Amy Potthast | Instructional Coach & Designer | Learning Design Studios

Inspired by Halloween, I thought I’d tackle some frightening things I see in workshops I attend. And some antidotes.

1. Mistake: Leaving chairs & tables in rows, classroom-style

Actually, this is perfectly okay if you are planning to talk the entire time — like a famous author giving a lecture or reading.

If you plan on learners’ talking to each other, choose boardroom-table seating; round tables with no backs to the front of the room; a U-shape; fishbone; rainbow or horse shoe. Check out the Learning Design Studios’ Quick Guide to Seating.

Allow learners to face each other — show that you’re the guide on the side (not the sage on the stage), and set a tone inviting participation.

If possible, arrive early to set up the room the way you’d like it. Alternately, tell your client (the person who’s asked you to speak) specifically how you’d like the room setup. It’s really frustrating to imagine round tables when you’re designing a workshop — only to find rows when you show up in the classroom.

2. Mistake: Ignore participants as they enter the room.

I know, you’re shy! Or you’re busy setting up! Or you’re refilling  your coffee before the workshop begins! Or…or…

Greet participants when they enter! So that you can:

  • Learn their names
  • Introduce yourself
  • Initiate a rapport with them
  • Make sure they are in the right place
  • Answer questions
  • Find out why they came and what they already know
  • Network!

Especially in settings when you haven’t been able to do a pre-workshop survey, it’s crucial to learn where your participants are coming from and where they are headed, and how your workshop fits into their needs. If they’ve been told to attend, do they feel it’s a punishment? (Is it a punishment?) Do you have a range of levels in the room, or do participants skew toward expert or toward beginner?

3. Mistake: Focus on your content, not on their outcomes

You’ve been asked to teach a class on a topic.

What do you do next? If you are like many people, you’ll brainstorm all the content you need to cover in the workshop, then create a PowerPoint with slides that include all the content you brainstormed (organized neatly, of course).

A better reaction would be to ask your client or another expert what learners must be able to do, out in the real world, as a result of your workshop. (You might be the expert!)

Once you have a clear idea of the outcomes, you can create objectives — tasks that learners can do during the workshop that allow you to assess their readiness for achieving the outcomes, after the workshop.

Then once you’ve listed the objectives, you can figure out what concepts & skills they must discover & practice during the workshop — and what prerequisite skills and knowledge they should enter the room with.

Outcomes help you make decisions about what to cover, and allow you to focus the learning experience.

Check out theLearning Design Studios’ ISD Model At a Glance.


Comments on: "3 scary mistakes workshop facilitators make" (3)

  1. Yes! I especially appreciate a focus on what participants are expected to do in “real life” with what they learn.

  2. Hi Amy. Yes, yes, yes! #1: Not only are rows ineffective, they’re BORING! 🙂 #2: Greeting the participants as they walk in – sometimes the participants are really shy too; the facilitator’s greeting (faking extroversion or not) towards the participants can really help them out. #3: Don’t stray from the learning outcomes/goals! So important to know what those are!

    Thanks for the fun post, Amy!

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