In my line of work I do find myself talking a lot about workshops. After all, it is what I do. Get me going and I can be talking about them for hours…..
I have however come to realise that not everyone shares my passion. That’s okay. The idea of standing up in front of a group of people (whether large or small) can be quite daunting. This is particularly true if you haven’t actually done it before and it is probably the IDEA of doing it that frightens you most. That’s often the way, it is the thought, the notion, the imagined experience of doing something that often frightens us most. In reality, these things often turn out to be not quite so bad.
I do remember my first ever workshop, although fortunately I wasn’t alone. I did it with a colleague of mine and we were delivering a training session on communication development and disorders. It was a topic I knew inside and out and we had planned the content meticulously. We had all sorts of interesting activities in mind, and had consulted and brainstormed so we felt we had it pretty well organised. We knew what we wanted people to learn, and the level of knowledge of our participants. We spent hours planning to get it right. And I was still scared.
At school I was the type of person that avoided any kind of standing up and talking in front of people. I avoided doing presentations or anything vaguely similar. It’s probably because I avoided them so well, that I never really did many. Then at University there was no getting out of it, I was made to bite the bullet and actually stand up in front of people and talk. It felt like there was a kind of push through pain barrier into a kind of place where you don’t really enjoy what you are doing, but you have to get on with it. Giving a presentation, a speech or a talk eventually felt to like something I could do for the 20 minutes or so that I had to, and then it would be mostly over. A hit and run exercise.
Giving a workshop however, was a whole different thing. I think the main reason I was scared the first time, was the idea that I needed to somehow involve people. I needed to manage them. I needed to not just stand there and impart information, but to get them all wanting to learn, to think about the material and to talk to each other. I needed them to join in and do our activities. There would be questions, and people sharing experiences, perhaps talking to each other too much and not listening. Giving a workshop was that unknown quantity of having to work with, rather than talk to a group of people, and you can never predict quite what they are going to do.
So, how did I move from being super scared and very much not wanting to do it, to absolutely loving it?
Just like my presentations, at first I just had to get on with it. In hindsight, some help with how to do this properly would’ve alleviated some of the worry, but in lieu of any actual workshop skills as such, we fell back on our enthusiasm and knowledge of our subject. There’s safety in numbers too. I was not alone and if it had gone wrong my colleague and I would’ve shared the collective dismay. As it was, it turned out quite well, and the best bit was getting people involved.
I realised that actually it’s the engagement and inclusion of the people in the room that make it. Once people are engaged in what you are doing, once they are hooked into the session, wanting to know more, wanting to get involved then you have energy flowing. There is a great buzz about being able to share what you know, and being able to work with people to get them all participating. It hurt a bit the first time, I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect, but once I got over that initial pain barrier and we started to get people interacting and working with us, it started to feel good. And by the time I was doing the last of this series of 6 workshops, I was actually rather enjoying myself.
A workshop where you are training people in something that you probably know back to front is all about how you keep everyone in the zone, focused and engaged, and active in what you are teaching them. Once you know how to do that, when you understand that there are some brilliant ways to keep people engaged and get people participating then the ball is rolling. Of course you need to manage that ball and it isn’t initially that easy. There are a lot of things to learn about group dynamics, and managing certain types of people and about ensuring the structure and process, the design of the workshop is right in the first place. That’s about good preparation, understanding what you are doing, and in part, experience.
But for me, managing the scared, the nervous, the worried bit is all about embracing the group you are with. Getting people to work with you rather than keeping them at arms lengths is what builds up the motivation. They need to be hugged (metaphorically at least), they need to be engaged. And maybe you don’t have to love it, but have a go and see if you can feel that buzz, it might not be so bad after all!
And if you like the sound of learning how to do that better, well give me a shout! To help me channel my love of all things workshop, I want to share: