Workshop Essentials – One year on and going strong

As we seem to be hurtling fast towards the end of the year, I find that I am already starting to reflect on what I’ve been up to these past 12 months. A lot has happened, but one very important thing sticks out – the fact that Workshop Essentials is one year old!

first birthday

November 2015 was when I held my first workshop, attended by a group of 8 people at the Easton Business Centre. While I have designed and delivered many different workshops in my time, this was the first time I had created an open workshop; one that people had to sign up to come to. The majority of my workshops are in house and the participants (usually staff members) are all organised for me by the client. I had no idea if anyone would come, whether I had the skills to market my workshops or whether enough people wanted to learn how to do a workshop in the first place. But like many of these things, you just have to give it a go and see what happens…….

The workshop itself was born out of conversations with a number of different people, mostly small business owners about the best ways to do workshops. Commonly there would be questions about ice breakers and activities, as well as confidence in putting a workshop together, and how to keep people interested. So, my informal research told me that yes, there were people out there wanting to learn about workshops. While I would happily talk workshop all day, it’s much easier to show you. If you want to learn a new ice breaker you might as well see it in action. If you want to know how to get a great discussion going it’s more memorable if you have been part of one. And if it’s about confidence then a good place to start is arming yourself with the right knowledge in the first place.

So, the idea to hold a workshop, on how to do workshops moved from being a niggling idea at the back of my brain, into a reality.

I have now run 4 of these workshops, so let’s see how they are going:

Who came?

While I aimed this at small business owners (as this is where my conversations started), I found that they actually only made up about 70% of the participants. The businesses they came from were: styling, nutrition, coaching, social media, PR, marketing, interior design, health and wellbeing, business process improvement, law, web design and IT.

But I also had several people from charities, representing: refugees, dementia research, back to work and unemployment, and families in need.

As well as some public sector workers.

So – my evaluation tells me that there are in fact a broad cross section of people wanting to know about workshops. Although the most heavily represented sector so far has most definitely been social media and marketing and digital/IT work.

I have kept the numbers to 10 people as I think this strikes a good balance between getting a good participatory buzz, and allowing time for me to give everyone 1:1 attention on their workshop plans.

What did people think?

I have been fortunate to have consistently great feedback from my workshops, which is definitely something I feel proud of! Let’s face it, if the feedback has been rubbish I would’ve stopped long ago. If you’d like to view some testimonials, there are some here and here and a little sample below:

“Helene delivered a fabulous workshop on how to hold a workshop. I learned so much as a beginner. Helene is easy to talk to and very knowledgeable too” Katy Batt, Realistic Holistic

I would like to let you into a secret though – it’s not 100% positive, there were areas for improvement. The first time I put on the workshop I ran out of time, or rather I rushed the workshop along to fit all the content in. One of the participants felt a bit overwhelmed and I realised that while I wanted to tell everyone all that I know, there just isn’t enough time in half a day.

Lesson learnt: I cut out some of the workshop that I thought was interesting, but not essential (like the title of the workshop suggests!). It all fits together beautifully now but it is a good example of something I tell people all the time – don’t put too much content in, less is more…..I did consider creating a whole day, but instead created a Part II (The Workshop Toolkit) to do in conjunction with Workshop Essentials, or as a stand alone half day in itself.

What did the participants learn?

Of course not everyone who came on my workshop was a complete beginner, some of the participants had put on workshops already, they just wanted to do them better. But here are some examples of what people have said they’ve taken on board and what they have done with it:

Confidence to deal with difficult people: One of the participants told me a short while ago that she had had a “difficult person” to deal with at an event. Having been on the workshop, she coped fine having followed my advice. Dealing with “awkward customers” is something we discuss on the workshop.

Learning to be “reactive”: I think that doing a participatory workshop is taking a bit of a leap into the unknown at first because you don’t know what questions will come from the participants, and you don’t know where discussions will go. Of course it’s easier to be in complete control of the situation and just deliver information to people. But it’s not nearly as effective. Although I hadn’t quite seen it in those terms, one of my participants described this as being “reactive” or being able to react to what might come at you from your participants. If you know your subject, and you create a robust workshop you will be able to react well.

