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Tuesday
Nov132007

Some questions to think about as you plan your workshop…

I've recently been helping plan the facilitation for a workshop. As I've been writing up notes around the details, I thought I might share some of the questions I'm asking the organizers.

Who will be attending?
As you think about your attendees ask yourself what they will contribute to the workshop. Not everyone needs to be an expert. Sometimes novices to a topic add energy to a room. They ask good questions. They take good notes (and don't underestimate the value of a good note-taker). You'll need some people who contribute content, some people who contribute questions, and some people who contribute different amounts of energy at different points in the workshop.

Where will this workshop be held?
As you think about your location, think about price (especially if you're paying out of pocket), but also about:
• How accessible it is: If people are flying in, can they get a cab there, are directions difficult, or is there road construction they will need to deal with?
• What options do you have to arrange the room: Some rooms only have large rectangle conference tables. Those make it hard to create a u-shape, a circle, or classroom style seating.
• Can they accommodate a projection screen? Will you even need one (you won't if they have clear and open wall space)?
• Will they have wireless internet access? And is that good or bad for the type of workshop you want to run? (Sometimes you may not want wireless; it can be a distraction.)

What equipment will you need?
I now have a small "workshop kit" I've built. It's a couple of Kinko's boxes filled with the following:
• a projector
• flipcharts and markers (technically, the flipcharts don't fit in the boxes, but they sit right next to them in my closet)
• note paper
• colored index cards
• post-it notes
• pens
• name tags
• stickers
• power chords / extension chords
• a small clock
• chimes
• collapsible easels
• paper towels, paper plates, forks and knives
• rubber bands and paper clips
• aspirin/Advil
• extra business cards

There may be more in there, but that's what I can remember. Think about what else you'll need based on any special activities you plan on running.

What will your schedule look like?
Try to plan out your timeline at a high level. Will people eat breakfast, lunch, or diner while at the workshop? When will that take place? Will time be needed to setup or teardown? Will you need time to transition between activities? Are there one off events that need to be accommodated in the schedule somewhere (like a group photo)? When will people get restroom or networking breaks and for how long?

What will people eat and drink?
The question is not if there will be food and drink, but where it will come from. If your workshop is over an hour (and I'm assuming it is if you're calling it a workshop), you at least need pitchers or bottles of water. If it's longer, you may need coffee, soda, juice, tea, etc…. At some point, you'll need to start thinking of snacks. Sitting and remaining engaged with your brain is hard work. It takes energy to focus and participate. Make sure people have calories to feed that energy if it's needed. If you plan on providing breakfast or lunch, make sure you plan in advance where it's coming from and how it will be paid for. Catering can be a difficult topic with some venues, and you don’t want to surprise your attendees with a food bill if they weren't expecting one. If they will need cash, let them know in advance of the workshop.

What's your housekeeping list look like?
As you plan the first few minutes of the workshop, you're going to need to run down a list of "housekeeping" items. Things like how often breaks will be taken, where the restrooms are located, appropriate use of cell phones, where and when will food come into play, coordinating evening activities, and an overview of the format and content of the workshop. It can be helpful to script some of that out in advance so you don't forget anything.

Those first few minutes are where you tell your audience how put together you are and whether or not you're going to be able to take care of their needs throughout the workshop. If they feel like you're forgetting about their basic needs, they won't respect your timelines as much. In a poorly run workshop, you'll see three or four people take a restroom break five minutes before one is "scheduled". That's because they have little confidence the break will happen on time.

What information do you need from your audience to be effective?
At many of the workshops I attend, there's a check-in and check-out at the start and end of each day. That's done for a couple of reasons. One reason is so everyone knows who everyone else is. Another reason is for the workshop coordinators to better understand the needs of the attendees. It's at these checkpoints that the coordinators get feedback around expectations and likes and dislikes. At check-in, make sure you have questions that help capture what people are hoping to get out of the workshop. Write those answers down. At check-out, make sure you get feedback around what's working and what's not. Write that down as well. During breaks and at the end of the day, go back and review that information to make sure you're fulfilling the needs of the attendees. If you have more then one person coordinating the workshop, do it as a group.

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