What is a Workshop Anyway?

Someone asked me a very important question the other day, one I think that a lot of people ask but perhaps not enough.

It’s something we discuss in my Workshop Essentials workshop, at the start, in brainstorm fashion. It’s a good place to start when you are doing a workshop on workshops and what’s not to like about a good brainstorm?

The question was:

“What is a workshop anyway?”

Well, let’s see……..

The fruits of our discussion on that workshop were comforting, they showed that even though we had yet to really dig into the workshop, everyone seemed to be thinking along similar lines:

  • Everyone joining in
  • Participants thinking
  • Trying out new things – practical
  • Group participation
  • Do stuff and talk
  • Ideas generation
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Self discovery session
  • Builds confidence
  • An interactive way to deliver training
  • Interactive
  • Coming away with something
  • Learning by doing
  • Catering to individual needs
  • Learning session
  • Learning in a memorable way
What is a workshop

What is a Workshop Anyway?

 

The keys points for the group were all about interactivity, learning, participation and doing. I would say that sums it up pretty well really and somehow captured what it feels like to be in a good workshop!

A workshop can, in a sense be what we want it to be. It depends on what your workshop is about, how many people are in it, where you are doing it and what types of materials you will use. Workshops can vary enormously in type and style and size and function. And they can be called many different things so that by the time you have this large combination of variables, it does become a difficult thing to define.

By way of an explanation, rather than a definition I would say that:

“A workshop has become a catch all term for a group learning experience where one person trains, facilitates or hosts the participants”.

But while the outer edges have become blurry, the exact definition rather intangible, there are some key ingredients and a balance at the heart of a workshop that you need to get right to make it work.

One of these key facets is its participatory and interactive nature. The participants take on an active role in their learning, thinking and doing. You are not talking at them, you are not presenting, you are not just informing. You are involving people. And when people are involved and actively listening, questioning, taking on what you (and each other) are saying, then they are getting the most out of the workshop. They are learning as they go along, making the workshop their own, contributing and shaping it. They are not just taking away a collection of facts to put together later, but learning while doing.

Workshop Essentials

Workshop Discussion

So perhaps it’s not a definition we need but a picture, a mental image of something that we feel we are part of, where active participation is a crucial element. It’s not always easy to achieve, and getting people involved, making sure you have the right balance and introducing the right structure and process to do so does involve a bit of work. But if you know what you are aiming for, then you are half way there. Think of the people in your workshop as working with you and you can devise and create something that may very well be “an interactive way to deliver training” where people “do stuff and talk” in the very best way.

If you’d like to know about how to make your workshops more participatory and interactive then take a look look here.

Why should you hold a workshop?

As we have already established, I love a good workshop. I love giving workshops, and if they are done well, I love being a participant. I love sharing ideas, having discussions, learning while doing.

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Lots of people do workshops. It is a term that has become a bit of a catch all for those situations where you get a group of people together in the same space and work with them. I know people who do workshops on Social Media, Finance, Sales and Marketing, Business Development, Nutrition and Mindfulness to name but a few. Most of the people who do them are not trainers or facilitators in their own right. They are not necessarily people who work predominantly with groups for a living. They are people who are experts in their field, have a wealth of knowledge to share and have decided to do a workshop as part of their business offering. The topics are vast and the things you can learn amazing.

But it’s not easy doing a workshop. And it’s even harder to do a good workshop. It’s fairly nerve-wracking the first time, standing up in front of a group of people and telling them what you know, watching a lot of faces full of expectation looking to you for the answers. But once you get over that hurdle, it feels fairly do-able. After all, you are the expert.

The hard bit is doing it in a way that maintains a good audience of attentively listening, actively involved, motivated participants. Being creative enough with your worldly knowledge so it is accurately and effectively imparted to a group of paying guests is not something to embark upon lightly. You’ve broken through the “everyone’s listening to me” thing, now you have to keep all those eager faces from drifting away, not sticking to the programme, losing interest. That’s the killer, much worse that everyone looking at you!

So, nothing to worry about at all then. Perhaps I’m not selling it well enough, the idea of holding a workshop. The how, is most definitely something you need to work on. But the why, well that’s much easier…….Continue reading

Reflections on life and learning in Nepal.

Today I want to talk about Nepal. I want to talk about that breathtaking and fabulous country that taught me so much. And about the fear and worry that hits you when you realise your friends were right there, in the midst of a massive earthquake.

I lived in Nepal for 4 years, 1999-2004. I went out there initially as a VSO volunteer training special needs teachers, parents and community based rehabilitation workers in Speech and Language Therapy (and a million and one other related things). I somehow went from being someone with a solid accademic knowledge but limited experience (having only graduated two years before) to being an absolute expert almost overnight. I was called upon as the person who seemed to know best about anything from complex disabilities and disorders to child development, psychology, fundraising and proposal writing, training and facilitation as well as becoming the resident English scholar. That’s pretty big when you’re only 23.

Continue reading