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…..


How do you know if your workshop was a success?

So you’ve done your workshop, you’ve packed away your things and now you are digesting what you’ve done. Do you have a feeling of exhilaration and elation or gloom and doom? If you felt your workshop went well, then it probably did. And if you’re not sure, then there are probably a few simple changes that you might need to make so it will be better next time. Apart from those post workshop feelings, those subjective ones that can make you feel amazing or slightly out of kilter, just how do you know that your workshop was a success?

One of the most obvious things to do post workshop is to read your feedback forms. Creating a feedback form is a vital part of any workshop and enables you to know what your participants thought. You can ask them what went well, what didn’t go well and what you could change in the future.

Feedback forms pic for blog

Feedback forms

But aside from looking at the feedback, what else can you focus on?

For me, some of the key indicators of a successful workshop are:

1.The workshop ran to time. I’ll be honest, this is an area of weakness for me. I often get so involved in what I am doing that I do need to remind myself to keep a good eye on the time. It is something I have to concentrate on. Hard. I suppose getting engrossed in your own workshop could be seen as a good thing (it must mean it’s interesting!) but part of your role as a workshop host is to make sure you stay on top of what you are doing and don’t get too absorbed to move on. Keeping to time means your timetable is probably pretty good, your methods are appropriate and you have allowed the right amount of time for discussion and digestion of the information. Not keeping to time usually means some careful alterations, and working out where these alterations need to be made is an important part of evaluating your workshop.

TOP TIP: Go through your workshop timetable and note where the time pressure points were.

2. You were flexible and adaptable – sometimes you may have too much or too little in your workshop. Your participants may work through an activity much quicker than anticipated or want to take a discussion further as it is so good. This is where your flexibility comes into play. If you are going to follow the principles of good workshop delivery, you always need to allow some wiggle room. Adapting things as you go along to fit in with your participants is a skill and something that often comes with practice. Having the confidence to do this is in itself something of an achievement. But where many workshops go wrong is the workshop host’s rigid agenda that doesn’t leave space for the individuals present. If you can make room for them by being flexible then your workshops will be much more successful.

TOP TIP:  After the workshop, note down the places where you had to make alterations during the workshop. 

3. Your participants met their expectations – finding out what people’s expectations are at the start of the workshop is crucial and gives you something to work around. At the end of the workshop you can go back to the expectations and see if they were met. If they weren’t then you can evaluate why not and make changes as necessary. Obviously if people’s expectations are unrealistic or beyond the scope of the workshop then it is up to you to discuss this.

TOP TIP: If you are doing successive workshops on the same thing, keep track of the expectations and check you are meeting them.

4. You met your aims – did you meet the aims of your workshop? If you covered all the areas you said you were going to cover in the workshop then you have probably met your aims. Just covering areas in itself may not be enough however, and for participants to really have something usable they need to have done more than take away a lot of new information. If participants really feel like they understand how the information in the workshop is applicable to them and how it can be used then this is really hitting the aim on the head.

TOP TIP: Look back over your aims and see if they fit with your time keeping. You may have to reduce or re-jig your aims to make the workshop timing better.

5. There was participant interaction – for me one of the important and valuable things in a workshop is interaction. If there are questions and discussions, people chipping in, making suggestions and sharing experiences then that is a sign of success. The information generated from such interactions is just as valuable as any content that you put in in the first place, so if this happens I would class this a success.

TOP TIP: Look back over your activities and see which ones generated good discussions.

6. You ended the workshop well – too many workshops just stop, abruptly. You need to think how you are going to tie everything up at the end and consider what next. Just getting to the end of the workshop and saying “that’s all folks” is no way for a workshop to finish. Ending with a bang is better than a whisper and if all your participants are still chattering away as they leave the room then that’s usually quite a good sign!

TOP TIP: Consider whether you left enough time for the ending and whether your parting activity worked well or not.

7. There was some networking – while this is not a particular aim of doing a workshop per se, it is usually a valuable bi-product. I know of at least a couple of “let’s meet for coffee” conversations that have happened in my recent workshops, and I would say this feels like a success. It is a success for me in so far as my workshops got people talking to each other enough to want to exchange that kind of information.

TOP TIP: Think about ways to continue the conversations long after the workshop has finished.

8. There were a few laughs – this is probably a very personal mark of success but it is one that is important to me. I like there to have been a few moments of laughter, a few giggles and some expression of happiness. It is perhaps not appropriate in every workshop, but it is important to me to know that the participants have enjoyed themselves and there are all sorts of studies that suggest people are much more receptive when they are happy. In fact I can reveal there is a very good photo of me at my last workshop, doing just that (if you have a better caption I’d love to hear it!).

Workshop Laughter

Workshop Laughter

TOP TIP: Try to look back on the moments where this happened and try to work out what made it fun. 

Making sure you evaluate your workshops at the end is vital, especiallu if you are planning on doing more. Apart from the subjective feeling you get (you usually know whether it went well or not), particularly when you are doing a workshop for the first time it is hard to know exactly what went well and what needs adjusting. Even with extensive planning and wonderful preparation there is no guarantee that everything will go according exactly to plan. You never know when you are going to encounter an awkward customer and sometimes you do need to try out new things, and they may not always work. Working out how it all went is just as important as planning it in the first place.

Join me for one of my next workshops where I’ll be helping you get your workshops just right – click on the link below and find out more about The Workshop Toolkit and Workshop Essentials – both aimed at helping you turn your workshops into something special.


Spokes evaluation tool

One of the types of workshop that I particularly like facilitating are review or evaluation workshops (the subtle difference between which we will deal with in another post!).  There are hundreds of different methods and tools to do these kinds of evaluations. One of my favourites is called Spokes. If you take a look at the picture below, you will see fairly quickly why it is called spokes,  (assuming my artwork is up to scratch) as it should look like the wheel of a bike with its spokes. This is most definitely not something that I invented, but something that I came across several years ago and have used quite a few times.Continue reading