Thursday, September 22, 2005

What makes a good workshop?

Last week I attended a workshop given by Spitfire Strategies to a number of us who provide workshops to their clients.

In addition to its marketing consulting services, Spitfire leads communications capacity building programs to grantees of some of the larger foundations, and their interest in providing these workshops was to make the workshops given inside those programs more consistent with each other.

Andy Goodman, known for his great work "When Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes" is now writing a soon-to-be published work called "When Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes" (due out Dec 2005). He extended that research to see what he could find out about what people liked and didn't about workshops. Here's what he learned:

The Fatal Five (i.e., what participants hate THE MOST):

  1. Reading the PowerPoint Slides
  2. Too long, too much information
  3. Lack of interaction
  4. Lifeless presenter
  5. Room & technology problems

Most wanted

  • Clarity
  • Interaction & connection
  • Enthusiasm

Note that if you remove #1 and #5 from the "fatal five" (which Goodman says are completely preventable), that there is a 1:1 match between what participants most want and what they hate the most.

Andy shared a variety of stats and studies by others. A particularly humbling finding (for those of us who present and train) was from a 1978 study of 1300 students and 12 one-hour lectures. They found that attention span dropped dramatically after only fifteen minutes!

Goodman then went on to propose a particular format for a one-hour workshop (which could be extrapolated for workshops of differing lengths):

First off, have an understanding of where your participants are at the time they walk in the room.
Then have an understanding of where you want them to be at the end of the workshop. That's the desired outcome. Not for YOU, the trainer, but for THEM. What's in it for them? What benefits will they experience as a result of taking your workshop?

So if A is where they start, and B is the state they're in when they leave, break up the time between into these chunks:

  • Lightning Strike: a 1-2 minute "gotcha" to grab their attention and bring them into the room. This is particularly important because people tend to make a fixed decision about you in less than seven (that's 7!) seconds.
  • 15-20 minutes on the content that you're providing them (made relevant to their interests or concerns)
  • Interactivity for 10-15 minutes; could be an exercise they do on their own, in pairs, in small groups or all together.
  • 15-20 minutes more content
  • Summary 1-2 minutes.
  • Q & A 5-10 minutes
  • Lightning Strike: a 1-2 minute closing that reiterates the most powerful thing you want them to leave understanding.

When thinking about what to fill your workshop with, he reminded us of the different learning styles that exist, citing Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences. Andy said that therefore, it's ideal to incorporate into your workshop things that will appeal to all learning styles; namely:

  • Logical (quantitative): this is data for the MBTI "S" type, for those of us who love stats, facts and figures
  • Narrational: for those of us who learn best through storytelling
  • Foundational: for those who prefer the broad, the philosophical
  • Experiential: for those of us who learn by doing
  • Aesthetic: for those of us who need to touch things, or hear things. For example, a workshop about coalitions might use the sound of a symphony to describe how diverse instruments (people) can work together to create something of beauty (a successful community outcome).

My big takeaways from this workshop were:

  1. The workshop needs to be designed for the client's agenda (and needs and interests and challenges), not the workskhop leader's.
  2. KISS: Keep It Simple. Less is more. And too much will kill you.
  3. Start with the outcome you want them to take away and build back from there.


omacneil said...

Thank you.

For our next
, we'll use your outline.

For what my opinion is worth, you are right-on, with the thoughts on brevity, format, energy, focus, service and relevance.

I'm happy to find the source for the multiple intelligences thing. I've heard a good deal about it, but never with attribution.

However, I've got some doubts about the multiple intelligences thing...

Absolutely, the belief that "intelligence" is something that can be measured with a short quiz on WASP vocabulary, party puzzles and culture, is at best self serving.

Absolutely, when you are have something you want people to know, you best take into account how they like to absorb knowledge.

However, the (implied?) idea in your post and the explicit direction I'm sometimes been given that; all types of intelligence are equally valuable in all situations, is not a useful one.

In my little area, (keeping servers up, writing little bits of glue software, offering dodgy advice to junior cadre on bigger bits of software), linguistic, logical and (sometimes) interpersonal intellegence are essential. Sinking basketballs or finding the train station in a strange city are not.

From a few years of painful experience, As soon as somebody says: "I don't learn from books, I have to be shown it. I'm a kinesthetic learner" a big ugly alarm sounds in my head.

What this usually means, is "Do it for me." A lot of the welfare to work job trainings I've been around, and taken part in, assume that some people just "learn differently", instead of some people are "functionally illiterate".

Only once have I had the guts (callousness?) to tell somebody, "Until you learn to read and write, you aren't going to have a career in system administration." This statement pushed the person into A+ training instead of MSCE training, but...

On a positive note, there are at least a couple places New Beginnings and Saint Julie's Asian Center that do a good job of pulling people in the door for computer training and convincing them to stay for literacy.

Jillaine Smith said...

I just found another resource on workshop design that might be helpful for folks:

Seven Principles of Good Teaching Practice by Dr. James W. King at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

He goes into detail-- for both f2f workshops as well as distance learning-- on these principles:

Principle 1: Good Practice Encourages Student- Faculty Contact

Principle 2: Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students

Principle 3: Good Practice Encourages Active Learning

Principle 4: Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback

Principle 5: Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task

Principle 6: Good Practice Communicates High Expectations

Principle 7: Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Harold Jarche said...

If you're using Powerpoint (OpenOffice Impress in my case) then you might want to refer to Edward Tufte's classic booklet

amber said...

Found a lot of useful info on your site about Strategic Planning - thank you. Haven't finished reading it yet but have bookmarked it so I don't lose it. I've just started a Strategic Planning blog myself if you'd like to stop by

Amy Kincaid said...

Jillaine, thanks for these thoughts and reminders. In a coffeeshop last month, I overheard an evidently seasoned facilitator suggest to his colleague, "keep in mind: WAIT. Why am I talking?" Inviting participants to practice, test, and discuss in interactive formats really works.

Ruby said...

Thanks for this blog post, Jillaine. It's incredibly helpful.

I feel like my presentations are pretty good given the constraints, but there's always something I can do better.

Even though I know interactivity is one of the most essential parts, I sometimes have trouble thinking of small group elements to integrate.

Beth said...


This is excellent information! Thank you.

I've been preparing for an upcoming Webinar on designing technology learning experiences and have added this excellent post to the resource list.

I think I saw you on the reg list and hope you can share some of this information -- will be covering some of the same material.

What is really challenging to design - is the use of the webinar software. Ugh .. It is so oriented to powerpoint, lecture and information overload.

Laura said...

Very helpful. Organizing a workshop and will make sure I use the tips.

Shamash said...

I'm preparing a workshop on Mindufulness Meditation
. I think this is going to help. Thank you sooooo much! x Shamash Alidina