How to Streamline a Training Workshop

Erik J. Froelich speaks from 12 years experience in developing and implementing training, teaching and learning solutions, administering and supporting corporate research and educational technologies in a variety of sectors. His most recent work includes teaching Information Literacy and Technology at Philadelphia University. Following is an interview with Erik & Bloomfire, a software site geared for easily sharing knowledge and the discussions that surround it.

Q. What are some ways to keep a training workshop moving smoothly?

Prior planning is fundamental to smooth workshops.

I have a few working tips that have proven successful, but I also have a checklist from Maestro eLearning, which is far more comprehensive to that end than my offhand suggestions.

From my experiences: Definitely know your material INSIDE and OUT. Credibility is super-important, and it should be evident from the start. Know your audience and know how they will use the information you are providing them. Get experiential knowledge (if possible) and real-world examples to make that connection, so that your lessons resonate with their business needs.

As important as it is for the audience to whom you are presenting, there may be stakeholders who are not in attendance who may be calling the shots.  Get an idea of who sets the agenda and ensure that your workshop anticipates and addresses all of the important points. In addition, provide an outline so that the audience can follow along (this may be a guide to the presenter as well).

If there is a risk of individuals falling behind, it is very helpful to have an assistant in the room that can address individuals’ needs without disrupting the flow of the workshop for everybody else. Provide a direct avenue for feedback BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER the workshop. You’ll want to get an idea of questions they have, which might be addressed in your workshop.

They can offer helpful guidance throughout the session (or not; a good presenter will know if it should be addressed in the moment, or later) and then again after the session has concluded. Some might not be so comfortable asking directly; so anonymous feedback may also be helpful.

Know that everybody has different learning styles and modalities. If it is possible, though it may not always be, try to provide pre-recorded workshop materials as a takeaway. These may be print, online, portable formats (such as CD), audio or video. And interactive is best, including possible assessment if it is appropriate to the workshop.

Of course, it is helpful to know the environment in which you will be presenting. Be prepared for things to go wrong. Bring backups (including the technology; if possible, even a mini-LCD projector and laptop/battery/charger on-hand) and have multiple copies of any presentation materials available, electronic or otherwise.

As presenting goes, any training and experience in public speaking will help. Get plenty of rest beforehand. Make eye contact and say about one or two sentences before focusing on another individual elsewhere in the audience.

I find that methodologies such as the SUCCESS model and “Making Presentations that Stick” are helpful in providing guidance for presentations that engage an audience.

Of course, the best workshops are not all about talking heads. So, if possible, get people participating with you, or better yet with themselves. Provide an organized charrette-style session where ideas are generated in the audience and presented with joint ownership, which helps to provide credibility to implementation of any proposed solutions by you or by your audience.

Q. Why is “joint ownership” of the learning experience so important?

Joint ownership is a sharing of values in the time and effort being put forth toward meeting the objectives of the learning experience. A good result of joint ownership is when the proposed solution, or training/learning content, is not seen as being imposed by “some outsider.”

An unwilling audience may see the workshop leader as “trying to tell them how to do their job.” Addressing this head-on is tricky but important. That said, it is not as large an issue if they have signed up for your workshop, as it is if they are mandated to attend.

Q. How do you get an unwilling audience to interact with you and be actively involved in the process?

Being able to demonstrate that you understand their position, and especially if you have performed those same tasks, is crucial to getting “buy-in” from that audience. They still may not be happy with what you have to say, but at least you will have their ear.

This can come in the form of an icebreaker activity, which is the first part of every workshop or class I lead. People are almost always willing to talk about themselves, and especially so in what they perceive as a safe environment. And through these first few minutes, you can get a feel for what roles they play in the social dynamics of their group and in your workshop. Ideally, you will be able to determine who (if anybody) might influence the opinion of others, and to address their concerns directly.

Once the initial phase has completed, an audience who starts to lose touch should not be ignored. I never feel that it is worthwhile to stick to the agenda if you have lost your audience.

This is when I make it a point to specifically solicit feedback and determine if another approach would be helpful. This might mean: skipping sections that are not pertinent, or pausing for concrete examples, or taking time to review how we got to this point of the workshop.

If they are practicing on a computer, for example, I might solicit differing results to determine if they are not seeing what I am showing to them. Often times, when one feels comfortable speaking up, others will nod in agreement and even bring up their own points, again if they feel it is a safe social environment to do so.

There may be a rewards system in place, if allowable and if circumstances dictate. Some workshop presenters will provide some token, or candy, or some incentive to get participation if it is particularly difficult, or worse, boring.

Most will provide time to stretch and break if the workshop is lengthy or involves a lot of idle time. Provision of refreshments is always welcome and can also keep people awake. Delicately encouraging a minimum of distractions from cell phones and portable devices is also helpful.

Q. Any last thoughts?

Final thought: As the leader of a workshop, class, or training session, always find a reason to be passionate. If you take the approach that it is ‘just a job’ then your participants will pick up on this.

But conversely, if you really believe in your presentation, and you’ve put forth the effort to plan and execute it well, your audience be engaged and will walk out with a better attitude. This simple motivation goes a long way toward carrying out the end-goals you presented at the start.

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Interview courtesy of Bloomfire, a software site geared for easily sharing knowledge and the discussions that surround it.  You can invite members to find and follow experts, ask questions or share with others by uploading documents, videos or presentations, recording a video on your webcam or creating a screen cast on the fly. Schedule a free demo today.