5 Top tips for running effective workshops

Hilary Briggs headshot
Hilary Briggs, an experienced facilitator and management consultant and Lieutenant Governor Education and Training at Toastmasters International has five tips to help you run an effective workshop.

Whatever size of organisation you work for, large or small, and whatever function or role you have, being able to run effective workshops is a crucial skill these days.

If you want your people to “go that extra mile”, then you need to ensure buy-in to whatever you are wanting them to do. Running workshop style events is one way to achieve this but how do you do that and what skills do you need?

1. When to deploy a workshop? Your target group has valuable knowledge on the chosen topic (might be a specific process in the business, an upcoming organisational change, a new market opportunity, etc.) and you want their input and ideas in order to make key decisions on how to move forward. If you’ve already decided what to do and just want to tell people, don’t pretend you want them involved!

2. How to create focus? Be clear on the desired outcomes of the workshop and share/agree these at the start. It’s useful to hold sessions off-site, or at least somewhere free from disruptions. Get people to turn their mobiles off. Have a separate flip chart to record ideas/questions/concerns that are important but would take you off track. Plan breaks every 1hour 45 minutes as a minimum.

3. How much should I have planned out? Having a plan for the session is essential, however it’s there as a guide rather than something to be adhered to by the minute. Build in variety, for instance some time to think as individuals, some work in pairs or as larger groups. Share the outline with the group and if some sections are taking longer to get through, check in and agree what the best course of action would be. You need to be flexible, responsive and able to let go of controlling every detail.

4. How best to approach the session? If you genuinely want people’s input, asking questions is essential. Use open questions to draw out their views. Use closed questions to check and consolidate agreement. Avoid Powerpoint if possible! Flip charts or blank paper on the walls that people can write on or add notes to are much more creative.

5. How to capture the ideas which emerge? A simple flip chart, preferably two, is a great tool. Do not start interpreting and editing people’s words. Use their exact words. If you don’t understand, ask for clarification. If capturing their words would take up the entire chart, ask them how they’d summarise the point in a few words. At the end of the workshop, consolidate the next actions and get agreement on who is going to do what, when.

A well-run workshop is like many other things in life, it looks easy but is underpinned by a vast amount of preparation and skills. It is well worth investing time to develop your own skills in this area. There are a plethora of organisations offering specific courses on facilitation and related skills, one of the best I’ve done over the years was Nancy Kline’s “Thinking Environment™” (www.timetothink.com).

However, it’s regular purposeful practice that will really make the difference to your abilities. Speaking organisations such as Toastmasters International (www.toastmasters.org) not only help you to develop your communication skills so that you can make your inputs effectively, develop those essential questioning and listening skills, but most importantly provide you with a fertile practice ground to run workshops in a safe environment.

2 Comments on 5 Top tips for running effective workshops

  1. Great down to earth advice and I agree that like most things, how well the workshop goes relies on the amount of effort and planning that has gone into it.

  2. Very useful article – thank you! It’s important to remember the difference between workshops and ‘talks’.

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