World Class Workshops: How to maximise learning and action

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I can recall the very first training session I ever delivered back in early 2000’s – I was thrown in at the deep end and told to deliver health and safety training to my team. I didn’t know what I was doing.

And although I learned a lot about facilitation simply by getting on with it, I’d say I’ve learned a lot more in the past few years compared to the last 15 about how to maximise learning and action with a workshop.

There are a few people close to me are going to be facilitating more workshops going into 2019, so I thought it was time to share a few of the major things I do to make sure we create as much impact as possible with our workshops.

In this episode I cover:

  • Making the room work for you
  • Creating a learning atmosphere
  • Disarming your guests
  • Starting strong
  • Finishing strong

Enjoy ad DFTBA!



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Just recently there have been a few people close to me that have expressed an interest in running, you know starting to run and facilitate workshops or wanting to do more and want to do more better.

And this is either for private workshops for companies or perhaps public workshops for business owners and marketers, and also much of the advice I’m gonna share with you in this episode will apply to you if you regularly run in house training, in house workshops, in house team meetings and things like that as well.

So across the board there are some really handy tips in here but, I’m gonna share some tips with you, but the main is talking about how to start and finish strong, right, so you can essentially bookend your workshops to maximize learning and to maximize the experience, and the action that people take as well.

Though I recall, I can recall the very first training session that I ever delivered back in the early 2000s, I think the suit that I had on was fresh out the packet and I was thrown into the deep end and was told to deliver health and safety training to my team. Now I didn’t know the first thing about health and safety training, didn’t know the first thing thing about training people and all these people didn’t know me either.

Safe to say I didn’t know what I was doing and there was a few resistors in the audience as well, there was people in there that didn’t want me to do well for whatever reason. So over the years I’ve sort of tried to get better at that and definitely learned a lot about facilitation simply just by getting on with it.

I’ve also had some formal training as well over the years and training, training trainers and group training and things like that. But I’d say I’ve learned a lot more in the past few years compared to the last fifteen, about what’s really really important when it comes to facilitating workshops. And this is mostly due to me working closely with Marcus Sheridan, and hosting world class communication with him.

Now the first time I worked with Marcus was back in 2015. I hired him to run a content marketing workshop at the CNE live in 2015, so over three years ago now and during that session I wasn’t really learning about content marketing Marcus and I had a conversation beforehand and he said to me that ” I know that you know all about the stuff I gonna teach today, so what I’d prefer that you did was watch how I facilitate the workshop.” And that was where that my eyes were opened at that point was realizing that actually there’s a lot of work I can actually do to facilitate a world class workshop.

So I’m gonna share some of those tips with you. This isn’t about the content of your workshop but the things you can do to aid the learning process and maximize the impact. So weather its a content market workshop your running or a cyber security workshop, or a workshop on how to build your own home I fell that a lot of these elements I’m gonna share with you can help you to create a world class workshop and a world class learning experience for your guests.

So lets get started let get some quick things out of the way. These are things that I do that work really really well. That I do every single time that create a great environment.

Have the Exact Number of Seats in the Room

So number one is I have exact number of seats I the room. Now this is really really important, this is every single empty seat takes energy away from the room, right, it takes energy away so this creates what’s called the sardine effect right, in a sense what we’re doing is taking all the empty seats out and only leaving a seat for every single person in the room. You want to create this feeling that the room is dense or full, so that people can get, feel like they are close together. So we have to remove and seats and any tables that aren’t needed and that’s one of the first things you should do. If you want your workshop to be a win, this could be a small room like a board room just make sure you have the right number of seats or it could be a large workshop, right, it doesn’t really matter the same rule applies. You need the room to be on your side, so you take time to prepare the room for a win.

Now you have much more control of this then you think, even if it’s not your event. You can take control and it make a massive difference to the atmosphere and the room, it makes a massive difference to the experience that each of your guests will have. And if you can’t remove seats or tables then do what you can to bring everybody into a concentrated area. To get that sardine effect. It changes everything the room can be the worst room in the world but if you’ve got everybody together, they feel like their in this experience together their learning together and they feel like unit. So have the exact number of seats in the room that’s number one.