Ending the workshop (and next steps): One important topic we cover is ending your workshop. Ending of course is important to tie everything together in a nice tidy package for your participants to go home with. So they feel things have finished properly. But it’s also important for those “next steps”. You need to ensure that accountability and commitment and the “effect of the workshop” continues well after the workshop has ended. This has been a key learning point for a couple of the people who have attended my workshops.

next steps

Getting on with actually putting on a workshop in the first place: Most of the people who come on the workshop are content specialists. They know very well what they are talking about, they have a wealth of knowledge. But converting that knowledge into a particular format, like a workshop can feel like a huge challenge, especially if you’ve never done it before. I wanted the workshop to enable people to bring their ideas and work through them to see how possible they could be. Several people have said that coming along has enabled them to get their ideas together and get on with it!

Other things that people said were the “best bits” of the workshop were:

A framework/structure to plan a workshop

The handout/workbook

Importance of interactivity and ways to engage people

Hearing other people’s ideas

Each time I do Workshop Essentials it’s new and exciting. I have new participants come to join in and find out how to do amazing workshops, and in turn I get to hear all about their workshop plans. As a self confessed workshop geek, this is all rather thrilling! I love it when people have those lightbulb moments, when people “get it” and when people laugh. If there is laughter, then I know they are enjoying it. If there are questions, I know I’ve got their attention. If there are discussions, I know there are ideas igniting. You can feel when you get a workshop right and I love that feeling.

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the workshops that are being held by my “graduates”, here are a couple I’d like to mention:

Carly Lightbrown and Claire Stone have their Eat Happy workshop next week.

Shereen Pasha has her Business Bootcamp coming up next month, with Becs Miller as a guest speaker

What next?

Of course I am all set to put another batch of workshop enthusiasts through their paces, so if that sounds like you you then please don’t miss out. I have both my Workshop Essentials and The Workshop Toolkit taking place on 12th January 2017.

I am always thinking of new things to add to my workshops, so watch this space…..

 

The Serious Business of Having Fun.

What do you find fun?

One person’s idea of fun is not necessarily the same as the next person’s, but the idea of fun, the notion, the feeling, the concept is pretty universal. It’s that positive experience of being entertained, amused, fulfilled, even overflowing with enthusiasm and excitement. It’s something that makes you laugh.

FUN!

However you define it, it’s incredibly important. Apart from the being part of what makes us human, there is an obvious link between enthusiasm, excitement and getting, holding and maintaining our interest. When we are fully on board, involved and engaged then our interest is held. When our interest is captured, we work much better, we envelope ourselves in what we are doing and achieve far better results. We are more likely to discover that inner creative genius and perhaps have a few lightbulb moments along the way.

There is of course a delicate balance to be struck, too much of a good thing can in itself be distracting. Just doing things because you are having a good time is not taking fun seriously. But if our enjoyment of something, our sense of fun can be captured and channelled in a particular direction to learn something new, complete a task or work with others to create something incredible then that’s productive fun. That’s good fun.

And workshops can be fun, if you do them right. Whether you are doing a workshop to disseminate information in an interactive way, or creating that convivial and cheerful environment to work through some important ideas, you need to get people on board. And a great way to do this is make it enjoyable.

You don’t have to be funny to have fun, and fun doesn’t necessarily mean a rip-roaring, side-splitting constant stream of entertainment. But it does mean doing your best to create the right kind of environment so that people in your workshop have a gratifying and compelling experience.

