Effective Workshops

I attended a bad workshop recently. From five minutes in I was wondering if I could get out somehow. I considered killing off my granny, or my cat. I also considered just walking out and not returning. In the end I thought this would be tempting fate and I stayed. And then I stayed because it was quite fun and our team was winning, even if I didn’t really feel I was learning a lot.

Afterwards, I was annoyed with myself. I should have left because social niceties aside, my time is in short supply and could have been better utilized. That led to the inevitable ‘what went wrong’ internal monologue. What was I expecting out of the workshop? In what ways did it not meet my expectations? How could it have been improved? I began to remake the session in my head. That’s when I realised that the afternoon had not been a waste after all. I had some useful experiences of things going wrong in a session and things not working.

My reflections from the session are as follows:

  • Quaker bingo is awful. A bit is okay, but after several sessions with very long silences, not only is it awkward for all involved, it’s a total waste of time. If the students are not getting it, explore why, don’t just drag it out.
  • When giving students a task, either the purpose of the task needs to be very clear at the beginning, or if it is exploratory, the purpose of the task needs to be made explicit afterwards. Otherwise its just a fun task and people may not have learnt anything.
  • Keep the pace up of the presentation. Not the speaking speed, but the slides and the points. Ask does this clarify the argument in the best way? What purpose does this serve? Is it part of a coherent story, or honestly, is it a tangent that isn’t really relevant to the main message.
  • Think about the exercises. Could they be just as effective in half the time?
  • Drawing little pictures on the board to go with each concept might help retention, but it quickly gets dull when overused. There is such a thing as too much audience participation.
  • Is the presentation wooly and vague? Has precise help and advice been given at some point? Sometimes woolliness comes with the territory, but most people need some specifics. It’s all very well talking to a group about how the group could have worked better, but talking honestly about each person’s performance in the group would be more useful in the long term, for the individual.
  • Drawing out the knowledge of the group is all very well, but a backup is needed if the group just don’t know or understand.