Number two is to have music on. So music on before the event, during the breaks at the end. It creates a friendly atmosphere, it builds the atmosphere, also people have to speak a little bit louder in the room as well so it creates like a really cool atmosphere in the room. But also acts as a cue as well. So for example what we do in our workshops is we put music on at the beginning, we turn it up loud for few seconds before we’re about to start and then we just cut it out – like mute it, and it just it turns silent. And then everybody acts accordingly, right, that’s a audio cue people understand that and they sit down and are ready to learn. So that’s what we do with music, we do it in the break times as well and we do it at the end and it just has lifts atmosphere, it lifts, it creates this friendly environment.

Don’t Let Anyone in the Room Until It’s Ready

And another thing that we do well as well which may not work in every situation but I think it’s good if you can do this is to not let people into the room until the room is ready. Till you got the seats ready, till you got the music on, till you got, and all your slides presentation ready, till you got tables set up whatever your doing don’t let people into the room until your ready. The, other side of the the other situation or scenario is that people are actually coming into the room sitting down while you’re sorta getting ready or your still doing things in the room. Now what happens is one person comes in then another person comes in then another couple of people come in it sorta drips and drabs, but see when you’ve got everybody coming into the room at the exactly the same time and the musics on and their buzzing and their talking to each other and it creates this atmosphere, I think its a much better way to start the day.

So say for example we got a workshop starting at 9 o’clock, will have everybody arrive at half past 8 coffee, tea, biscuits, breakfast that sorta thing, and we’ll hold off until about two or three minutes before 9 o’clock, and then let everybody in, let everybody sit down and it just feels good to just, there’s this huge buzz in the room right, immediately you’ve got everybody in the room as opposed to just one or two building up over time. Changes the atmosphere entirely, so we do that as well.

Have Name Badges

And there are a couple things we do, we just make sure we’ve got name badges for everybody. I’ve been to a couple of events where the organizer just, just didn’t have name badges, and I couldn’t figure out why and I was like “why haven’t you got name badges?” “I just didn’t bother this time.” And like I don’t know these people, the people in the room don’t know each other as well so we have to have name badges for everybody in the room. Even if you feel it doesn’t matter it probably matters a lot that you should have them and one of the quick and easy solutions is to get a reel of ‘hello my name is’ badges from Amazon. And pop them in your backpack or briefcase and have a couple of sharpies so your always ready with the name badges.

I think it’s really good to have the name badges. There’s nothing better then the ‘hello my name is” sticker, badges. Another you, they might seem cheep but hugely effective people stick them to their upper chest area so you can always see them with lanyards they hang down at your belly and when your sitting down you can always see them, when they’re halfway down, so ‘hello my name is’ badges are really really effective and really easy to use and they’re cheep as well, so they are really versatile, so getting a reel of ‘hello my name is’ badges is a good way to do. If your regularly are doing workshops and doing any type of team events or training, having these badges in your bag, its a win, its a win for you if you’ve got them.

Segment Your Workshop

We also make sure that we have segments, like so when I look at a full day workshop I look at four ninety minute segments when I’m looking at half day workshops I’m looking at two ninety minute segments maximum. Ninety minutes then a break cause that’s really the length of time that people need to go to the loo, and obviously it’s not going to be a full ninety minutes, there’s going to be definite exercises and stuff like that in there, but no more then ninety minutes. You want people to be able to go for a break stretch their legs, maybe go outside for some fresh air and especially go to the bathroom as well.

Now just in general you want to have as much control of the room as possible, set the room up for a win for you in terms of making sure like generally speaking if it’s a team meeting or training or a workshop that your running your trying to change the way people think you’re trying to change the way that they behave, your trying to sell them on an idea, right? And one of the things that you can’t, you don’t, one of the things you really want to do is get that win, right, nice and early and that’s the room, making sure the room is right for you. So those are a few of the things that will help that along. And then I think you can create this atmosphere that helps you from the very start, right, you’re on a good trend from the start.

Now the two major things I want to share with you is what I call book ending your workshop. In other words how to start strong and finish strong, to maximize learning and to maximize the impact and action that people take as well.

So let get started on starting well and then we’ll go on to finishing well and then we’ll wrap things up. So hopefully your able to take a few things from this.

Starting Strong

So, I’m sure you’ve been in a training session like this before, either as guest or as a presenter or a facilitator where there’s a resistor or perhaps more then one resistor, basically some people in the room are just not ready to learn they came with their defenses up, right, they’re like “I don’t want to learn I’m not ready for change I don’t want to learn something new.” And they were resisting they were prepared to resist now, if we don’t deal with this from the start, then they are going to derail and disrupt your workshop or your even from the very start.

