5 tips to engage people through workshops

I’d been taking with a couple of members of my team recently about how best we should kick start a change to increase customer empathy.  Traditional classroom training has never been something I’m a big fan of, and whilst e-learning is a necessary solution when teams are too numerous or remote, I really love workshops.  We decided to run a workshop on customer communication, and as well as enjoying the event, the team understood the goal, and actively participated in identifying & fixing the issues we presented.  They identified actions we needed to take away and work on, and left energised, smiling and re-focused.  I’ve sat through a fair few workshops in my time, so here’s 5 tips on how to get the most out of your workshop.

Make it a dialogue: When you decide you need a workshop, you’ve probably defined some very clear objectives and outcomes, and when planning out how the workshop will run, you set what needs to be achieved at each stage.  In practice, when you run the workshop, people will want to ask questions, mull over ideas, and reflect on what is being said.  You need to make time to allow this to happen.  make sure everyone has a chance to participate, even those who might be a little shy, and you’re more likely to get them all buying in to your planned change.

Humour breaks the ice: Everyone likes to laugh, and so use humour to diffuse tension or nervousness and get everyone into a relaxed and receptive state of mind.  At our recent workshop, we showed a montage of video clips highlighting cringe-worthy customer service, then immediately asked the team to compare to some of our own bad behaviors.  The team were able to critique themselves with a smile on their face, without feeling challenged or confronted. You don’t need to dress up as a clown to make people laugh, so gauge your audience and do your best to make them smile.

Keep an eye on energy levels (and volume): A child’s maximum attention span is 40 minutes, and it’s not very different for adults.  A 1/2 day workshop is a long period of time to keep people focused, so short breaks, switching between presenting to the audience, getting the audience to participate in exercises, presenting to each other, etc, helps to keep energy levels up. For me, a telltale sign that energy levels are dipping is when the audience goes quiet.  Workshops are about collective brainstorming, so if you can hear a pin drop, move on to the next part of your workshop to raise the energy level again.

Manage the time and avoid side-tracking: It’s great when the team are debating a topic, really making progress and throwing up great ideas.  It’s very easy to abandon other parts of the workshop or even run late, just to let discussions run their course.  This is often a mistake.  If you need to park a topic to continue another day, do that.  You planned your agenda for a purpose (hopefully with time built in for discussion), so stick to it to achieve your planned outcome.  Likewise, a weak facilitator won’t intervene when the team drift off topic, or get stuck in minor detail.  Jump in and pull it back to where you want the discussion to go!

Keep the momentum going: So the workshop is over, you have a load of notes on a flip chart and plenty of empty coffee cups.,  That’s it done, right?  Wrong! You’ve only just got the ball rolling – people engaged in your workshop, ideas were shared, you need to drive follow-up.  Whether it’s action plans, follow-up discussion or even additional workshops, assigning out actions and keeping everyone in the loop will ensure things don’t run out of steam.

Getting people in a room, interacting as a group, sharing learnings and agreeing collectively to the change is a very productive use of time. Your idea becomes their idea, and they are always more likely to make their idea reality.  Following these 5 tips, you should get the most out of your workshop AND get your team bought into the planned change.



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