So how can this be achieved, well – here are a few top tips:

  1. Include some activities – whether these are games that you have made up or tried and tested training or facilitation tools, creating some activities is a good way to inject a bit of fun into a situation. They don’t have to be crazy balloon up your jumper type games, but a few activities will at the very least be interesting, especially if they are new to people.
  2. Ice-breakers and energisers are specifically designed to break down barriers and inject some energy into the room. Try some, but remember not everyone feels comfortable doing super crazy activities, so try a simple one as a starter until you know your participants better.
  3. New things in themselves can be fun – introduce a few things that participants might not have seen before or heard of. Ask people to share their own new things.
  4. Be different – thinking “outside the box” may inspire and motivate people to want more. If everyone uses slides, can you be a bit different? If it’s common to quote certain examples, can you find some new ones, perhaps some that are amusing and will stick in people’s minds?
  5. Encourage people to tell their own stories, or recount their own experiences. Hearing new ideas can be stimulating and fun.
  6. Variety – when we learn we all do it slightly differently. We cannot predict what will be fun for everyone. So mix it up, try different things, include a good selection.
  7. Tell some stories or use anecdotes. They don’t have to be lengthy or even that gripping, but a good story can be fun to listen to and creates an interest in the topic.
  8. If you are feeling brave – try a little humour. Most people have a sense of how their own humour goes down with friends and family, and if you get bad feedback, then maybe this is not your calling. But if you get a few laughs, try it out. Think about who you are aiming it and and whether it will go down well or not, and prepare to be surprised. Sometimes you think your participants might not appreciate humour, but even the most corporate faces like to laugh once in a while.
  9. Learn to laugh at yourself. While it is good to avoid Frank Spencer type moments, sometimes things can go wrong. Whether it is a flip chart stand collapsing or some materials that you’ve left behind – creating a positive out of a negative can often be turned to your advantage. And if such moments are all too awkward at the time, save the story for your next workshop……….
  10. Enjoy yourself! If you are relaxed and happy your participants will be more likely to be too and happy participants who feel positive about the workshop content is what it’s all about.
Workshop Laughter

Workshop Laughter

If you want to add a bit of pizzazz to your workshops or need a injection of some new activities, then come to one of my workshops  – they’re good fun and I promise not to tell any bad jokes. Or contact me to find out more about the types of facilitation work I do and how I can work with the people in your organisation in a fun and enjoyable way.

 

How do you use Questions?

When you ask a question you want the answer, don’t you*? Of course, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to ask the question in the first place. But it’s not always as simple as that…..

It is true that when we ask questions we are usually looking to obtain information about something,  “what time does the workshop start?” might be a good example. We don’t know something so we ask to find out, simple. But there are many other reasons we ask questions and they serve a variety of purposes besides just providing information.

Questions

We may be hiding an instruction in a question “do you want to put the kettle on?” actually means – I’d like you to put the kettle on! We might ask a question to make out feelings known about something “Is it my turn to do the photocopying again?”. Or perhaps to help us feel a certain way. The “does this look okay?” type question may actually be a request for validation rather than information, but you do want a reply. And of course there are rhetorical questions you might ask where you don’t really expect information, or even a reply. They are often used to make a point, or even to answer another question. “What does he think he looks like?” or “Who cares?” might be some good examples.

We use a plethora of different questions types to frame our conversations and give them extra meaning. Most of the time we do this without thinking about it and it’s part of our social use of language; the way we use language to communicate. In this sense our questions are more about the process of asking a question, than the actual question itself.

Questions can often lead to discussions, whether intended or not. Sometimes when we need the information we need to have a discussion to get to it – after all not all questions are simple and you may need more than one. A back and forth exchange of question and answers could be the mechanism for getting what you need. Sometimes it is purely about the conversation itself and questions are a good way to get a conversation going. We often do this when we are trying to engage with someone and get their attention. Of course, we need to make sure that we do listen to the answers otherwise the discussion will be rather short lived!

workshop conversations and questions

In the workshops I do, questions are often designed to start conversations, to keep discussions going and to generate more information. I use them to:

  • Engage people and break the ice
  • Maintain engagement and keep conversations flowing
  • Guide conversations and help them move in a particular direction
  • Help the group to solve problems
  • Elicit new ideas and to stimulate thought
  • Brainstorm
  • Tease out information that people often don’t realise they have
  • Debate a situation or particular topic
  • Help manage group dynamics

And a whole lot more. They are an important facilitation technique. Sometimes I plan these ahead and may use a particular method, such as the ICA’s Focused Conversation approach. Sometimes I plan one or two questions and bring in others as the workshop progresses. Much of the time it is about drawing on a bank of tried and tested question types as and when they are necessary. And sometimes, I rely on my flexibility and experience as a facilitator and bring them in when I need them with out the pre-planning.

