Qualities of a Great Workshop

Leading a quality workshop at a conference can be a daunting task. Variables like space set up, time allotment, time of day, mix of attendees, etc. can all impact on the experience. For those who lead workshops, here are tips for creating a great experience regardless of the variables you can’t control:

  • Show up with quality. I know this sounds self-evident, but I’ve attended several workshops where it was clear that the presenter was winging it based on personal experience or past work. Although many may still benefit some from this setting, I think diminishes the brand of the person communicating among their peers. If you’re going to lead a workshop, take the time to bring your A game. If it’s a workshop presentation you’ve shared in the past, why not take the time to improve it and contextualize it for a new audience.
  • What’s the one thing? There are a ton of things you could share at a workshop, but what’s the one thing or thought you want your participants to walk away with? Emphasize that point from multiple angles. People are not going to remember your 12 point presentation. They may possibly remember one or two key thoughts and who you were as a person.
  • Minimize the words on your presentation (if you have one). As interesting and important as all your statements on your PowerPoint or Keynote may be, most people won’t remember. Using visuals to drive your presentation will be a lot more memorable than putting several points on one slide. Think more like a marketer than a professor.
  • Think Participant. Far too many presentations are structured for the presenter instead of the one participating in the workshop. Most default to a presenter-focused talk while ignoring what the attendee might be experiencing. Put yourself in the shoes of the kinds of people that might be attending your workshop. Do they want to hear you speak the whole time? Are they looking for more interaction? Do they want to spend some time connecting with others in the room? Are you a springboard to conversations they would like to talk about? If you don’t know, ask the organizers of the event or ask others who may have attended the event in years past. You could actually do some of this research via social networks. All this to say… Work on creating a memorable experience for those attending and don’t simply default to the way it’s been done.
  • Stay Accessible. Many participants show up to a workshop because they want to connect with the presenter. Beyond any points from the workshop they can gain, they want to be able to connect with you, a “thought leader”. Don’t be THAT presenter that presents and jets out for another engagement. The truth of the matter is that you need to connect with participants. It more likely than not that they are people in the same area of passion that you will want to learn from. They are peers and individuals that may be sources of mutual benefit for years to come. Honor each new relationship.

Workshops can be great experiences for everyone involved. This will require a lot of thoughtful work. In my opinion, workshops are what makes a conference great. It provides an environment for engagement that even keynote presentations can’t provide.

If you’re a regular presenter or attendee at conferences, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a great workshop.

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Charles is the CEO & Chief Idea-Maker at Ideation, a brand innovation company that specializes in helping businesses & organizations build remarkable brands via innovative business design, organizational change architecture, brand integration, design, web, and marketing services. He is also the author of Good Idea. Now What?: How to Move Ideas to Execution, a practical book designed to help people move ideas to implementation. Charles is regularly invited to speak to leading companies and organizations on topics such as creativity, innovation, idea-making, and branding. Executive leaders from brands including Wells Fargo, Toyota, The White House, Catalyst, William Morris Endeavor, mun2, Council of Urban Professionals, Chick-fil-A, and many others have benefited from having Charles present at their key events.