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Cheat Sheet

Running Great Meetings & Workshops For Dummies

All meetings and workshops take planning, and it’s so easy to forget something crucial. You can run great meetings and workshops when you pay attention to all the little details, as well as think about the big picture. You need to plan, organise and manage the critical aspects of all your workshops, so you set yourself up for success.

How to Put Together Plans for a Workshop

You don’t want to just show up for a workshop and wing it. It’s important to think about a few particular things before your participants start to arrive:

  1. Think through the purpose of your workshop.

    You must be able to answer the question ‘Why are we all getting together?’ in one sentence. This will help steer you towards your outcomes.

  2. Articulate the outcomes for everyone attending.

    If you are planning a half-day workshop or full-day workshop, you should be able to clearly outline three to five outcomes you will have achieved by the end of the session.

  3. Make a project plan and outline everything you need to do and by when so that you can see what tasks you need to get done.

    Download a sample project plan.

  4. Work out who your stakeholders are and what they need to know.

  5. Connect with your stakeholders to find out how much consulting and communication with you they want and then work out how you will follow through on this.

    Make sure you are clear about decisions, timings and any impact that delays might have.

  6. Leave enough time to do your design.

    It’s easy to short-change this and put yourself under too much pressure. Moreover, it’s rarely right the first time. Your design should include

    • Knowing where you will hold the workshop: The space can affect activities you plan.

    • Thinking through all the activities you want to include: Think about timings, objectives of each activity and any materials you’ll need. Remember to balance what you do for interest and energy. You don’t want to plan two similar activities in a row or keep everyone sitting for hours.

    • Plan all the workshop’s activities on a one-pager to start with. This should include rough timings, objectives and any materials you need to prepare.

    • Write up a detailed running order. This will help you remember the overall process and mean you can run a similar session more easily at a later date. You can also download a sample running order.

  7. Write your Joining Instructions (invitation to attend) for participants.

    Send these out well in advance, including them as a calendar invitation if you can. If you can’t, send the Joining Instructions out again the night before. Include logistics, outcomes, your contact details and any dress code. Before you press Send, remember to check one final time for typos and mistakes.

  8. Allow yourself enough time to rehearse what you will say.

    If you want to be fluent, you need to practise the words. That means saying them aloud. Schedule at least a couple of hours to rehearse the day before and make sure you focus on the start, when pressure is high. Then focus on any difficult instructions, so you can clearly explain what participants need do to. The rest will be plain sailing.

  9. Build a slide deck that’s got lots of white space.

    Don’t overload it with writing and do make it visually appealing. The images you use will say something about you; what do you want that to be?

Developing Key Skills You Need for Meetings or Workshops

The following list is full of reminders you can keep at hand during any meeting or workshop. You can use the list either as a nudge to check that you are using these skills – ideally, during a break or a group activity. Or you can give it to a colleague and ask her to assess what you are doing and how well you are doing it during your session.

Make sure you hand the list to your colleague before you start and explain what you would like her to do. You colleague can do the assessment one of two ways: first, during the session as you go, or second, after it’s all over. It’s difficult to assess and participate at the same time. Just remember to ask her to give you reasons for why she thinks what they think.

Here are the skills you need to use:

  • Contracting: This means setting up what you will and won’t do with a group – and in turn what they can expect from you. Part of contracting includes developing and then sticking to your ground rules. It also means excluding or including new topics that might arise by getting the group to agree as a whole. For example, if you are asked to end by 15.00, you would contract by saying, ‘We can end by 15.00 if we take lunch break of only 20 minutes. What would you like to do?’

  • Signposting: These are key phrases that indicate to a group what you are about to do– for example, ‘We are going to debrief this activity and then take a break’” or ‘moving on to agenda point 3.’

  • Summarising: This is when you sum up an activity or the entire session. You do this to signal to the group that you are aware of what’s happening, to maintain momentum and to draw the process together. You summarise by signposting that’s what you are going to do!

  • Linking: You link when you connect one topic to another. In some meetings or workshops, this isn’t necessary, but when you are dealing with complex topics, you may need to link forward ‘We will cover that later’ or back ‘This follows on from what you John commented on this morning.’ It helps participants see how items or activities are connected to each other or to their personal expectations, which you gather at the start. You link both intentionally and in response to participants’ comments.

  • Writing up key information: Make sure you don’t turn your back on participants as you write on a flip chart, that you use a blue or black marker pen so everyone can see what you write and that you don’t write in capitals. They are harder to read and can appear childish or SHOUTY.

  • Giving clear instructions: Practise giving clear instructions and if they are complicated, repeat them twice. To make sure participants have understood what you want them to do, get someone in the group to repeat all the steps back to you.

  • Managing time: Never say, ‘We are running out of time.’ It causes consternation, reduces trust in you and your participants don’t know what they don’t know. If the group needs to make choices about what happens, contract with everyone to make those choices.

  • Dealing with rabbit holes: Notice when the group is going down a rabbit hole that might be a waste of time. Point out what’s happening and invite everyone to make a decision to continue down the rabbit hole or get back to the agenda. You can then put the topic in a parking lot.

  • Using parking lots: These are useful when a personal issue that doesn’t help the group arises or when something that matters but isn’t relevant to what you are all doing comes up. (Perhaps it matters to some of the people who are there only.) Agree with the group that you can put it in the parking lot and move on.

  • Managing energy: When you feel the group flagging, even if you haven’t got a break planned, just stop. You won’t get the best work out of anyone them so you need to change what you are doing. If you aren’t good at spotting energy levels in groups, get a participant to help you.

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