Every workshop leader wants their workshop plans to work well every time they deliver it. We spend hours, days, weeks and sometimes months to create an amazing plan for an amazing workshop, then within moments we can be forced to improvise, adapt and come up with a plan B. Common situations are due to obstacles that may include activities ending being too easy, too hard or when we realise there is too much to cover but not enough time.

When obstacles like these arise, whatever they may be, then we have two options, one is to do everything possible to stick to the original plan and the other is to execute a plan B. I prefer the latter, something to implement if/when the original plan becomes impracticable or unproductive. Below are a series of what transitions between plan A’s and plan B’s could look like.

Plan A: Make sure workshop activities are all engaging and educational.

Obstacles: Activities and content turn out to be too easy/too difficult.

Plan B: Task participants with different levels of activities.

Once workshop leaders notice their content appears too easy for participants, maybe because they know more about the topic than planned. Assess their prior knowledge as soon as they start to show signs of this. Start by simply asking, “what do you know about (topic)?” and write them on the board, flip chart or any central notes system and let it organically grow through group discussion. This will help give you a clearer visual of what is missing, or not. Once you get your head around this, split them up into smaller groups based on their levels of prior knowledge and understanding of the topic.

In the past I have split participants in multiple smaller groups and gave each group activities based on their levels. Then I spent no longer than 2/3 minutes for each group and moved to next. This offered me enough time to move between groups, assist everyone based on individual levels whilst they focused on personalised practical time.

Plan A: Structure the workshop through a pace that is suitable for all

Obstacles: Too much information but too little time to cover it all

Plan B: Make everything “bite-sized” and share a small amount of information at a time

It is very common for workshop leaders to want to get a lot of information covered in limited amount of time, which is totally understandable. But the real difficulty begins when you want to pass all this information onto participants without rushing or baffling them.

When participants start to look lost, clueless or when you realise you don’t have enough time to cover everything. Start breaking your workshop down to “bite-sized” activities by sharing a small amount of information at a time. Most of the times I deliver, I never have each task or section of my workshop longer than 15 minutes, something I call “time your timings”. Find out more what I mean in this article.

If you cant get through everything you planned for, then save the activities for the next workshop. The idea is to re consider what you are going to cover in the time you have for the workshop whilst making sure you cover enough.

Smaller Group Workshop Activity

Plan A: Make sure everyone understands and follows ground rules.

Obstacles: That one difficult participant, loud mouth who keeps disrupting the workshop.

Plan B: Use the disruptive participants effectively during workshops

There’s always one! Sometimes in workshops, there are participants who love the sound of their own voice, frequently interrupting and disrupting workshops by constantly talking out loud, at the wrong time, saying the wrong things. When this happens and you struggle to get it under control, then it’s a good idea to embrace the situation and use it towards your advantage.

One method is to give them some limelight (without embarrassing them of course). You can do this by getting them to stand up in front of you/the group and get them to talk. If you have to detach from the topic for the sake of the greater good and join them in their small talk, then it is an idea to do so. Once this is over and done with, get them to talk about their thoughts on the topic, their opinion on what you said, the workshop content etc. More often that not, they do turn round and from being disruptive they become fully engaged. For more tips on behaviour management, have a look at this article

Final Thoughts

These are only certain scenarios that I have experienced and dealt with in the past, but the idea is that although situations and responses can be different each and every time, it is our response that must always be calm, measured and well executed. We need to be in control of any obstacles that happen during our workshops by foreseeing any problems and dealing with them both reactively and pro actively.

No matter what our plan A was or what our plan B is, the commitment to our central workshop goal doesn’t need to change, what does is how we achieve that goal. So be flexible, be adaptable and open to change and your workshops will become more successful.

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