Running a workshop - putting theory into practice - Jo Alcock Consulting
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Running a workshop – putting theory into practice

Running a workshop – putting theory into practice

As I mentioned in my earlier post on How to run a great workshop, I tried out some new techniques at the CDG workshop I ran a few weeks ago. Now that I’ve had a little time to both reflect personally and to digest the feedback from attendees, I thought I’d share the things that worked well, the things that didn’t, and the main areas I’d like to improve on.


Workshop for CILIP CDG

What worked well?

Post-it note exercise
I decided to try a technique I used to use when teaching students and got each participant to write their aims for the session onto a post-it note as they arrived. This worked particularly well in this session as there was half an hour for people to arrive, mingle, drink and settle in. As I was being introduced, I spent a bit of time reading these and grouping them into different areas (as can be seen in the image above). I also picked a few to mention to the group to set the scene for the workshop. I found the exercise really useful for checking why people had chosen to attend (and reassuring me what I was planning to cover would help them!), and it helped during the session as I could refer to problems people had highlighted and demonstrate how what I was talking about could help. Unfortunately I don’t think I can help with this one but it gave me a giggle and I hope I gave some tips to help them do it for themselves:


One of the post-it messages

Informal approach
When given the option, I usually adopt a relatively informal approach to workshops and this was highlighted as good practice for interactive workshops in the book I read (particularly sitting at a similar level to attendees rather than above them like a lecturer). For this session I chose to sit on the table next to the laptop which also made it easy to control the presentation. I felt much more comfortable with this than I would have done standing behind the lectern in the room and fortunately some of the attendees liked the more informal approach too:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/samanthahalf/status/185087699479310336″]

Combination of approaches (presentation, individual activities and group activities)
I wanted to make sure the workshop offered variety and was interactive. I encouraged contributions from the participants throughout and I designed activities to help cement knowledge and to give the opportunity for participants to place learning into their own context. This combination seemed to work well, one participant commented:

Good mix of talking from the front and audience participation

Worksheets and presentation
I enjoyed creating the worksheets for the session (I made them in PowerPoint which I find easier for layout than Word), and got some compliments on them. As well as the activities, I encouraged participants to use the worksheets for personal reflection – I allocated space in the sheets for them to write why they chose to attend the workshop, what they had learnt, and how they were planning to apply this learning. I emphasised that these would be useful for reflection purposes, particularly for CILIP Chartership candidates wanting to use attendance at the workshop in their portfolio. I also took a different approach to creating the presentation; instead of creating it during planning, I planned the full session before even starting to create the presentation. This really saved time and meant the presentation was completely tailored to the session including breaks and activities. I also made sure the attendees were aware that the presentation would be online with all links and information after the event, which some people appreciated:

Excellent PowerPoint slides and thank you for making them available online – for once at such an event, I just concentrated on the presentation and DIDN’T take notes!

Learning outcomes
I spent time before I planned the session refining the learning outcomes to make sure they framed the session and made it clear what the purpose was. I followed the advice in the book and kept the learning outcomes clear and concise, stating specifically what participants would get out of the session.

What didn’t work well?

Session design
The main problem I experienced (and this is a big one!) was that I had designed the session for a completely different environment to the one I found myself in. I’d designed it for a medium sized room in cabaret style but I found myself in a large room with rows of chairs. Fortunately I did find out the morning of the session so I had a bit of time to plan how it might work, but it wasn’t until I got there that I was able to assess the situation properly. I’d planned group work which needed tables but this had to be adapted at the last minute utilising the tops of special collections display cabinets!

I also messed up with my timing which was frustrating. I’m not sure quite how I managed to do this but I had scheduled an extra half hour in the session which I didn’t notice until on the journey to the venue (fortunately it was in London so I had a couple of hours to rejig timings slightly). I still found it a struggle to fit everything in though, and had to cut one activity out and race through the last few sections of the material. I also wasn’t able to allocate time during the workshop for people to complete the reflective portion of their worksheets. One attendee commented when asked for improvements:

Less time socialising in order to cover full programme? Or allow more time.

I could have cut down (or missed out completely) the break in the middle but the breaktime is a good way to encourage discussion and networking and allow people to recharge. When I’d been asked to run the session I had initially thought I didn’t have enough material to fill it, but as I was developing it realised I definitely did, especially when you factor in time for the activities and feedback for each activity. I could easily fill a full day workshop with this topic!

What needs work?

