So much of my job as an enterprise Agile coach is crafting fun and engaging workshops for clients. I was asked recently by another Agile fellow about how to build the right workshop for engaging the audience.
“Great question!” I responded.
“It all begins with crafting the content and experience for the attendees.”
Creating the Perfect Agile Workshop
1. Crafting the Workshop in [10 Steps]
2. Crafting the Experience in [5 Steps] +1 Extra
Crafting the Workshop
- Set the Stage – Begin crafting the workshop content by setting the stage for the workshop. What is the focus of the workshop? Who is the audience? What are the types of questions that your audience will most likely have? If you were a participant, what questions would you have? What material makes sense for this particular client or environment? By setting the stage for yourself, you will have a greater understanding of how to present the workshop to the specific audience.
- Define the Content Goal – What is the main purpose for this workshop? Is it an informative workshop, and educational workshop, seminar, working session? Create a goal statement that you will share with your audience so they know exactly where you are headed. Let them know what the workshop will entail and give them a brief synopsis of what lies ahead. Get them excited about what’s going to happen.
- Give Away Free Stuff/Swag – I love giving away free stuff. Not only is it fun, but it gets your audience engaged! I always give away something pertinent to the audience and it usually is in the form of a couple of books, work-related material, or even just free technology! *Notice how this is plural. Give away something at the beginning and at the end. The more the merrier!
- Prepare Must-Have Material and Non-essentials – While preparing your content, prepare a happy-path of content. Usually, this is seen as the total slide deck. But invariably there will be opportunities to speak in more detail on specific topics as they come up. Be prepared with other material and/or speaking points as they arise from the audience. If you know your audience well, you can most likely guess at what they’ll want more depth explanation of. Be prepared for this and put together a couple of talking points or slides with explanations. If these things don’t come up, you can always bring them up for extra content to your audience anyway! (Example: “I know we went over X pretty quickly, we have a bit of time before our next break, so I wanted to dive a bit deeper into X topic a little bit more…”)
- Games and More Games! – Need I say more here? The more interactive games you have the more your audience will be engaged. Not only are games a great way of solidifying your talking points, but they are fun to lead as well! **(For a 6 hour workshop I try to have about 4 games). Make sure to point your mouse over to [TastyCupcakes.com] for your ultimate resource for Agile games!
- Prepare for the Unknown – Your ability to be flexible during a workshop not only shows your professionalism but your expertise as well. I don’t know how many times that I’ve been almost blindsided in the past from audience questions or potentially contentious moments (It will happen)! How do you prepare for the unknown? Simple. Know your stuff. Know it inside and out, and be prepared to let an audience member know that you’d love to talk with them off-line or outside of the workshop on more difficult questions or issues. Stay on track, be professional, and defer if necessary!
- Talk about Experience (But keep it brief) – The more experienced you are the more you can leverage it during your workshops. Bring up personal experiences as they relate to particular issues to solidify pragmatic examples for your audience. The more relaxed you are the easier it is to break out of the “presenter persona” and talk on a more personal level with your audience. This often wakes up participants because they see you discussing a point, and then breaking out of the slides to walk towards them, lean over as if telling a secret and bringing them into your world and your experience. (Example: “And this and that and so forth… [Walking towards an audience member]… You know, this particular point X made a lot of sense for a previous client I worked with Y. Did you know that they actually took this point X to heart and found Z value? How did they do it? Exactly how I just described: A, B, C.”)
- Review each Topic before Moving to the Next Topic – Before you move into subsections of your workshop make sure to review what you just covered with your audience. Have a specific slide in your deck that reminds your audience of where you are in the presentation so they have a reminder of what you just covered, where you are going next, and how it all fits together. I can’t tell you how personally annoyed I get when I go to presentations and the presenters just jump from topic to topic! Use these one-slide review to ask questions, engaged the audience, remind them of what they just learned, and take a breather. You and your audience will thank you for it. (Example: “We just covered X, and now we’re moving onto Y. Remember that what we just covered in X prepares us for what we’re talking about next. Any questions? Jane, did what we just covered make sense?”)
- Ask Pointed Questions – Interact with your audience. Keep them engaged. You can do this by asking probing questions. Ask your audience what they think about X. Open-ended questions need not apply here. You’ll find crickets chirping when you ask open-ended questions. Ask specific questions to them. Ask audience member by their name. (Example: “Hey Joe, I know that you have particular experience in X, does this make sense? I bet you know how you could apply X in your situation right now…”)
- Close with Actionable Items – Know how you want to end the workshop. Have the closing of your workshop be a total review. Focus on the key points, and end with something memorable. You want your audience to come away from the workshop with actionable items. Review, add commentary, review again, close it out. And always, get to your “Workshop Backlog” (see below).
Crafting the Experience
- Location – In real estate it’s all about location, right? Well, for workshops, that is essentially true as well. Nobody wants to have a workshop in a dim-lit, rarely-used, back-office, room with terrible whiteboards and crummy carpet. Do your best to have the location be inviting. Have it be a place where you would want to be a participant.
- Layout – Know exactly what you need for your workshop. Big tables? Small tables? Break out areas? Open area for games?
- Materials – Do a double and triple check on all your materials (paper, pens, white board erasers, scissors, balloons, stickies, stamps, stickers, etc, and be prepared to have extra. I have saved numerous workshops because I brought my OWN projector. You’d think that the client would provide it, but I ALWAYS bring my own projector and extension cables. Seriously.
- Workshop Backlog – Prepare your workshop with what I call a “Workshop Backlog.” This is an area on a board that you’ve blocked off for putting questions on. Have enough sticky notes and pens all around the room for your participants to write questions on them and stick them up on the board during your session. Tell your participants to use the stickies so you can get to all the questions at the end of each section of your workshop. If the questions is absolutely pressing, they can raise their hand. This helps you keep your focus during your workshop and keep moving through it with out major interruptions. You’ll find that people are more inclined to ask questions if they write them on a sticky than raising their hand in a group. You can cover more, help your audience more, and focus on work-related issues better when you have a backlog of questions to tap into after each section of your workshop.
- Breaks – A quick note on breaks: Have them. But don’t tell your audience that it’s a “15 minute bio-break.” Give them a directive: “We’ll meet back at 10:35AM sharp.”
- Providing Food – Extra point here: Depending on the workshop I provide food. Sometimes not. It really depends on how you feel here. Honestly I’m not sure whether there is a good formula for this. I’ve had food and it became more of a distraction than a help. I’ve provided food and people didn’t even touch it. I’ve also provided food and received some post-workshop feedback on a sticky that said: “Provide more food and your workshop will be a 10/10 instead of the 9/10 I’m giving you.” You make the call. If it’s an early morning workshop, bagels always work.