As we’ve seen throughout this course, preparation is key for success, but in the end, you’ve still got to show up and deliver for your audience on the day.
Facilitating a workshop session can be nerve-wracking.
It can feel like there’s so much to remember: from specific content details; to transitions between sections; setting up the room how you want it; being able to answer audience questions; and keeping to time… and those are just a few of the things to juggle.
(Let’s not even start on the nerves you may have when it comes to speaking in front of a room of people).
It may leave you feeling a little like this:
However, there’s some good news.
You can remain calm, confident, and engaged during your session by utilizing just a few simple principles.
Even better, you’ve probably already applied these elsewhere in your life.
Today’s lesson brings together those principles along with some top tips from pro facilitators to help you facilitate your workshop session like… well, a pro of course 🙂
Let’s get into it.
Getting Started: Introductions
In workshops, as in much of life, first impressions count.
The introduction you give about yourself at the start of the session can be an incredible lever to build trust, empathy, and engagement.
It can also put you on the back foot straight from the get-go.
To get the former to happen rather than the latter, at its essence your introduction should do two things: assert your credibility, and display your humanity.
What’s more, by focusing on credibility and humanity you can touch on all of the 7 characteristics mentioned in the previous lesson:
Pretty cool, eh? Let’s see how to do it.
Credibility is companies you’ve worked at, projects you’ve completed, notable people you’ve collaborated with, events you’ve been invited to be a part of. It often boils down to names and accomplishments. You don’t want to be a name-dropper, but sprinkling in a couple of relevant names your attendees are familiar with is an easy and effective way to display credibility.
Credibility in your introduction indicates you are Confident, Professional, and possess Gravitas.
Humanity is about you as a person; your life experiences, your personality, the places you’ve been, the emotions you’ve felt.
Authentically displaying your humanity in your introduction can give the audience a sense you’re Empathetic, Approachable, Charming, and Charismatic.
It’s really as simple as that. Showing your humanity also often does wonders to reduce an audience’s nerves or concerns, which in turn will probably do the same for yours.
Good news for everyone involved.
In the next section, I’ll share an example of how I use credibility and humanity in my introductions.
Three principles for a great introduction
That’s right: just three principles are all you need to help make your introduction a secret weapon for workshop success. Here they are:
- Credibility & Humanity
- Take one minute
- Tailor to the audience
We’ve already talked about Credibility and Humanity; let’s look at the others.
The second principle is even simpler than the first: keep your introduction to a maximum of 1 minute. If you’re a great storyteller you can get away with a little longer, but as a rule of thumb keeping your introduction short and sharp is the best way to go.
The third principle requires a little more work – vary your introduction depending on the audience. This is important, as what’s credible for one audience may have next to no credibility with another.
To explore this principle a little further I often ask myself the following question ahead of my workshops:
“To DJ, or not to DJ?”
When I’m running sessions focused on tech, I obviously want my introduction to frame and underline my interest in technology. To do this, I have a story about my life as a DJ and talent agent and how I utilized the power of software to build my business.
This story can be very effective when talking to younger (i.e. under 35) audiences who are in more junior positions in a company, or work for themselves.
However, for a more senior corporate audience it’s unlikely to land so well, especially when the session is more specific, technical, or mission-critical. For better or worse, DJs have a bit of stigma attached and it can make me come off as a bit too casual.
On these occasions, I may instead mention my work coaching executives at multinational companies, or in technical product management roles where I saw certain thorny challenges appear.
Alternatively, I can tell the same DJ story but talk it about as building the systems to run an entertainment company.
Same story, same desired outcome, different context.
In both cases, my introduction aims to assert my credibility (through the brands and partners I’ve worked with over a period of time) and my humanity (through working in situations very similar to theirs).
You may remember this from the lesson on learning outcomes. That question of ‘what are you trying to convince them of?’ comes in handy here
Introductions are a good way to cover off objections before they overtly come up. For example, using your intro to mention a common frustration people have with the topic can simultaneously build empathy and nix negativity.
Think back to Lesson 1 of who your workshop is for. One of the questions was ‘What are they not yet voicing?’. If you know the answer to this you can tailor your intro to handle these concerns or objections straight out of the gate.
Here’s a really simple example you could use:
“Like a lot of you shared in your registration forms for this session, my early time getting hands-on with [technology/product/skill] X felt really overwhelming.
After just a couple of hands-on sessions doing [Y] with my team I suddenly found myself feeling much more comfortable.
We’ll be aiming to do exactly that today.”
All this may seem like a lot of detail for what’s a very small part of your session, but as mentioned at the top of this section, a strong introduction can be one of your secret weapons.
As with your overall session preparation, it’s worth practicing your introduction so it feels solid but natural. Do it in the mirror, with a friend, on a walk with your dog – whenever, whoever, and wherever you can.
There’s much more we could cover on introductions (yes, really! for more on introductions check out this resource), but let’s move on to a few best practices within the session itself.
During: Best Practices
There are dozens of facilitation approaches and tactics you can use.
Some of these will work better in some sessions than others, so to get started here a few best practices you can go out and apply in pretty much every workshop you facilitate.
You do want to:
- Speak loudly, at a comfortable pace: The simplest rule of thumb here is if you feel like you’re speaking just a little too slowly, you’re probably doing it right. If you have a naturally quiet voice, it’s worth practicing projecting your voice up and out so the attendees at the back of the room can hear clearly. Try this at home and also in the room with a co-facilitator or friend before the session starts (as you’ve arrived early you’ll have a bit of time for this).
- Use leverage: This is a pro tip everyone can use. Workshops aren’t lectures; they’re interactive. Engaging attendees is a great form of leverage. By engaging attendees you can make people feel more involved, hear diverse perspectives, and utilize the knowledge of any subject matter experts who may be in the room.
