Work This Workshop! Work It!
June 15, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

What makes for a really, really kickass professional workshop?

We've all been to so-so workshops before. I don't want this one to be so-so.

I've done a lot of presenting before, but this fall I'm doing my first 3.5 hour (half-day) workshop.

It's for history museum professionals, it's about social media, and about exploring social media to discover topics in local/regional history that interest people for potential use in museums and such.
So we'll be inviting people to bring laptops and leading them in exploring some big-name social sites as well as some more obscure ones.

But my question is really broader - we know what content we want to cover, but we want to have a really lively, productive format. We don't want to run a talking-head workshop, don't want to do the old "breakout groups for the sake of breakout groups then report back on your discussion" thing.

I'd like participants to feel that they were active, that they discovered new abilities, that they learned something useful to take back, and that they really did the "work" part of workshop, instead of listening to a few presenters yammer and do powerpoints.

So what are your suggestions for facilitating a kickass workshop?
Any and all things welcome. Please share things you've experienced in that past that made a difference.

Assume that we will have an outline, we will rehearse, and we are comfortable public speakers and facilitators. We have the chance to upload e-handouts, we have live internet and a projector, and we can do displays, table games/activities, etc.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to share your ideas and thoughts!
posted by Miko to Work & Money (5 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Can each participant be tasked with giving a ten minute presentation on something that matters to them? This is a way to draw onthe knowledge of the people in the room, whih is what breakout groups try to accomplish.

Also, part of creating low stakes environment where people aren't trying to impress each other is to avoid concerning yourself too much with impressing the audience. Maybe focus on driving in the point you really want to make,
posted by Jagz-Mario at 2:14 PM on June 15, 2012

How many people will you have? Do they already know and trust each other?

I went to a workshop recently which was good because it had lots of "okay, we've talked for two slides about Technique X , now we'll do an exercise where each of you will come up with a paragraph following that technique" - or "here's a pre-written sample, let's go around the table and each person will identify one way that this paragraph illustrates Technique X, and how we might improve it", etc. Then given them time to write their own, a good 5 or 10 min or whatever, and go around the table calling on people in turn.

It was a group of under 10, composed of people of roughly equal abilities and who all trusted each other, so they weren't made nervous by sharing their work.

Worked well because most of the workshop time was spent with them actively doing, which forced them to be engaged.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:47 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I run a fair number of workshops and events. Hope this isn't condescending.

Define your goals really clearly and specifically, and then do as much preparation and structure as necessary to achieve those goals. The trick here is to just skip things that you might assume are necessary. You might not need any presentations at all, or discussions, or trainings, depending on your goals.

Example -- lessons learned by OpenHatch, which puts on lots of learn-to-program workshops.

Given what you've said, it sounds like some goals might be (just brainstorming):

* Attract 30 history museum professionals, including at least 5 who had never posted to social media before.
* Train each participant in the technical skills and social norms necessary to use (names of 5 sites/tools).
* Have each participant start a small but useful campaign on a topic of their interest.
* Use GLAM resources to help participants plan 4 editathons (example) at history museums within the next 2 months.
* Get at least 15 of the participants to sign up for a continuing meetup or online consulting group.

Here are some formats you could use: speeches, tutorials, sprints, and breathing room.

* A speech lectures people about something. When I run workshops, I discourage these heavily, except maybe for a getting-people-fired-up speech at the start. I don't like the "everyone go around the room and introduce yourselves" tactic because it takes a lot of time and bores people. Instead I preselect about 5-10 people and ask them to give 30-second pitches on what they're interested in working on. That still gives other participants some ideas of things to do and people to chat with.

* A tutorial teaches the participants how to do something. I agree with LobsterMitten and think this should be the heart of the workshop -- learning by doing. I think tutorials should be nearly entirely hands-on, full of exercises, and all the instructions should be available online ahead of time. You might have two tutorials simultaneously, one for novices and one for people who have used Facebook personally but not professionally, for example.

* A sprint is a period for self-guided, sometimes collaborative work towards a goal that the participant sets -- writing or reviewing, designing, etc. I figure that the workshop leaders suggest a scope for the sprint, the participants decide what to do, and the facilitators wander around, telling like-minded participants about each other and guiding the lost.

* Breathing room is breaks and unconference-y slots and so on. In a half-day I think you won't have time to effectively get people to lead their own breakout sessions unconference-style, but you can give people breathing room to informally network and process what they're learning.

You know your goals and audience better than I do, so I won't presume to tell you what formats to use and in what configuration. A few more tips:

Wifi wifi wifi! Test it ahead of time, try to stress-test it with multiple people loading video and doing OS upgrades and connecting to a bunch of sites from the same IP address.

In your pre-workshop emails to participants, give them the signup links for the services you'll want them to use -- the more people who create their accounts ahead of time, the better. It's annoying when some server gives you the cold shoulder because they see 20 accounts created in 5 minutes from the same IP address.

The higher the helper-to-participant ratio you can get, the better, even if some of the helpers are just friendly web-savvy folks with no particular expertise in history, marketing or teaching.

Best of luck with your workshop!
posted by brainwane at 11:21 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I currently organize content for a professional society's annual conference, and I used to work at a history museum.

Brainwane mentioned it, but I wanted to emphasize its importance—communicate with attendees before and after the workshop.

Before: with your audience, you will probably have a wide range of technical abilities and institutional goals. If you can, find out exactly what your participants hope to learn before the workshop, then build your workshop around that.

Then, be clear with your attendees exactly what the workshop will do and what it won't do. Learning outcomes can help you articulate this. For example, "After this workshop, you will be able to use three social media sources to identify five topics relevant to your museum's intended audience." There is nothing worse than paying for a workshop only to feel misled about what what you expected to learn.

After: follow-up with your attendees a month or so after the workshop. Workshops can be intense. It can take a few weeks of applying what you learned to have questions. Sending an email with a few reminder tips, or even better, specific and personalized emails to each individual asking them how they're applying what they learned will be appreciated, and will open lines of communication for them to ask their questions.

I'd also focus on creating a takeaway product over a teaching skill. If you give attendees something to take home, your workshop will need to be active and participatory, as they will need to use the skills you are teaching to create the product. Maybe they need to outline a social media strategy for their museum. Maybe they need to follow five social media sources for their museum, and develop a written plan for using that knowledge. Maybe they need to create a reference guide for using social media sites, which allows them to learn the skills and take home a resource tailored to their knowledge level and needs (this is also helpful for those who need to justify to bosses/boards, etc., the cost of attending your workshop).

Creating a collaborative, fun learning environment is important. Going around the room with introductions is boring. Instead, you can have participants introduce themselves to their neighbors, asking them to tell their neighbor one way their museum uses social media, and one way they want their museum to use social media. Evaluating current knowledge and articulating knowledge goals can help people absorb new knowledge. Plus, they get to know peers who can help them during and after the workshop.

Humor helps a lot, too. I'm not sure if this Twitter feed relates to your topic.

Good luck, and thank you for moving another workshop beyond lame exercises and boring PowerPoints.
posted by Tall Telephone Pea at 7:02 AM on June 17, 2012

Thanks all for the great suggestions and for sharing your experiences and ideas. These were really extremely helpful responses!
posted by Miko at 9:11 AM on June 17, 2012

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