Being a Workshop Leader is easy sometimes, but sometimes difficult too. No matter how good you are in what you do or how much planning and preparation you have done, there’s always a time your workshop needs to survive. Surviving from participants losing interest, from disruptive participants and sometimes you from overdoing it.

So therefore I give you 10 useful survival tips that have helped me as a workshop leader in the past.

1. Plan To Improvise

“I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”

Dwight D. Eisenhower President of the USA (1890-1969)

Although I spend a lot of time on planning myself, however one must remember that the actual plan is not the most important thing, it’s the way your plan will work out. What I’m trying to say is that although we need a plan to deliver any workshop, we also need to improvise, be flexible and have the ability to adapt.

So the first workshop survival tip is to plan in such a way that you can be flexible and adaptable. This could mean if needs be you can include next session’s tasks into your current workshop, break down activities into smaller-er chunks or even go in a complete different direction… let your workshop and its participant guide you.

2. Time Your Timings

Be realistic about what you can cover in the time you have for your workshop. It is usually better to give your participants more hands-on tasks and reinforcements of the learning properly, than rush them through loads of material without them having a chance to apply it. Sometimes you have to repeat things, explain in different methods and answer more questions. Always make sure you save 5-15 minutes within your workshop plan to ‘respond to participants needs’

3. Create Your Workshop Storyline

“Great experiences, like great stories, go “Boom, wow-Wow-WOW, BOOM! First grab attention with a powerful start, a Boom. Then build interest in ascending order (wow-Wow-WOW) and finally prepare a ending that overcome your opening spectacle: A BOOM!!”

Adam St.John Lawrence – designer and actor

Treat your workshop as a film, a theater play, a story where it has a beginning, middle and end. It should have layers of activities that follow in an ascending and connective manner.

Your ice breaker should lead into your presentation, your presentation should lead into your demonstration, your demonstration in to the first activity, first activity could be followed with a group discussion and so on and so forth.

4. Talk Less – Listen More.

This would be different if you were a university lecturer or only giving a presentation. However as a workshop leader it is our job to help participants express themselves more. It is our job to help them realise that it is more empowering and that they will learn more if they work things out for themselves..

In order to promote more communication from my participants, I have used the following tasks within my workshop

  • The Mind Map: Through a central theme you allow participants to shout out the answers or one person at time.
  • Breakout: Where participants not only work on a task in smaller groups, but also talk to each other.
  • Show and Share: Moments where participants share their work and talk through it (at the end mostly)

5. Create A Safe Space

Participants usually learn best when they feel safe. I don’t mean safe from ninja assassins or a zombie acropolis. I mean safety from prejudice, from discrimination and other feelings of non-belonging. If participants feel safe it means they are more able to take risks, more willing to try out new things and explore new ideas without being laughed at, well for the wrong reasons anyway. One thing that I find useful and have always used is through an icebreaker or energizer where I fail on the task and everyone laughs at me. If the workshop leader feels comfortable enough to fail and be laughed at, the participants will become more comfortable about their own performance and taking risks.

6. Bring Your Break Game

As a workshop leader you need to appreciate that your participants are going through a new process and the feelings of insecurity may overwhelm them. Plan your breaks in such a way that you give it to them as soon as they complete a significant part of the workshop. Breaks should convey the feeling of “task accomplished”. This will give them the feeling that they are controlling the process, and they will feel more relaxed and enjoy their breaks better.

7. Create Your Own Bubble

Sometimes being a workshop leader can be physically exhaustive, we have to learn to always have a fresh mind, face and body. Including all the other things like sleep well before the night etc, I suggest the following survival tips;

  • Avoid having sugary snacks that workshops are known to provide, it can make you feel drained and drowsy sometimes,
  • Try to sip on water every 5-10 minutes, staying hydrated will help your mind and throat (from talking a lot)
  • Every chance you get to sit, sit down! Even if its for 30 seconds each time. This will allow your body to have moments of resting within the workshop. But don’t over do it as this can portray you being a lazy workshop leader.
  • Try not to speak at the top of your voice for a prolonged period. Nobody ever listened to a workshop leader who lost his or her voice. Save your voice and your cool!
  • If your workshop will be breaking up for lunch, I recommend you personally to avoid eating anything heavy, avoid food with starchy carbs like white bread, dairy products such as cheese etc. I have survived my workshop in the past by protein shakes sometimes. This is because a heavy meal, or meal with starchy carbs, dairy etc can make you feel drowsy and sometimes lead to you yawning a lot.

8. Smile More

This one sounds like a cliché, but you would be surprised at how many miserable workshop leaders I have sat in front of, and I’m sure I’m not the only one too. But as a workshop leader we must understand that participants will be more willing to learn if they enter the room with a workshop leader who smiles at them. Unlike walking into a room with a stressed faced workshop leader where they will easily respond with the same feeling. So just relax, enjoy and smile!

9. Move More

On the topics of miserable workshop leaders, think about your most recent experience of one. I can easily guess that as well as not smiling, they were stood still in one position with no movement what so ever.

When a workshop leader is moving around the room, it can help them make eye contact with each participant more. It will show that you are happy to be around participants and allowing this to open up a trust building relationship with them. Your body language will show off your enthusiasm and passion, which can be contagious in getting participants feeling the same enthusiasm and passion.

However on the same note, don’t over do it, moving about too much, too fast, can make you look somewhat childish and unprofessional. I have a story for that one too, save that for another blog.

10. Learn From Each Workshop.

Last but least, as well as learning from the evaluation questionnaires you have just collected from participants. Spend some time reflecting yourself, thinking about what worked, what didn’t work and what would you different next time, what could you add, what would you take away etc. Use each workshop as a learning tool and make it a part of your journey to become the best workshop leader you can ever become.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure there are more than 10 workshop situations that has happened out in the workshop world, what was yours and what did you do? Let us know by commenting below.

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