I love a good question. It’s not always because I need information. But it is usually because I want a reply and I most definitely love a good conversation. So, my opening question for you is:

How do YOU use questions?

For more information about how you can use questions in workshops and a whole lot more check out my latest Workshop Essentials workshop now.

*Incidentally, for the grammar geeks amongst you, this particular question is known as a “tag” question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you want your workshops to BE like?

I did a little asking around recently, about what people thought of their own workshops. It’s fine for me to talk about good ingredients for your workshops, and what I think they should look like, but what do you think? What do you want your workshop to BE like, and what do you want other people to be saying about yours?

Well, I often say my workshops are engaging, participatory, full of energy and enthusiasm and hopefully a little bit of fun. It’s not all about what people learn then and there on the day, but about what participants take away with them and what they feel encouraged to do next.

There are lots of other glorious words for your amazing workshops, shared with me a few other people who I also happen to know do wonderful workshops.

Here are a few that I have chosen from the list:

Workshop outcomes

 

Inspiring – top of the list, suggested by several people. Of course you want your workshop to be inspiring. A good workshop is not just about the information that you provide in the session, but about the ideas people take away and the motivation they have to do something with them. If they are not inspired by what they have discovered, then they won’t take action and won’t use what they’ve learnt.

Empowering – despite what people say, knowledge isn’t everything. At least not on it’s own. People need to feel the confidence to do something with it. If your workshop is empowering, it reaches far beyond giving people new knowledge or ideas, but gives them the capacity to stretch out and move forwards.

Enlightening – a participant comes to your workshop to gain new knowledge, skills, information, techniques and ideas.  If your workshop can enlighten, it takes people from a place where they might not know that much to a place where they start to make connections.  Experiencing a good workshop is more than just learning, it is having those light bulb moments that create a pathway between existing knowledge with the new information.

Supportive – when people are in a workshop, they don’t want to be bombarded with new things, they want to be guided and helped along. It is far better hold someone’s hand when needed, and help unravel any complexities than to go dashing along to get through the content. Managing your workshop so that everyone feels included and catered for is a definitely a skill not to be ignored.

Informative – of course when people come to your workshops, they want to be able to come out with something far more than when then went in. If a workshop doesn’t really tell you, or show you much that is useful to you, then it’s probably lacking something. Communicating the content of your workshop in a way that provides your participants with something salient, interesting and useful is definitely the name of the game.

Thought-provoking – I like this one! I don’t want people to leave my workshops with their heads spinning, but I do want them to still be thinking about what they just did. Being a catalyst for new thoughts is a very special thing to do and a workshop that creates that environment is really doing its job well. It’s good for people to leave with some thoughts on next steps so that your workshop doesn’t function as a stand alone, isolated incident but something that has lasting value.

Fun – another personal favourite. When people are enjoying something, when they are happy and positive they are much more likely to be fully in the moment and embrace what we they doing. If something is boring or doesn’t grab our attention then it’s hard to stay focused. Make it fun, inject some laughter and you will have people really getting into your workshop, and that’s exactly what you want to have – good participation.

Interactive – a workshop should involve people to help them to learn, discuss, question and share – as I just said, good participation. Getting your participants doing rather than just listening is a great way to help them to take on board the workshop content. Experiential learning takes into account the different ways that people take on board knowledge. We are not quite as simple as all absorbing sponges. We need to touch, hear and see in differing proportions so interactive workshops enable these bases to be covered.

Engaging – for me this is probably one of the most important elements of a workshops – engagement. When people are on board with what you are doing, when they are fully involved and focused, they are engaged. Well engaged participants who are fully investing their energy will get enormous value from workshop, and it is part of your job to make sure that happens.

Friendly – I think the importance of a relaxed and friendly environment often gets missed. People are more likely to share ideas, ask questions and discuss what they are learning if they feel at ease. So when you are delivering a workshop, it does help to be friendly and approachable and to try to foster a receptive and welcoming atmosphere. If you yourself as the workshop host can be a person that participants can warm to in the first place, then that’s definitely a big tick.

