Workshop Facilitation

Mastering the Art of Workshop Facilitation

Today, I want to talk about a skill that is incredibly important, yet often overlooked: workshop facilitation. Mastering this skill can set you apart from other leaders in your field. As someone who has run dozens of workshops in my career as a coach, founder, PM, and marketer, I want to share some principles that make great workshops happen.

Try these out in your next opportunity to facilitate a small group environment, and I promise you, you will see results.

Also if you read only one book about hosting a workshop, make it this one: The Workshop Survival Guide: How to design and teach educational workshops that work every time by Rob Fitzpatrick

1. Do Your Homework: Know Your Audience

Before facilitating a workshop, it's essential to know your audience. Who are the people you're bringing together? What are their concerns and thoughts? If possible, talk to at least two different people from the group to get a feel for their perspectives. This could include a veteran and a newbie, or someone from marketing and someone from engineering.

2. Define the Goal: Workshop Outcomes

Ask yourself, what is the goal of this workshop? Although people won't change overnight, it's vital to have a clear objective in mind. This could be bridging conflict or teaching a skill. Make sure you're aligned with whoever asked you to organize the event, and keep that goal at the forefront of the program.

3. Pacing Matters: Keep the Energy Up

Pacing is crucial to maintaining energy in a workshop. Switch activities every 10 to 30 minutes to keep things fresh. You might include short lectures, small group discussions, or think-pair-share activities. Using different formats allows introverts and extroverts alike to participate and share their thoughts.

4. Schedule Breaks and Keep Content Bite-Sized

It's important to have breaks every 45 to 90 minutes, and the content should be digestible for all participants. In a six-hour session, plan for at least four to six breaks, including a lunch break. These breaks allow participants to decompress and check their emails before re-engaging with the workshop.

When designing activities, focus on creating tasks that anyone can do. Offer modifications for beginners, as well as extra credit assignments or additional challenges for more advanced participants. This ensures that everyone can go at their own pace and have a good time.

5. Moderate the Discussion: Be the Guide

As the facilitator, it's your responsibility to moderate the discussion. Some people may drone on or go off on tangents, while others may be antagonistic or aggressive. To manage this, you might need to be the "bad cop" occasionally, but always do so politely and without causing embarrassment. Often, simply redirecting the conversation is enough to keep things on track.

6. Bring Energy and Enthusiasm to the Workshop

Never underestimate the importance of showing up prepared, thoughtful, and excited about the topic. A warm, encouraging, and supportive attitude is infectious and will leave participants feeling positive about the workshop experience.

By following these principles, I've successfully facilitated workshops at conferences, universities, and various professional environments. Developing strong facilitation skills can showcase your leadership abilities, even if you're not in a formal management position. It's an excellent way to stand out, reach more people, and demonstrate your potential as an executive. Good luck, and remember to take care of yourself, others, and always strive to make an impact.