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How I run workshops that get results (in 6 easy steps)

Ruth Hartnoll   —   1 July 2016   —   Content & Social

meeting table

Recently, Access was in a blog post drought. We had an overwhelming resource of people able to write about interesting subjects, but they lacked direction. No one knew what they wanted to write about. We needed to focus everyone’s minds.

We needed to workshop ideas. And then produce a workable list of posts.

So I did just that. I created a workshop with a structure that gave us the results we needed. And a list of blog post ideas for the next six months.

I’m going to share with you how I did it and how you can do it too: Here’s how to run a workshop that gets results.

1. Be clear in your aim


Before you start getting excited about using several different coloured highlighters, and potentially animal-shaped post-it notes (just me?), be sure you are clear on the purpose of your workshop.

Ask yourself:

Are you running a workshop to generate ideas?

Are you trying to solve a company-wide problem?

Are you workshopping how to wallpaper your office?

Write down what you’re trying to achieve in one sentence. Then read it out loud. Does it make sense? No? Then think a bit more. It will only confuse participants if they don’t know why they’re there. Plus, it’s a massive time suck. If you get stuck just talk it out with someone.

Always be clear in your purpose.

TOP TIP: Blank sheets of paper can be daunting - start small with post-its. It makes your task manageable, and you can move ideas around far more easily.

2. Write down a step by step guide for yourself


You’ve written your aim down, great work. Now you need to think about how the next hour or so is going to run. Create an incremented plan, breaking things down into time chunks. When I ran my workshop I did it in five minute slots. Turning a whole hour into little tasty bites makes the whole thing seem much more manageable.

Think of a footlong sub cut in half - that’s what we’re aiming for.

For example -

Introduction: 5 mins

  • Why we’re here

  • What we’re going to be doing

  • What we hope to achieve

By writing these little notes to yourself you can keep focus and keep your confidence.

TOP TIP: Keep your notes short - it’s not your whole presentation. Your notes are little boosts to keep you on track.

3. Thank everyone for attending


Politeness costs nothing. I know if I was attending a workshop i’d be grateful if someone thanked me for my time. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of the company and you expect everyone to be there - just be a good human. Thank people for turning up, it creates a positive atmosphere from the start.

TOP TIP: Know what the best thank you is? Free food. Lots of free food. Or beer.

4.  Do small, manageable tasks


Now you need to produce those results we talked about. To do this you’re going to include some easily manageable tasks. We don’t want your workshop groups members to feel overwhelmed.

For the blogging workshop I ran we used Brainwriting. We’ve spoken about the brilliance of this technique in our ideas generation post - so do check it out. This technique produced high volume ideas in a short period of time, just what you want to keep your workshop members interested.

Keep tasks to 15 minutes and under - and let people know how long they’ve got left on a task; some people respond well to pressure.

TOP TIP: Give your tasks ridiculous names, whimsy gets everyone on side. Instead of ‘blog post brainstorming’, how about ‘Blogging Thought Thunder Session’. I know which one I would attend.  

5. Give positive feedback during your session


One of the biggest problems during a workshopping session is having people talk over each other - that’s why I’m such a Brainwriting evangelist - people still get to riff of one another, without being shouted down.

The best way to ensure people will speak up is to be encouraging. If you think someone’s idea is good, tell them. Maybe even write the best ideas down on a board, making sure everyone gets credit.

TOP TIP: Imagine yourself as a participant - how would you want to be treated? I’d want Haribo and a verbal pat on the back - how about you?

6. Let everyone know the results of their hard work


You know what’s great? Being told you’re great. So tell everyone who takes part in your workshop session that they’ve had a real impact and made a difference - their ideas made it to the blogging list! Your office really does look better for choosing that wallpaper, what an inspired choice Steve.

Even if it’s just an email or a verbal acknowledgement let people know they helped.

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