5 tips for facilitating your next workshop

It’s true that the more workshops you run, the more your confidence grows. As you gain more experience, you’ll also find that you’ll pick up your own techniques for dealing with group dynamics.

Here are some of the more subtle techniques that I’ve picked up through trial and error. Although they seem quite basic, they can make quite a big difference.

You can also find these tips in video format here.

  1. Allocate more time for your first exercise

When I started facilitating workshops, I noticed that the first exercise always took a little longer than I’d planned. The reason for this is that it also tends to double as a warm-up to get participants used to the collaborative format.

My initial activity in a workshop usually takes the form of bringing the participants into small groups to explore a question and then feeding back the main points of their discussion. It might initially feel a bit awkward as people get their brains and thinking into gear. But after this, the rest of the exercises flow more easily.

  1. Give each workshop participant a stack of sticky notes

It’s almost impossible to think of a workshop taking place without sticky notes being involved because they’re so versatile. You can move them around, use them to cluster ideas, post them up on on the walls around the room. So make sure that you have enough sticky notes to allocate at least one stack per person, and if possible, sharpie/marker pen too.

This gives everyone a chance to contribute to the discussion. Workshops and meetings can be dominated by those with the loudest voice, those more comfortable speaking in front of others or more senior staff.  But if you give each person their own stack of sticky notes and a pen, it gives them permission to jot down their ideas as and when they have them, regardless of whether another person is speaking or not.

This is great for people who like to have a bit more time to think before they share. Then as the facilitator, you can invite people to share what they’ve noted down.

  1. All writing in ALL CAPS

Encourage everyone to write in ALL CAPS on their sticky notes, using a marker pen, so that all content is readable to everyone. it’s also much easier for you when you’re writing up all the notes and content after the workshop.

This can be difficult to keep up because when people are in the flow, discussing and generating ideas, they’re concentrating more on capturing the content than their writing. So you don’t necessarily want to interrupt them for that.

But at the very least, get in the habit of writing in ALL CAPS yourself, when you’re documenting the discussions on a flipchart. It took me some practice to write quickly, but even my messiest writing in capital letters is easier for others to read than my neatest cursive handwriting.

  1. Use a different flip chart pen colour for documenting each discussion

This is another tip to make your flipchart notes easier on the eye. When I’m documenting the discussions and ideas from participants, I find it helpful to use a different flipchart marker colour for each activity.

This way, when you display the notes around the room, it breaks up the content and makes it easier for people to find and refer to content during the workshop.

Tip 5: Use group-working time to get back on track with your facilitator duties

Facilitating a workshop is a big task. There’s a lot to do – keeping to time, getting everyone to contribute, making sure the activities are clear and that you’re gathering the right content.

So when you’ve set a group task for your participants, you know they’ve understood it and they’re working on it, you can use this valuable time to review your facilitator duties. You will still need to stay aware of what’s happening in the room, but you can also check in on the timings of the workshop, see if any of the remaining activities need to be adapted and make a note of any challenges that have come up during discussions.

Another way I like to use this time is to review all of the content that has been created so far. It can be difficult to spot themes, summarise content and synthesise when you’re in the middle of writing it up on a flip chart. But when it’s displayed around the room, and your participants are concentrating on something else, you can use this time to see if you have any more insights or observations. You can then report this back to the group a bit later.

At the end of each workshop that you run, it’s worth asking yourself a few reflection questions: which exercises worked well/didn’t work well, and why? How did you deal with any challenging moments? Where there any moments you felt stuck and what would you do differently next time? This way, you’ll keep building up your own subtle techniques and unique style for facilitating workshops.

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