Designing Better Workshops

Designing better workshops. "WEO Workshop - October 27th 2016" by Ramani Huria is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Designing better workshops.


A couple of years ago, one of my clients noticed a slippage in customer satisfaction from workshops. They were workshops that enjoyed a 92-95% satisfaction rate. During this time, I noticed a profound change in the learning styles and preferences of workshop audiences. Can designing better workshops improve satisfaction ratings from audiences?

Comments tabulated over the last month or so indicated issues with pacing and design. Among the desired forms participants suggested:

  • Chunked or modular content
  • Less presentation
  • More facilitated exercises
  • Motivation for the content
  • Less repetition and duplication of content

Today’s adult learner is visual, hands-on, with a short (<10 minute) attention span. Today’s fast-paced, multi-tasking environment in the workplace is a major factor. They want information and skills now! Your learners need it in a format that’s easy to learn, and easy to use. They also want to know why they need the information. To design a better workshop, start with the workshop goals.

Goals for Designing Better Workshops

The goals of any workshop are to:

  • Impart information and skills
  • Tapping into the collective wisdom and experiences of the learners
  • Allow anyone to deliver the material
  • Facilitate the learning and discussion processes
  • Provide facilitated practice in the skills discussed.

Designing a better workshop requires micro learning methods. These micro learning methods improve workshop ratings. The result is happier learners.

Structure for Designing Better Workshops

To meet the above goals, workshops should have no more than 3-5 concepts. Present a concept in one module with the following properties:

  • Describe the concept and why they need it (1-2 min.)
  • Anticipatory set (1-2 min.)
    • What they already know
    • Why they need this knowledge
  • How it relate to the previous concepts discussed (1-2 min.)

Then, after each module or two, include an exercise. Exercises help participants practice what they have learned. Some characteristics of good exercises are:

  • Exercise instructions and demonstration — 2 slides max — 1-2 minutes max
  • Briefly demonstrate the exercise –- 1-2 min.
  • Participants perform the exercise –- using  small group leads to help with coaching participants is useful. 
  • Report back to whole group — 2 minutes per group for a total of 5-10 minutes

This is where real learning takes place. Most exercises will take 15-20 minutes. A few, such as mock interviews, can take up to 30 minutes to complete.

The goal is for the presentation to take no more than 3-5 minutes. The exercise and report back are the value-add points where learning is occurring. Find a way to break complex concepts into two (or more) simpler concepts. Give each one a module of its own. Use the same approach to break complex exercises into simpler exercises. Let’s apply these ideas to a sample workshop.

Applying the Methodology

Let’s see how to apply this methodology to an existing workshop. For this example, we use a workshop entitled JumpStart Your Job Search (JSYJS). JSYJS is an overview workshop. It provides an overview of the job search process, including:

  • Emotional and motivational issues of job search
  • What gets us stuck and how to get unstuck
  • The changing job market
  • How to tap the hidden job market

During the workshop, different modules discuss the:

  • Emotional issues of job loss
  • Items needed for the job search

Participants need to create:

  • A professional network of contacts
  • Business card
  • Resume
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Tactical and strategic plan
  • Time management, etc.

Workshop characteristics given to the development team:

  • Class size: 24-30 participants
  • Length: three hours
  • 15-minute break roughly midway through the workshop.

Let’s look at the new outline.

Sample Workshop Outline

A sample modular outline for JSYJS would be as follows:

  • Workshop housekeeping (2-3 min.)
    • Silence electronic devices
    • Location of restrooms
    • Emergency exits
    • Workshop rules of engagement
  • Objectives
  • Participants introduce themselves (15 min.)
    • Career goal
    • State what they hope to learn in the workshop
  • Module 1: The Changing Job Search Process
    • Exercise: How Participants got Last Job (5 min.)
    • Each participant gets 5 seconds
  • Module 2: The Emotional Issues Around Job Loss and Job Search
    • Exercise: Stuck and Unstuck (20 min. total)
      • Stuck – 5 min.
      • Unstuck – 10 min.
      • Report back 5 min.
  • Module 3: Where are You in Your Job Search?
    • Exercise: Job Search Checklist (colored sheet) – 10 min.
  • Module 4: The Hidden Job Market – An Insider’s View
    • Exercise: Commitment for next 30 days and offer letter (10 min.)
  • Module 5: Managing Your Job Search
    • Exercise: The Lead Generation Funnel

The client reported that the workshop took about 160 minutes. After modularizing the workshop, it took 150 minutes to teach. This gave 10 minutes of slack time to take into account light differences in:

  • Facilitation styles
  • Exercise timing by small group leads

Some Useful Links

How to Lead Workshops More Effectively
Teaching Workshops: How to Conduct Interactive Workshops
Top Ten Secrets for an Effective Workshop

2 thoughts on “Designing Better Workshops”

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