So there are a few things we can do to start off with to lower anxiety open people up and get them into position where they want to contribute positively to the session. So we need to do that from the start. We need to be in control of this so it doesn’t get out of hand, okay, and I think if you do these things it will help but one of the things that will definitely help is identifying who they are if your not sure to begin with.

So how can we start a session so that everyone feels great from the start? Right their ready to learn, so this is what I call, or what I’ve learned from Marcus and learned to call ‘disarming the audience.’ Right, so I think this really applies in almost every situation and conversation, across the board. Right, in other words what can we do to help our audience disarm to lower their weapons, to lower the barriers to be open to new ideas and learning, right, we want to make sure that everyone feel heard. Want to make sure everyone know why they are there and we want to make sure that everyone is in the right frame of mind to get the most from the session. Want to make sure that happens, so we’re in control that.

So one way to get everyone in the right frame of mind is to ask and facilitate discussion round these questions, the last thing we want to to do is tell them why they are there and tell them what they need to learn and tell them what kind of mind set they need to be in. What we need is for them to tell us, they need to determine the rules, they need to determine how to behave. Okay, and we’re gonna go through that in a second.

So one way to get everybody in the right frame of mind is to ask and facilitate, these questions right, so what’s the single, so what I do in my content market workshops, is start off with: what is the single biggest challenge you have right now with growing your business? And everybody in the room has an opportunity to say what their biggest challenge is, and what that creates is commonality in the room everybody realizes that their, they have the same challenges as everybody else has.

Right, so its just quite amazing cause early on in that process a lot of people say oh we’ve got a different business so we have these types of challenges and by the end of it there’s five or six other people that have the exact same challenge they do and then we pout it all in the flip chart and you can see it. Right, so it just creates this commonality everyone, realizes that their not special and in fact we’re all here for the same reason.

And the other thing we do sometimes as well is ask “what is the one thing, I mean you came here today your here to learn, what is the one thing that you want to get from this session?” So right off the bat, they can get that off their chest. They’re like “you know what I want to get this from this session.” Okay, so the key here though is you’re not telling them how to act, how to behave, what they’re there for. You get them to do it.

Okay, now if you have got quite a lot of people in the room it might be impossible to get everyone to answer this question out loud and write it all down. So what you can do is get them to write it down in front of them on a piece of paper and make sure everyone understands what their challenge is and why they’re there. So that everybody has that mindset from the start.

The Vanguard Principle

Now there might also be specific things that you want to control or make sure that don’t happen during your session, right, whatever they are you want to get ahead of them. You want to make sure that your session doesn’t get derailed and can stay on track. Right, we call this a Vanguard principle, right, getting ahead of the problem and meeting it head on so that it doesn’t become a problem later. We are not waiting for the problem to appear, we’re actually getting ahead of it we can predict the problem and we’re making sure it doesn’t happen.

So an example for that could be, like in my workshops I don’t want people to just give feedback whenever they want to, so I gotta watch that, cause there might be people in the room that have had experience with something and want to say “this is how you should do something” I want to eradicate that during my workshops. Cause we’re there for a short period of time and we want people to learn so, I want to make sure that people understand how feedback works. So we have to have that discussion from the very start so it doesn’t happen during the day cause it can be a real problem.

Lets say for example you don’t want people don’t want people checking their email or answering their phone or chatting to each other when someone else is talking, little things like that. Right, so what you can do is get the people in the room your guest, your team to create the rules for that session by asking a simple question and facilitating discussion. So this question could be something like what do we need to do to get the most from today? How do we need to behave to get the most from this session? A question like that, and then again your not telling them how to behave, all the time when you ask this question you, all the time you know what answers your look for and the key is they have to say it, when they say it they own it, they agree as room that’s how they are going to behave. Its far more effective and because they say it, it gives you the right to use it and enforce it as well. Okay, so you can get ahead of these problems.

So whatever sort of problems your predict might happen in your session, or whatever, the last time you ran this session this happened let make sure it doesn’t happen again, you Vanguard it, you get ahead of the problem and you meet it head on, but the key thing here is that if you can do it in a way that facilitates discussion around it, so your not telling them they actually say it.