- Be present: If there’s any one tip that stands above the rest, it’s this. Being present and connected with the session and your attendees may not make your workshop a roaring success on its own, but checking out or being distracted will hugely reduce your chances of a positive outcome. You’ll be amazed at how much people value being seen and heard, with a facilitator who’s right there with them. Again, this is simple, but it’s not always easy. Checking in with yourself every so often is a good habit to build to help with this.
- Focus on Experience > Finish Line: It’s easy to become focused on managing time, or delivering the content exactly as you designed and practiced it. These are important, but your workshop is more likely to have a successful outcome if you place your primary focus on the experience of your attendees. Doing this also often gives you space to be yourself and enjoy it. The added bonus here is a positive feedback loop: focusing on their experience makes it more likely you’ll be yourself, which makes them feel more comfortable, and improves their experience further. A win-win.
You don’t want to:
- Fiddle with your phone: We all know how tempting and distracting our phones can be. Even if your group are heads-down in an activity, resist the temptation to check your emails, look at your train times, or send a text. At best it’s a mild distraction, at worst it says to the attendees you don’t care. It’s best to leave your phone in your bag if you can.
- Act like the smartest person in the room: This is a workshop rather than a lecture. Even if you are a subject matter expert, acting like the smartest person in the room changes the atmosphere, increases the pressure on you, and can draw out some negative behaviors in both you and the attendees. Being open, inclusive, curious, and engaging creates an environment where all ships can rise.
- Try to accomplish other work: Just like fiddling with the phone, trying to do other stuff while you’re facilitating a session is a distraction at best, and at worst an arrogant, dismissive gesture to the people you’re there to serve and support. Even if you feel you’ve got time and space to do something during the session – don’t. You’ll slip up.
During: Pro Tips
Alongside these best practices, there are of course many other tactics and delivery methods that can really help bring your session to life and make the workshop feel even more smooth and professional.
Here are 5 of the most effective.
- Learn the narrative & set up transitions: The lesson on structure mentioned the importance of thinking about narrative arcs. Alongside designing and memorizing the details of the content, your delivery will benefit hugely from paying attention to the overall arc of the session and the transitions between content elements. This takes time and practice, but is well worth the investment to create an experience that feels smooth, enticing and engaging.
- Know what to emphasize: There are probably plenty of details you want to cover in the time you have. Too top-line and you’ll miss your learning objectives. Too granular and you’ll run out of time and lose your audience. Take some time to pick out the key points you want to emphasize. Don’t be afraid to mention them twice or refer back to them later in the session. You have may noticed a few concepts in this course have been emphasized more than others 🙂
- Sprinkle in news / current topics / stories: Taking that extra time to pick out something timely and topical to include in your session can lift energy and engagement, and give attendees the sense you’ve custom-designed the content especially for them. It’s also a great way of opening up conversations around a particular content area
- State aloud the skills and vocabulary learned: A particular skill and term may be obvious to you (after all, you’ve designed and are facilitating the session), but it’s worth remembering your attendees are probably experiencing this for the first time. Simply stating the key skills and terms can help attendees synthesize what’s happening, integrate their learnings and feel a sense of achievement
- Manage energy: Energy tends to drop at three key times: before breaks, 30 minutes after lunch, and 15 minutes after an exercise. Your session design will help mitigate this, but it’s worth being aware of these energy changes during the session. Don’t be afraid to take a break early, skip a little bit of content, or change your delivery style if it means maintaining attendee energy
The final part of this lesson focuses on wrapping up – both closing the session and what to do once your attendees have left the room.
Wrapping up your workshop
When you’re bringing things to a close, here are 3 foundational elements to focus on.
- Strong summary: In your summary, touch briefly on the activities and topics you’ve covered together. Remind the attendees of all they’ve done. You may also want to ask people to share their biggest takeaway from the session. All of us have a recency bias so picking out a couple of possibly forgotten key learnings from the start of the session can be a good idea here too. Like your introduction, this short section can be a really powerful part of your workshop
- Tie back to learning outcomes: Make sure to refer back to your learning outcomes during your wrap-up. By following all the lessons in this series your learning outcomes will be baked into the workshop, some nice positive reinforcement 😉
- Say thanks!: Your attendees have invested their time, energy, attention, and quite possibly their money into the session. A simple thank you can go a long way. You may also want to offer time for a brief Q&A for anyone who wants to chat afterwards
After the workshop
Once everyone has left the room, you may want to jump for joy, have a lie-down, or run for the hills (hopefully the former).
Before doing that, take some time to:
- Tidy up: Unless the venue has expressly said they’ll take care of tidying up, it’s good karma and good manners to get the room back in the state you found it. Realign chairs and tables, collect resources, and power down any tech kit
- Debrief and give co-facilitator / team feedback: It’s good to debrief as soon after the session as possible. If you’re working with a co-facilitator, take 10 minutes to chat through what worked well and which areas could be improved. If you’re working alone, writes some notes or record a brief voice memo. Although you may feel tired and your feelings and insights will likely change after more time to rest and reflect, it’s worth taking note of those instinctive feelings in the first hour after the workshop has finished
- Breathe & Decompress: Facilitation can be exhausting and emotional! Carve out some time to decompress in a way that works for you. It could be meditation, sitting alone for a while, breakdancing (I haven’t tried this one), or going out and socializing with friends. Whatever you choose, give yourself the space to celebrate what you’ve achieved
This was a packed lesson, but following these tips will set you up for a great delivery. And of course, you can come back and revisit this and every lesson whenever you like.
There’s now one lesson left in this series.
Ahead of that, if you have any questions or comments on what’s been covered so far just send me a note – I’d love to hear from you.