Ever been to a workshop that just couldn’t hold your attention even though the content itself was interesting? Tried to moderate yourself but people just didn’t listen?
Here’s the thing: in the end it’s not all about the content or the people, it’s mostly about you, your performance and your ability to keep everyone entertained.
I’ve been to workshops, presentations, conferences, you name it. And if the presenter isn’t really enthusiastic about their work, most of them share one big problem: it gets boring because the presenters care more about themselves than about their audience. And sometimes even worse — attendees regret having visited the workshop and get used to workshops being generally boring.
Now, how can you turn the swag on your workshops and finally make them exciting?
The answer is easy: Make the time the participants spend worth their while.
So, apart from working on delivering better content, there are a few things you can do to manipulate people into thinking that they had a great time. If you do it right, they will actually have a great time, it’s a little bit like doing a stage show.
Set the Stage: Create a comfortable environment
This should be self-explanatory. Think about the location people visit to be part of your workshop. Is it clean? Do you look nice? Can everybody stay hydrated? What if someone is hungry? Is it warm? How is the light? Do you have free coffee?
If you are booking a room, make sure it’s cosy. If you have control over the existing office/room, get some slippers, nice furniture, light lunch (so people don’t get tired), good quality coffee, beer and wine for the end of the day.
Your Introduction: Let people know what to expect
It’s easy to start off by introducing an exercise and doing it with a group of people. Let’s assume you know what it’s about and that the outcome will be good. People will follow because they are there.
But why should they believe you? Who are you to tell people to do things? Why are you taking my valuable time?
The most important part of an introduction is to convince people in a very short amount of time that their time and effort will be worthwhile.
Introduce yourself by giving an example of every facet of your personality. Content-wise, some people will get more trust when they see you’ve been working for large companies and when they see examples. But that might not be enough, maybe they have already seen similar workshops.
Most people expect workshops to be boring, so if you are running one, what makes your workshop special? Who are you? Are you authentic? Are you funny? Are you serious and knowledgeable? Can you show it with a comment right at the start? Also, if you know there might be negative feelings during the workshop, mention it so it doesn’t come as a surprise that some parts will be tedious.
Your Audience: It’s not about you, it’s about them
Even if you are in the center of attention, make it about them. Participants are spending their valuable time (and sometimes money) to get something out of it, at least some appreciation.
It’s a challenging task for entertainers to manage because you are automatically putting yourself above your audience, but it’s important to let everybody know that you are listening to them and their opinion matters too (even if it’s wrong).
Are you sure you can involve everyone into the workshop? Do you remember their names and a little personal fact that makes them stand out positively? Can you make your participants have some “stage time”? Are you talking directly at people and keeping eye contact with every single person in the room? At which point in the workshop will each participant feel appreciated for being there?
Your Show: Focus on the process, not on the end
At the end of the workshop everybody receives results. If you’re very result-driven this is what you might be looking forward to the most, since the outcome of the workshop will also determine its success and quality.
But that’s not entirely true if you are moderating the workshop. Even if the content is amazing, even if the result is fantastic and high end, it doesn’t mean that the participants will remember it or talk about it after it’s over. And having people talk about your work after it’s over is actually very important, because otherwise you’ll appear just like everybody else. And if they had a great time, they will probably want to share their experience later with others (which is also good for your business).
So ask yourself how can you make every moment of the workshop memorable, fun and entertaining for everyone. Does every single step of the process make absolute sense to everyone? Are you funny or do people want to listen to you a lot?
Of course it feels nice to have people listening to you and do what you say, but do they also feel entertained? Are they enjoying the process or are they waiting for the workshop to end?
(If you’re not sure, I recommend doing some acting classes or improv. Or even stand up comedy, you’ll learn to make people listen to you quickly and lose stage fright)
You want people to remember the time as a positive emotional experience and not as something with a functional outcome.
Teasing participants with their reward is a different thing. Do they know the outcome? Do they get curious about where the workshop is going? Because that’s a good thing.
At AJ&Smart, we show people every step during the process of our workshop what an outcome of that specific step will look like ideally. Also, in the very beginning we show them projects which we did in the past and what the clients get by the end of the week.
Your Performance: Know your script
This is vital for every type of performance. If you don’t know your script, cancel the workshop.
Make sure that every single details is clear to you. Is everything so well memorized that it’s second nature? Does everyone have the impression that you know what you are talking about?
Nobody likes seeing a performer on stage who forgot their text. It puts spectators into an uncomfortable position and they will want to leave or take over. If on the other hand you are confident about what you are presenting, people will trust you and feel safe. They will even be on your side if someone puts you on the spot. You should be an expert on the topic you are presenting, knowing about the topic at least 5 times as much than you are actually verbalising.
Edge case: In case of an unexpected event, you will need to improvise. This is the only part which is off-script, but knowing everything else will give you freedom to improvise and the energy to think fast. To learn improvising, you can take improv classes or get a social hobby.
After the show: Debrief and Practice
Whether you think that you did a great job or a mediocre job, always sit down and go through everything that happened.
Here is a list of questions to work on after the workshop:
What can you do better next time? Do you have someone who can give you constructive feedback? Which parts went well? What is something you can practice more? What is the easiest way or the first step to getting better?
Be honest about this even if it hurts, especially when you have a “director” or someone who helps you. The audience never lies and if they didn’t like it, it’s your fault and your responsibility to make it better.
You can practice all of the above steps in your everyday life. Having fun and improvising in everyday conversations, memorising a poem or a musical piece, making people around you feel appreciated etc.
I wouldn’t only suggest it, I would highly recommend doing it because in the end, you are making your own time worthwhile and fun 🙂
If you liked what I wrote, check out my other articles (like my bi-weekly report of digital products in a specific category) or articles in this publication.