When you’re in the process of designing a workshop, you’ll be thinking about the right questions to ask your participants. This is more than just sitting around a table and going through the questions one by one – it’s also about the way that you ask them, and the activity that you craft around the questions to encourage participants to think differently. There are ways to design the workshop experience to make it much more interactive and engaging.

In Gamestorming, for example, the authors describe how “using a metaphoric structure can help you ask new and thought-provoking questions that you may not have considered before”.

They give the example of using an aeroplane:

From “Gamestorming: a playbook for innovators, rulebreakers, and changemakers”


This is a great way of helping workshop participants to look at a problem or challenge from an alternative viewpoint.

There other reasons to use visual frameworks in workshops. One of my favourites is the Business Model Canvas (and the more recent Value Proposition Canvas). I’ve done some work with the Strategyzer team and learnt a lot about not just why you would use it, but how to use it to get the best out of it.

The Business Model Canvas


Some of the principles, which can be used for other visual frameworks, demonstrate why it is such a great workshop tool:

Standing up: the best way to use the Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas with your team is to print them as large posters, stick them on the wall, and have small break-out groups stand around them. This not only helps participants to engage with the activity more, research has shown that standing up in meetings improves productivity and creativity.

Sticky notes: rather than writing directly onto the Business Model Canvas the ideal way to use it, is to write onto sticky notes – strictly one idea per sticky note – which are then added to the canvas. These can then be moved around or taken away as business models develop. It means that your posters are re-usable – very useful when you’re quickly prototyping lots of different business models – and it’s dynamic, engaging and tactile (encouraging people to use their hands is another way to promote creative thinking).

Visual thinking: if possible, encourage participants to sketch their ideas. Using images is the best way to get ideas across quickly and doodling in meetings has been shown to increase knowledge retention and concentration (this article features one of the Gamestorming authors, Sunni Brown). This can be difficult if people think they’re not good at drawing, but you can start them off with this simple scribble bird exercise (from Dave Gray, another Gamestorming author).

Doing, not talking: it’s best if participants start placing their sticky notes on the canvas straight away. This encourages more productive and practical conversations around actual business models rather than just discussing vague ideas. It also enables people to think and get their ideas across simultaneously, rather than running into the problem of “production blocking”, where only one person speaks at a time and therefore prevents the others from developing their ideas.

You might not be designing business models and value propositions, but the principles behind using the canvases can be applied to any visual framework in workshops. You can also design your own based on the work that you need to do.

Image credit: Vincent Albanese on Flickr