How to run a great workshop - Jo Alcock Consulting
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How to run a great workshop

How to run a great workshop

This evening I’ll be delivering a seminar for the CILIP Career Development Group (London and South East division) on Managing yourself: how to be productive with your time. I’ve given presentations on this topic before, and have blogged about it, but when I was invited to deliver this session I was initially unsure if I could fill 2hrs based in my knowledge. It’s also been a while since I delivered a longer session like this – I used to on a regular basis (for students, researchers or academic staff) in my subject librarian role, but most of my recent public speaking has been conference presentation of around 20-30 minutes in length (with some discussion if I can fit it in but largely just ‘chalk and talk’ style). I thought I would benefit from learning some new skills/techniques so decided to read How to run a great workshop by Nikki Highmore Sims.


The book was recommended by my manager, as Nikki used to facilitate workshops with Evidence Base (my workplace). I’ve heard tales of some of the interesting things she did in workshops and was really looking forward to reading the book. The book begins with an overview of facilitator style, as well as considering different learning styles and how you can ensure you have variety in your session to accommodate different styles. A main focus of the book is on whole-brain learning and engaging participants throughout. I have to confess, some of the ideas were a bit too extreme for me (particularly BrainGym which is recommended a lot throughout the book but I just can’t see me bringing exercise into my sessions!) but there was a lot I took from it. Some of the most useful tips for me included:

  • Give adequate breaks
  • Use music (useful for background during exercises and to evoke a certain mood)
  • Consider theming the session (utilising metaphors and help bring different parts of the workshop together – Nikki even suggests fancy dress but I think that’s another tip I’ll give a miss)
  • Plan the timings and structure for the session before creating materials
  • Utilise the space your workshop is in, particularly if it is a full day workshop (participants will appreciate a change in environment)
  • Think about zoning different areas of the room for different activities to help get people into the right mindset

Although some of that may sound like common sense, putting it into practice isn’t always straight forward. I have put a lot of thought into the structure and activities in the seminar I’m giving tonight, but as much as I tried I just couldn’t come up with a theme that would work and not be cringeworthy! I also discovered this morning that my requested layout (cabaret) couldn’t be provided so the table activities I had planned will have to be adapted on the fly depending on what the room is like when I get there. I’ve also struggled to get music in time – I do of course own music but not any suitable for playing at public events. The planning did seem to go well though – I spent a long time sketching ideas (I also tried mind mapping as recommended in the book but reverted to lists as that’s how my brain works!) before committing to creating the materials or presentation. This meant the material came together really quickly as I knew exactly what I needed. No more rearranging slides and frantically searching for images the day before the event.

I’d recommend the book to anyone involved in delivering workshops or training (including information literacy), but a lot of the ideas are more suited to a creative mind (which sadly I don’t have). I’m definitely going to try to add more variety into future workshops though and we’ll see how this evening goes to see what worked well and what to ditch (or work on).

  • Hannah Bennett
    Posted at 16:48h, 28 March Reply

    Good luck for tonight. Some great tips to consider when training especially the music. I am just about to complete my PTLLS (perparing to teach in the life long learning sector) qualification and have been learning and using similar methods.  Every lesson our tutor played different music or used different activities to set the mood of the learners. It really works! I agree with you about the physical exercise stuff though I am not sure I am quite up to that yet either 🙂

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 00:13h, 29 March Reply

      Thanks Hannah. I wish I’d been more prepared with the music – I did play some jazz at the beginning but it was a faff (played online and sound took a lot of fiddling with) so didn’t manage to co-ordinate it during breaks/activities.

  • How to run a great workshop « Lia Sant webfolio
    Posted at 20:49h, 03 April Reply

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