So use the questions what do we need to do? How do we need to behave? What the one thing your want to get from this session? Why are you here? What’s the single biggest challenge you have with your business right now? Those sort of question are going to help facilitate that. What we want is everybody to engage at least, everybody to have engaged at some level very early on in your workshop so you are starting strong, everybody feels relaxed, they’ve all been seen, they’ve all been heard, they’ve all made their point and hopefully what will happen there is they start to relax into the day they start to relax and open the mind for learning and their ready to learn. Right that’s what we want to have that discussion around.

So that’s gonna start off really really well. Then you can deliver your content, right that’s what we’re here to talk about cause your workshop can be about anything. And then we have to make sure you finish well. This is one thing I feel that and in the past generally speaking just not leaving enough time at the end to finish strong. And I feel like you need to make this time at the end. If you’ve got a four hour workshop just make sure you’ve got three hours of content, and then have an hour so you can have a good start and a good end. And you want to be spending half an hour at the end making sure people know what happens next.

Finishing Strong

Right, so I finish, we finish with three main questions normally in our workshops. To make sure that the learning is embedded and the impact is there, and they know what they are gonna do next. So one of the questions I want to ask is: “how will you benefit? In other words you started this session you knew why you were here, you had an objective, you had a challenge, how are you now going to benefit form what you’ve learned today?” We need each person to understand how they’ll benefit from this new knowledge, this idea or this new direction or this change that we’re trying to sell or get them to buy it as everybody bought in? Does everybody understand how they’ll gain and how they will benefit? And if we can get everybody to answer this question people can see the benefits from other angles and other perspectives as well. So let start discussion on how you’ll benefit from his new knowledge, this new idea this new direction. So that’s question one.

Question two what will prevent you from taking action? This is a key question that we discuss at length. When you leave the room what is going to get in you way and stop you from taking action and making progress. Again you want them to answer this so that everyone can appreciate the barriers cause there will be a lot of times people will say, someone will say something, and someone else in the room will be like “I’ve never thought of that, that’s definitely gonna be a restriction for me.” And then you can have, facilitate a discussion on how to over come them. So one of the most common ones we get is: time, right, when I leave this room one of the things I’m gonna struggle with is finding the time. So how do we find the time? What do we need to do? How would you feel if someone told you they didn’t have the time? What does that tell us? Right, then have a discussion around it. Use questions don’t tell them what to do, get them to tell you how they are going to, how they’re going to prevent any barriers or any problems from becoming and issue so they can take more action have a greater impact. That’s the second question.

And the third question is: what are you gonna do in the next 24 hours? In other words, what’s your first immediate task and action off the back of this. Right, now we know success is more likely if there’s immediate action so we get people to volunteer their next action. Again so people can see what actions they should be taking and get some new ideas as well. So that’s how we finish off. How will you benefit, what will prevent you and what are you gonna do in the next 24 hours? So we start strong, we end strong and this has a great impact on the customer experience in other words we want people to feel safe quickly, I want people to feel like they can trust me quickly. So that we can deliver a great session. So, everybody is ready to learn you don’t want someone sitting in the whole workshop just derailing it so we need to get up, open everybody up feel safe, feel trusted, feel heard, feel seen.

So that’s how I book end it and at the end we obviously want to make sure that, everything they have learned in the workshop has a great impact with them as well as, so we spend time just allowing them to have a vision of what that might look like when they leave the room. Okay, so that’s how we do it, that’s what happens, make sure it’s a good experience for everybody in the room, make sure it’s a good experience for you as well the facilitator and also to make sure that learning and action is maximized during and after the workshop.

So those, you know, I’d love to hear your ideas as always especially if you’re taking something from this and putting it into action. I’d love to hear what you’re doing. And if you got any further questions, you want to add some ideas to this or if you’ve got something to say then email me or tweet me @chrismarr101 I’d love to hear from you and I hope that you are enjoying what you are doing.

Don’t forget to be awesome, and I’ll catch you next time.

If you’re looking to get more ROI from your content marketing efforts, then join the Content Market Academy with a 14 day free trial to have a snoop around and make sure it’s for you. Just click the link in the short notes and I’ll see you in there.

About Nicola Crawford

Marketing PA at the Content Marketing Academy.
In business, I believe in people first.
Mum to two crazy kids, Alaina and Morgan.
Green belt in Shotokan Karate.
Always learning, always growing.