Interactive Workshops… No More Boring Powerpoint!

When it comes to planning workshops, it’s time to get creative! If you’re sitting at the front of the room lecturing the whole time and pouring over endless powerpoint slides, it’s probably not much of a workshop. So what do you need to do to get people involved? Your goal should be to facilitate activities within the workshop to get participants to work together to explore ideas and solutions. You are going to stimulate creativity because your attendees will be working collaboratively together. Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun, not only for the people who are going to be at your workshop, but for you, as well? 

Interactive workshops can require a bit more time and resources to plan and execute because you are going to need to get activities and techniques prepared well in advance to successfully pull this off. You don’t want to be running like a chicken with your head cut off and flying by the seat of your pants. It’s going to look unprofessional, you will appear unprepared, and word will get out that you may not offer the best workshops in the industry. Don’t let this be you! So what are the key points in providing an interactive workshop?

Ask and you shall receive…

1. Determine the Optimal Group Size

OK, so for real… how many times have you expected to go to some kind of a workshop, just to end up in the same room with a boatload of people that you will NEVER be able to work with in group settings and be successful at. Workshops, for the most part, should focus on smaller groups where there will be a better chance for everyone to work interactively with each other. THE MORE PEOPLE YOU HAVE INVOLVED, THE LESS OF A WORKSHOP IT WILL BE! 

Another reason why you should focus on smaller groups is because, as the instructor, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. How are you going to be able to give everyone your best and help the group if it’s too large for you to handle? Ideally, you’ll have a group that will get to be interactive with each other while you are helping other people. Being able to easily move between groups will give you the opportunity to impart wisdom and key notes of ideas while the workshop, as a whole, is being creative within their own groups. Working in groups of 2-4 people in a challenging exercise will help everyone work well together. Larger than that, it makes the groups spend more time on coordinating who can do what and sifting through everyone’s ideas, rather than working on the task at hand. 

2. It’s Agenda Time!

Generally, workshops are going to be a full day or two of activities for participants. Consider looking into things that involve individual, paired, and collective tasks so everyone feels comfortable with what they will be doing. Think about jumping into a hands-on activity as soon as possible. Get things moving and shake people up! Don’t sap the creative energy in the room by presenting information for the first hour. 

Don’t forget how demanding this may be for some of your participants, too. Plan breaks, provide refreshments and help them maintain their energy levels. Think about scheduling those high priority activities earlier in the session so you get the best from all of your participants right away! 

Make sure you create a list of main points to discuss and work through, and you can break them down into more reasonable goals as you figure out your agenda. Also, don’t forget those visual aids! Figure out how much time you are going to allow for each group discussion or activity so you stay within the time frame you’re working with. You’ll also want to make sure you keep the size of your group in mind and you’ll have the resources available to provide items for everyone.  Don’t forget… the more detailed you plan things up front, the more you are going to ensure that your workshop will stay on schedule and be successful!

3. Get Those Activities Lined Up!

Think about this… what is the end-goal of your workshop? Use engaging activities in order to motivate your participants. It will encourage creative thought. Make sure you announce the interactive nature of the workshop in your marketing materials so participants aren’t caught off-guard for how the workshop is going to be handled. The goal isn’t to surprise anyone, it’s to let them know early on that their experiences and expertise matter and that you plan to engage them in discussion and activities to help not only themselves, but others who will be attending! Many can be nervous and uncomfortable when it comes to having to do group activities with people they aren’t familiar with, so make sure you give everyone the notice they need to prepare themselves!

The center of attention should be on participants doing different work and activities, not on you rambling on and bragging about the expertise that you can impart to everyone! Remember that! Think about it this way… if you were going to attend a cooking workshop, wouldn’t you expect to cook? Or a writing workshop… wouldn’t you expect to write different things? A good workshop is designed to give participants the opportunity for guided instruction and activities in doing the things that the workshop is centered around. 

When you figure out exactly what types of exercises would work best for your workshop, make sure to test them out! It will take some time to develop an idea into an exercise that will be interesting for all involved, yet flexible enough for the variety of individuals who will be attending your event. If this will be your first interactive event, you may want to consider doing a dry-run for free with the kind of people the workshop would be for. You’ll benefit in the long-run by learning what you need to adjust, which will make a huge difference when it’s actually “go time”!

Think of constructing your workshop around 3 items… 1) The Walk-Through, where you will show everyone how to do something or discuss what the activity is going to entail. 2) The Actual Activity, where everyone is trying to do the item they have been tasked with (while you wander around and help people out one-on-one…. in other words, stay out of the way!). 3) A Debrief, where you can lead a discussion on what worked, where people got stuck, what was informative and what people learned. Have participants show their work instead of your own, in order to lead the workshop in different insights and observations. This will always help others learn a little better!

We’ve all been to different workshops and when we leave for the day, the room looks like a tornado hit it. Papers will be everywhere, whiteboards and flip charts will be filled to the max. Sketches and diagrams will be all over the place. And the post-it notes… oh goodness, the post-it notes! The wall might be covered with everyone’s output! Chairs are rearranged and the space is going to need some clean-up! Participants should leave feeling like they’ve done WORK! They should feel like they are leaving with a sense of new ways to accomplish things they never thought of and you may even think about sending them home with things to do, as well!

4. Assign Homework and Follow-Up with Participants of the Event

Like any good teacher, you have to let your participants continue to learn even if your event is only for one day! Therefore, make sure you have a follow-up exercise or project available for them to work on after your workshop is completed. Also think about including a small list of best resources they can go to for additional help. Think about great websites that you can point them to, handouts covering “Top 10 lists” to help them out, or anything else you feel could be useful in their future endeavors. 

Also consider creating a questionnaire all participants can take at the end of the event and give them plenty of opportunities to share their opinions on how well everything went. I know, I know… it can be scary to put yourself out on display like that for everyone to critique, how else are you going to learn and improve for the next time?

Finally, make sure you have a plan to communicate with participants after the event. Follow-up with individuals to see where they stand a few weeks after the workshop. Was it useful? Are they putting their projects into action? Continuing to network with participants is a great way to find additional opportunities for outreach, collaboration and future interactive workshops they can be a part of!

There won’t be anymore boring Powerpoints at your next workshop, right?! Participants are going to have the chance to apply new information to their everyday lives and jobs and can analyze problems and difficulties they may currently be having with others, in order to figure out solutions that will move them forward. By allowing everyone to share their experiences and ideas, you will be creating an educational, collaborative environment that will facilitate the learning that participants came to do. And that’s the whole goal!