Ten tips on running a top workshop

A very good graphic designer friend of mine – a wise man – once told me the reason he’d started teaching elements of design to friends who were getting in touch with him. It’s joyous to see someone pick up a new skill, he said. Just to see the difference we can make to someone’s day by sharing a little of what we love. He added that it reinforced what he knew. And that it tested his knowledge and character.

I asked my friend for tips on training. In fact, since that day back in 2010, I’ve asked a lot of excellent trainers for advice on running tone of voice and writing workshops, including my fellow trainers here at Afia.

If I were a wise man, this is what I’d pass on.

1. Set expectations early on

Start with introductions – who you are, why you’re here, who everyone else in the room is. Give an idea of outcomes – what you’re going to cover, how you’re going to do it, what everyone will get out of the session. And mention the little things that mean a lot – what time you’ll break for coffee and lunch, and what time you’ll finish up.

2. Start with a smile

An early exercise or conversation can relax people and get them on your side.

3. Allow everyone a voice

Some people in your workshop will be terrified of speaking up. But those people will often reveal the most, or need the most help. Be aware of the personalities in the room. Give everyone the chance to ask questions and share their thoughts.

4. Listen, listen, listen

Ask questions and listen to responses. You might think you’re there just to teach. But the best teachers are those who answer people’s problems.

5. Show you know your stuff

Every training group is different. Some people will get what you’re talking about and love it. Some will love it but not really understand it. And some will switch off or make a pain of themselves. They might question everything, including the value of the session.

This questioning is fine. As long as you know your stuff (which I’m sure you do).

When someone asks a tricky question, bring out the big guns. For us at Afia, that might be explaining the grammatical difference between the passive and active. Or talking through the history of the English language and how it affects business writing today.

Don’t show off – just do enough to impress.

6. Make the technical stuff engaging

When it comes to sharing the trickier information, find a way to make it sink in. A massive list of active subject-verb-object sentences rarely makes the whole active/passive thing interesting. But the story about the mysteriously broken school window does.

7. Make eye contact and use names throughout

The better you get at this, the more the group will feel you’re on their level. (Not good with names? Use name badges/stickers. Just remember to put one on yourself.)

8. Summarise as you go

It’s tricky to remember all the good stuff that’s shared during a training session. So write it up on a whiteboard as you go along. These summaries can help you recap as you move through the day. And they might lead to new exercises or even revelations.

9. Keep the pace

If it’s a one-day workshop, chances are everyone will lose energy a couple of times. Usually after food. Be aware and be prepared. Keep a couple of fun exercises up your sleeve for those sleepier moments. Nothing too thinky, mind.

10. Relax and enjoy it

Those first few seconds – when you’re worried you’re going to launch into your opening gambit with completely the wrong words – are sink or swim. They can set the tone for the rest of the session. So relax. If you do, you’ll find by the end that everyone, or almost everyone, enjoyed what you were saying and how you were saying it.

You’ll have helped someone pick up a new skill and made a little difference to their day. Or maybe even their life.

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