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How to do your workshop right – 11 tips & tricks

Workshop at Hyper Island – Img feat. Phil Hesketh, Thomas Anderson, Sydney Johnson, Josephine Hjort, kien, Manish KC, Renzo Vallejo

Cooking the perfect dinner for your friends once doesn’t make you a chef.

Serving the same quality dish night by night requires quality ingredients, skills, creativity, flexibility, practice and knowing your recipe by heart.

The same goes for running and facilitating workshops. Successful workshops aren't barely a matter of luck or your participants’ individual taste. They are the result of carefully planning and crafting an experience, applying tools and techniques and complying with rules and principles.

How many times have you walked out of a workshop and asked yourself: «Why have I just wasted eight hours of my life? What was the point?»

There are techniques, rules and tools you want to embrace and apply. Some might seem obvious and elementary. Nevertheless, people ignore or violate them over and over again. Thus, here are 11 ingredients that you can use.

1. Know your audience

As with any product or service that is meant to serve people a workshop is no different. You are providing an experience to people and everyone wants to get some use out of it. Find out who’s attending your workshop and what these people’s needs and pain points are related to the workshop. They are what you want to address.

2. Have a shared vision and goals

There is nothing worse than wasting your and other people’s time. So don’t. Define and agree on why you meet in the first place. Set a clear vision and measurable goals. Make them transparent or even have attendees collaboratively agree on them. This will help you stay focused and measure success at the end of a workshop.

A team canvas can help you define a vision, goals, values, rules and roles.

Team Canvas - Bring Your Team on the Same Page

Credits: @theteamcanvas

Team canvas at Hinderling Volkart

3. Have a structure and use an agenda

It’s great to know where you want to go but you don’t want to get lost and stuck on the way. You don’t have to plan through every minute of your workshop but set topics or milestones. Providing a structure helps people to stay focused and orient themselves. Here is a potential structure:

1. On-Boarding
– Welcome and introduction round (ice breaker)
– Vision, goals and agenda of the workshop
– «Rules & behaviour» to be applied during the workshop
2. Key workshop topics
– Listing of your main workshop topics
3. Off-Boarding
– Recap of the workshop, goals and achievements
– Definition of next steps and tasks
– Reflection & feedback round and positive ending

Make your agenda permanently visible during a workshop – e.g. on a whiteboard. Use Post-it®’s to outline the agenda. This leaves you with the flexibility to adjust it on the go. In addition, flipping a post-it when you are done is a great way to convey a sense of achievement.

Workshop agenda at Hinderling Volkart

Send your participants a rough agenda prior to the workshop. This helps them prepare and provides transparency.

4. Use ice breakers & energisers

Ice breakers and energisers involve people and keep them in a good mood. This is especially beneficial if you are dealing with topics, not everyone is familiar with or if people need to get to know one another. There are countless ways to apply ice-breakers and energisers. Here are two links:

Ice breakers

The 10 Best Ice Breaker Activities for Any Work Event



Methods & Tools curated by Hyper Island

Credits: Hyper Island

5. Set up rules and a common behavior

A workshop is a place for people to collaborate. Make sure everyone has the same understanding of how to do so. Set some rules and have everybody agree on them or create them together. I have been using these:

Once again the team canvas can help.

Team Canvas — Bring Your Team on the Same Page

Credits: @theteamcanvas

6. Do a reflection and feedback round

An important part of ending a workshop is recapping what you have done and what you have achieved. This sums up your workshop and helps you measure of why you have come together in the first place. Reflect on your workshop from a content, a process and a personal perspective. Let people share their thoughts and provide their feedback. After all, you want to learn from your attendees and constantly improve your workshops. Furthermore, you convey a feeling of caring, personal interest and involvement. A number of great reflection and feedback tools and techniques may be found here:


Reflection: Team


Feedback: I appreciate...

Credits: Hyper Island

7. Have a parking lot

«Parking lot» at Hinderling Volkart

I love this one!

Even when following a strict agenda you often find yourself getting lost in detail discussion or being carried away. Thus, you lose focus and get off track in your quest to reach your goal. Setup a «parking lot». This is nothing else but a space called «parking lot». You jot down thoughts, questions or ideas that are off-topic or cannot be handled during the workshop but need to be tackled at some point.

8. Do regular breaks

Regular breaks are essential and boost our productivity. Ever wondered why TED talks usually last around 18–20min? It’s because this is considered the maximal amount of time we can pay attention to someone speaking. There might be input talks during your workshop. Keep them short or break them up with participative activities or discussions. The same goes for actual work. After all, you are in a WORKshop. Make sure you put in breaks. Buffer’s published a great piece presenting multiple concepts of taking breaks such as the Pomodoro cycle.

The Science of Breaks at Work: Change Your Thinking About Downtime

Credits: Buffer

9. Grant off-time

Have you ever been in a workshop where half of the crowd’s just staring at a screen and answering emails? Well, we all have lots on our table and sometimes people need to be available for emails, phone calls etc. Plan dedicated off-time slots for people to deal with emails or phone calls. This is a technique also advocated in the GV design sprint.

The Design Sprint - GV

Credits: GV

10. Provide food & drinks

How many times have you been in a workshop where you had to beg for a glass of water? This shouldn’t happen! There is nothing more important than keeping people hydrated and on a decent blood sugar level. Provide at least some water and some snacks. You don’t want people hangry — hungry and angry. We have all been there!

11. Consider a facilitator

Depending on the nature of your workshop it may be helpful to involve a neutral facilitator. A facilitator is in charge of conducting the workshop and taking care of time-keeping, staying on topic, resolving issues and making sure the workshop is heading towards the desired outcome. A neutral facilitator supports the team to reach a goal and lets them focus on the content.

Final notes & Conclusion

Make your agenda permanently visible during a workshop — e.g. on a whiteboard. Use Post-it®’s to outline the agenda. This leaves you with the flexibility to adjust it on the go. In addition, flipping a post-it when you are done with an item is a great way to provide a sense of achievement.

Don’t always stick to one particular recipe such as the one I have just given you. Applying the tools and techniques listed has worked well for me in workshops, presentations, lectures or even conference talks. Thus, these ingredients have served me as a good base. Use what you like, add your twist and find out what works best for you and your audience.

How do you run your workshops? What has or hasn’t worked for you?

Share your experience, tools or techniques in the comments. Looking forward and cheers for reading.

Credits, thx & 👏 for feedback & collab: Ferdinand Vogler, Adrian Zumbrunnen and Tamar Hächler.


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