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The Do’s and Don’ts of Organizing a Live Workshop


You are about to embark on a new journey. You may have taught through e-learning, webinars, or podcast before, but you are now facing a new teaching environment – the face-to-face workshop during which participants will be physically in front of you.

Assuming that you have your learning objectives solidly in place, you are now faced with how to engage a group of people who may or may not want to be there. Your job is to meet those learning objectives and have your audience happy that they attended when they leave. In other words, they felt that it was totally worthwhile and practical.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts that should help your planning and execution.

Dump the Lecture and PowerPoints

It is the participants who will be doing the work, not you. You cannot fashion a workshop from a lecture. Identify your learning objectives first. Provide these to your participants at the beginning. Then, you will step back, because you will have planned learning activities that the participants will complete, either individually or in small groups. They will be learning by doing – that is why the word “work” is in the term workshop. You assign and guide – they work.

Don’t Overload the Numbers

Workshops are intimate gatherings. They shouldn’t really have more than 25 -30 participants.  If you get registrations for much more, divide it out and give two workshops instead. You cannot interact with every participant if you have too many to get to during the activities. You are a facilitator, and facilitators must be available to answer questions or to help when a participant or group is stuck.

Test Every Activity

Nothing is worse than planning an activity, introducing it, and then giving your participants their “marching orders,” only to have the activity “bomb.” The only way you can avoid this is to test every activity you plan. Offer your workshop for free to a select group of participants who mirror those that will actually be paying customers. For business workshops, find a small to mid-sized business that will allow you to offer the workshop for free. You will able to get a real feel for what works and what doesn’t, get the feedback you need, and revise accordingly. When you actually move into the paid workshop environment, you know what you have “works.”

Sounds Old-Fashioned but It Works

Forget the electronic whiteboard. Opt for flip charts and large paper. Your participants will be producing and hopefully presenting. They need markers and paper; they need to be able to post their productions on walls with tape.

Follow the “Rule of Three”

For every learning objective you have, there will be at least one activity. The idea of the “rule of three” is that you 1) explain, 2) provide the activity that everyone will complete, and 3) debrief, or hold a discussion of what each individual or group produced, what they learned, and what challenges they faced. This is where you can also add insights.

Keep “Housekeeping” Tasks Simple

Do not burden participants with unnecessary challenges. Make everything simple, from enrollment through breaks, lunch, etc.

  • Use a simple, payment feature, such as Payjunction, that allows all major credit cards and the use of any and all devices. Whether a business or individuals are making payment, it must be streamlined and take only a minute or two.
  • Have a master schedule in print for each participant. This outlines the entire workshop, the breaks, how lunch is to be provided, parking, directions, etc. Providing all of this to participants up front and in advance means you don’t have to spend workshop time on it.
  • Have a feedback form based upon your learning objectives and the activities. Pass this out up front, so that participants can comment as the workshop moves along.

Stay Back

Your job is to explain each skill/concept and then to let the participants “do their thing.” It is find to move about the room, but do not micromanage and do not give the impression that you are “evaluating” what they are doing. There must be an environment of comfort for everyone.

Be Somewhat Flexible

As the workshop moves long, get a feel for the flow. If participants are struggling with a complex and difficult task, it may be time to take a short break. After the break, hold a quick debriefing session so that they can voice their challenges or difficulties. You may need to provide additional explanations. As you become more experienced in face-to-face workshops, you will get better at feeling out your audience.

What’s Next?

Participants should leave a workshop with some type of action plan to put to use what they have learned. Make certain that this happens.

These are the most important aspects of planning a workshop. Remember these key ingredients for success: the workshop is not about you, it is about your participants. They must be actively engaged throughout. Plan engaging activities for each learning objective you have; act as a facilitator and coach, not an overseer or micromanager; provide plenty of time for debriefing after each activity; and make all housekeeping tasks simple. Most important of all – take the feedback you get and use it to keep improving.

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