed energy. Treat this as a time for them to bounce back. But yes, be very clear about the break time. Often, 10-minute breaks are extended to 30-minute intervals.

End with a to-do task
After the question answer round, don’t just end with a thank you. Give them individual tasks at the end. You could give them a case study or a puzzle. Ask them to post their solutions and responses on a link or an email. Set the ball rolling for them to put on their thinking caps.

Depending on the target audience and subject being covered, your efforts may vary. A workshop on leadership will address strategic issues. On the other hand, a workshop for mid-level employees on change management will address the tactics to welcome change. Adapt yourself as needed and get creative to conduct efficient and effective workshops.

By Asif Upadhye, Director, Never Grow Up ®

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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