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From the VentureSquad: Running a Workshop? Check Out These 10 Tips

Running a workshop is no small challenge. Whether you’re teaching new tech skills to your teammates or exploring a hot-button topic with wider industry peers, there’s a lot that you need to consider. For example, what’s the best way to prepare for a workshop? How should you organize it? What’s your overall goal?

No matter your answer to those questions, the bottom line is that knowing your way around a topic and being able to teach that topic are two very different things. To help you get from the former to the latter, I’m sharing 10 simple tips so you can run better workshops. Hopefully, they’ll help reduce stress, prepare a game plan, and make your workshop a success.

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Preparing your workshop is like testing a product before launch. You may know how you’d like it to go, but you need to do the work to make that happen.

So, be your own test user. Go through your materials like you’re seeing them for the first time, consider what your participants will need to be fully engaged, and get it all ready ahead of time. That way, your “product launch” will go as smoothly as possible.

2. Communication is Key

This may sound straightforward, but make sure everyone attending your workshop has the important details down. They should know the exact time and address of the workshop, how long it’ll be, and how it will work. That includes information about its structure, your goals, and any materials they’ll need to bring to get the greatest possible value out of the experience.

3. Set Expectations

Make it clear what you want participants to take away from your workshop when it’s over while also considering what they may be expecting of you. Whether you solicit input ahead of time through surveys or set aside time at the beginning for questions, it’s important to give them a roadmap for the meeting while making them feel like they’re helping establish it.

4. Lay Out the Ground Rules

Every workshop is going to be different, so your ground rules will be different, too. Whether you’re introducing new tech or teaching company best practices, lay out a framework that helps you achieve your specific objectives.

Would you prefer if participants stay off their computers? Say so. What if you’d like attendees to save off-topic questions for a specific portion of the event? Make that clear, as well.

5. Break the Ice

Think of a workshop like a vintage car. You shouldn’t turn on the engine and floor it. Instead, you’ve got to let it warm up.

In your workshop, do the same thing. Use icebreakers to get people talking. Show them that you’re making an effort to speak to their specific needs and interests. That way, you all can reach your destination without that vintage car breaking down and needing a tow truck.

6. Tell a Story

Your workshop should be like a story. It should be coherent, draw the listener in, and connect with them on an emotional level. Use anecdotes, rhetorical questions, and jokes to make the workshop’s story arc engaging. The better you engage with your audience, the more effective your workshop will be for them in the long run.

7. Know When to Park Topics

You don’t need to know the answers to every question your participants ask. Whether they’re related to your topic or not, however, it’s a good idea to show the group that their voice counts. So, rather than discounting those questions, “park” them on a whiteboard or notepad to address them later. You can even continue the discussion online after the workshop has ended.

8. Refine Your Instructions

Great workshops make use of great exercises. However, you need to ensure that your participants understand what you’re asking them to do and the purpose of each exercise. Work on your instructions for each exercise until they’re crystal clear. You can even practice with test subjects before your workshop to get feedback and edit for clarity.

9. Mitigate Problems

People come into workshops with different goals, different points of view, and different personalities. You should plan accordingly. While you want to design a workshop that draws in the most introverted, you also need to account for the most extroverted attendees, too. To avoid getting bogged down with overly talkative or skeptical participants, plan ways to keep those personalities occupied and engaged so that everyone else can keep learning.

10. Write Down What You Learned

Once you’re done, think about your key takeaways. What worked? What didn’t work? What do you want to make sure to do again? What could you do better? Write all of these down while they’re fresh — that way, you can make your next workshop even better. Good luck!

Note: This blog post has been adapted from an original Medium article written by VentureDevs Product Owner Jakub Rystwej.