One of the elements I took from the book I read was the importance of controlling the environment using music. This can be used to create an environment conducive to the type of activity you are doing, or just to separate different parts of the session. I planned to use it during the breaks and activities as light background music and to act as a divider. This seemed to work well as people were arriving but I didn’t remember to use it during the session. I think it would definitely help, not just for the attendees but also for myself as I struggle to get the attention of the group when everyone is talking. Definitely need to try to get some suitable music.

Voice projection
This issue was partly linked to the type of room (much larger, grander, and more prone to echoing than I am used to), but I did struggle to project my voice clearly. I chose not to use the microphone as it would have meant standing up behind a lectern and away from the laptop, but although I checked that this was OK with the attendees, some struggled to hear at times which is a problem I need to work on. One attendee commented (when asked about ways to improve):

Sound/audibility of speaker. Speaker chose not to use microphone – I feel it seriously affected audibility. I struggled to hear what was being said.

When I was gathering the group back together I had to ask someone else to shout to get everyone back to their seats too, though I would hope use of music would help here.

It’s more difficult to plan timings for an interactive session than it is for a pure presentation, but it’s something I definitely need to improve on. If anything, I need to have slightly less to cover than I think might be possible in the time – it will be far more beneficial to attendees to learn one thing fully and allow time for reflection than for me to cover a whistle stop tour of everything but too quickly to take anything in. I need to learn to factor in plenty of time for each activity – to explain it, get people working on it, for me to go around to check everyone understands the task, and for them to provide feedback afterwards.

My takeaway tips for future workshops

These are the things I need to remember for future!

  • Confirm room layout in advance

Make sure you know what to expect from the venue – what type of room it is, what size, what layout, and what facilities. Do you want people to work in groups? How many in each group? Will you want them to write down anything (individually or as a group)? Will you need a table for any activities? Will you need a flip chart and pens?

  • Don’t be over ambitious in content – if it looks too much to cover it probably is!

Be realistic about timings and what you can cover in the time allocated. You might not be able to cover absolutely everything you want to, so try to focus on the key areas you highlighted in your learning outcomes.

What next?

I learnt a lot from this session and it was great to put some of the theory and ideas I had read into practice. I definitely need to work on timing and amount of content, as well as projecting my voice better. I need to remember to confirm the type of facilities before planning too.

I’d like to run the session again – the feedback overall was very positive (12 excellent, 10 very good, 2 good for speaker) and I’m sure I can improve on the areas I’ve raised in this blog post. One attendee also commented that a follow up for this event would be useful – to comment on progress and share experiences:

Maybe a follow up? e.g. 1 year on how are you coping now? Has your time management improved?

I’d certainly be interested to know how people got on with implementing the points I covered and I’m sure it would benefit the rest of the group to share their tips and techniques. Maybe a more informal discussion would be useful, or a method of communicating this online.

If you’re interested in the Managing yourself session, please let me know – I’d be happy to run it again for different groups.

  • Fiona
    Posted at 09:47h, 23 April Reply

    The best thing I’ve learned: be prepared, flexible, and smile. Maybe you’ll get to the room and the layout will still be wrong despite what you have confirmed, or the heating will be broken, or the caterer not on time (this happens very often, requiring programmes to be hastily juggled for a hungry group!). Or no projector, or electricity. ANYTHING can and will happen.

    Networking and break time are critical, so you are right to be wary about cutting them to squeeze in more content.

    It looks like you got great feedback on your workshop – well done!

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 12:53h, 23 April Reply

      Thanks Fiona, excellent tips and very good point about the unpredictable. Maybe I shouldn’t focus on confirming the layout but should instead be designing a session that can be delivered whatever the layout turns out to be.

  • Nikki Cooper
    Posted at 14:39h, 27 April Reply

    Hi Jo,  I am organising a Workshop 12 July as a joint event for CILIP EoE region and CDGEoE. We would like to include 1.5 hour portion on  ‘managing yourself’ – being more productive with time and how to prioritise tasks. The other portion of the afternoon is a CV workshop focusing on targeting your CV and identifying your unique selling points. Would you be interested in running the Managing yourself session? 

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 14:43h, 27 April Reply

      Thanks very much for the invitation, I’ll email you directly for more information.

  • Things I’ve been reading – April 2012 « Libraries, the universe and everything
    Posted at 09:45h, 01 May Reply

    […] Running a workshop – putting theory into practice A really helpful analysis from Jo, and some advice I’m saving up for the next time I need to organise anything like this. […]

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