Director Destination-Innovation
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Eleven tips on how to run a great workshop

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4th Apr 2012
Director Destination-Innovation
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Training Needs Analysis can work both ways. Are you what the delegates expected? Paul Sloane has a few pointers to ensure you run a successful workshop.
Whatever the subject of your workshop or training course there are some simple steps you can take to make it better for the participants and better for you. Here are a few of them.
  1. Agree the objectives. What are the outcomes that the decision maker wants for this workshop or course? You should discuss and agree these in advance. Very often you can help them to decide based on your experiences of other courses. However you must beware of lazily trying to fit an existing course to different or inappropriate requirements.
  2. Prepare carefully. How many delegates will there be and what kind of people are they? You need to know something about their skills, backgrounds and attitudes before you start. Plan your activities, presentations, materials, room layout, timings, travel arrangements, equipment etc. Anticipate what could possibly go wrong and have some back-up plans. 
  3. Learn and use people's names. Whether you get their details in advance or only on the day you should try to learn and use each person's name. It shows that you care, makes the course more personal and helps you develop a better rapport. 
  4. Facilitate, instruct and entertain. Part of your job is to impart knowledge with elements of lecturing. Part is to lead discussions and answer questions. Part is to facilitate activities that help delegates learn through doing. You can do all these better if you can engage and even entertain the delegates. Learning should be fun where that is possible. Plan ways to add some humour, challenge and mental stimulation to the course. Have some handy fillers, icebreakers and energisers to slip in when necessary but try to make them relevant and avoid pointless gimmicks. 
  5. Be flexible on activities and timing. You have planned the activities for the day and that is good but do not stick rigidly to that plan. If something is not working then cut it short. If something goes really well or takes more time to cover properly than anticipated then you will want to let it run longer. Have some reserve activities or topics that you can slip in if it turns out you need to fill in, say, 15 minutes before lunch. Watch the attitudes, body language and feedback of the delegates and be flexible on the programme. If necessary you can ask them 'Do you want to spend more time on this or move on?’
  6. Ask the delegates to explain the learnings. Rather than explain the relevance of each activity yourself, try asking the delegates to feed back what they found the learnings to be. What was good or bad from their point of view? What lessons can they share? How could they use this back at the office? It is more powerful and credible for them to tell you what the learning experience was.
  7. Get the delegates to write an action plan. It is probably true to say that most training fails because it fails to stick. They may love what they have learnt but if they go straight back to work and forget it then your course was just a day out. At the end of the course ask each one to write his or her action plan incorporating the activities they will use within the next month. Some trainers use postcards or letters as follow up reminders sent people at a later date. 
  8. Encourage mixing and networking. One of the ancillary benefits of the course for delegates is the opportunity to meet and work with new people. Encourage people to work in diverse groups and mix up the groups from time to time during the day. Allow plenty of breaks where they can meet and chat to each other.
  9. Summarise. After each activity summarise the key points. At the end of the course quickly reprise the main topics and show their relevance to the day's objectives. It may be obvious to you but not for them so pull it all together.
  10. Ask for feedback. Ask for feedback during and at the end of the course. A quiet word during the first coffee break with the workshop owner can be very useful to ensure that you are on the right track. An anonymous feedback form will reveal important things to help you improve the course.
  11. Make some notes of your own immediately after the course ends. Note the actual timings of the activities. Comment on worked well and what did not. What lessons can you teach yourself? These notes will prove useful when you next run the course.
Finally, you should always complete the loop with the decision maker by asking for his or her feedback. Send a nice email saying how much you enjoyed working with them and the team and ask for their comments.

Paul Sloane is director of Destination Innovation and the author of 'The Innovative Leader' and 'How to be a Brilliant Thinker'.  He facilitates meetings and trains on leadership, lateral thinking and innovation.

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