Make your workshops work

We recently facilitated what was meant to be a once-off workshop for a big client on The Art of Consulting. It was a one-day workshop, away from the client’s office – in a safe, neutral environment – that allowed the delegates to open up and discuss issues confidently and without fear of recrimination. And it was a huge success! So much so, that we were asked to facilitate a follow-up session with the same group. When a different business unit heard rumours about the success and usefulness of the workshop, we were immediately asked to facilitate a two-day workshop for them.

I’m weary of using the term ‘workshop’ – it’s a term that’s often carelessly bandied about and used to describe all manner of training sessions, including those that involve an eight-hour session of being talked at… But this was a proper workshop, facilitated by a person highly respected in the learning industry who has a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience behind her.

I’ve reflected on the experience and come up with a list of what I believe made the workshop so successful:

  1. Choose a neutral, interesting venue

While this may not always be possible, it’s often preferable to hold a workshop away from the everyday work environment. For one, it means delegates won’t be distracted by emails, ringing telephones, or ‘quick questions’ from colleagues. It also ensures that delegates feel more confident in voicing opinions, sharing stories and opening up. They’re on neutral territory.


  1. Select a theme or a storyline to underpin your presentation

Using a theme or storyline helps to guide your presentation, hold your delegates’ attention, create interest, and it makes the learning more memorable (read more on Storytelling in learning here). We chose a theme that fit in with our venue: a lovely conference centre at the Johannesburg Zoo. Our theme was, ‘The Big 5’ and we used it as a golden thread to tie our workshop together. We had Big 5 prizes, we had activities that centred around different animals in the zoo, and we used The Big 5 as an extended metaphor throughout the workshop.


  1. Talk little

According to, ‘What a facilitator does is plan, guide and manage a group event to ensure that the group’s objectives are met effectively, with clear thinking, good participation and full buy-in from everyone who is involved’. It’s not the facilitator’s role to talk to (or at) the delegates for eight. Straight. Hours. Rather, as Mindtools indicates, the facilitator’s role is to make the process and objectives easier to achieve. So, when facilitating a workshop, talk little, listen lots – get input, guidance and participation from your delegates.


  1. Create many opportunities for delegates to work together

Allowing delegates the opportunity to interact with one another not only energises them, it allows them to share ideas and feed off one another’s creativity. If the delegates are a functional team, it will allow them to engage with each other in a manner they may not usually have the chance to do. If delegates don’t know each other, it gives them the chance to network and meet new people.

If you’d like to find out more about performance consulting, workshops, or how we can assist you with a blended learning solution, please send us a mail and we’ll get back to you.

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