When you think of workshops that you do, or that you might want to do in the future – do they evoke these kinds of sentiments? If they do, you are most definitely on the right track. And if others say this about your workshops, then you are onto a winner for sure!

Getting your workshop to that place is not always easy and they certainly take a bit of practise. But if you think you are ready to whip your workshops into shape, so that people are saying all these wonderful things about your workshops, then please take a look at my Workshop Essentials workshop so I can show you how its done.

And just so you know I’m not bluffing – you can click here to see what people have said about my workshops.

I’d like to thank Gail Gibson, Sarah Cook (SHC Social Media), Brand 51, Sarah Clark (Mariposa Coaching), Introtweet, Clare Stone Nutrition and Louise Jenner (The Dream job Coach) for all taking part in my twitter questioning on this subject. Check out their workshops too!

(I should add that I can only take credit for helping 3 of these people with their workshops).

Are you getting enough from your brainstorm?

Do you love a good brainstorm?

I do.

It’s a great way to collect a plethora of ideas together in one place, whether thoughts from a super creative and overflowing mind or the result of collective input from a group. It’s a common enough technique, and simple to do.

Idea

 

But there are most definitely things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of your brainstorm, and to make it more effective, at least in the group sense. Let’s leave aside for a moment the lone brainstorm. I am partial to “brainstorming myself”, and use it to:

  • Offload a myriad of thoughts floating around my head that need to be captured and contained somewhere, usually on a piece of flipchart paper.
  • Organise that information in a way that I might be able to make use of it effectively. Once it’s recorded then I can start to reflect and decide how to act upon the content.
  • Perhaps generate some more ideas to clarify, modify or add to the ones that I have just “stormed”.

That’s more or less what a brainstorm is – eliciting information from inside the complex systems that are our minds. Doing it alone can be tricky. Doing it in a group is far more effective, but not without its pitfalls.

So how can we make a group brainstorm work well?

Brain

The first thing to pay attention to is WHY you are doing the brainstorm in the first place.

Obviously you are asking people for ideas, thoughts and suggestions, but sometimes a brainstorm is used primarily as a discussion starter. In this sense you might be less worried about the answers people give, and more interested in the discussion itself. A brainstorm used in this way may be most effective at the start of a workshop where you are teaching people something new; a training session. Before giving your participants the “right answers” you are opening up, stimulating ideas and helping people engage with the topic.

You may however really need to find out and gather particular knowledge from the people in the room. For example if you are looking for ideas to save costs on a project, or answers to a specific problem, you are looking to the participants for some answers. While the brainstorm has the same function of stimulating discussion and engaging people, its main aim is to elicit the ideas from the people in the room. The ideas, knowledge and experience held by the participants are what you are really after. They can provide information on a certain topic which may then be built upon and investigated in more depth later on in the session. This is more common in a meeting or facilitated workshop where the main purpose is not to teach people new things, but to help them to share what they know.

Whatever the main thrust of your brainstorm, it is important to make sure you know exactly what you are asking of people and make your questions clear.

If you manage your brainstorm well, then you will get all sorts of ideas flowing. A good brainstorm will not only help people to share their insights and knowledge, but help ignite the sparks of new ideas and produce fantastic gems of information. This is when a brainstorm can become truly valuable. It moves beyond simply asking people to offer up an answer, or even stimulating a discussion. It is about really enriching that discussion, broadening it out and creating a result that is so much bigger that the individual ideas on their own.

WHAT you do with the information elicited very much depends on the aim of your brainstorm in the first place. But, the more in depth and targeted the process, the greater the flow of ideas and the more extensive the possibilities will be for your next steps.

A brainstorm is far more that a brain dump. It is far more than collecting and recording information. It is far more than finding out what people think. It can be the start of something quite exciting, a voyage of discovery. But as with many of the simplest things; the devil is in the detail, so make sure you think about what you need!

If you want to get more from your brainstorms:

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To get your workshops in much better shape, include a great brainstorm and really get some ideas and discussions flowing then click here to find out more about my “how to” workshops!