I was recently commissioned to run a series of 5 consultation workshops for a client in sport. It happened that the dates fell alongside other workshops already planned so I ended up running 9 separate workshops in the space of a week and a half, or 8 working days! This was an intense but enjoyable and rewarding period, and I learned a lot, working with a great and diverse set of people.
As a consultant, running workshops is one thing I do but is not the only thing, so I am not what you would call a professional ‘trainer’ as some of my colleagues who deliver day in day out are. So, what did I learn during this time? My list is outlined below, and I hope these points are helpful to anyone else looking to deliver online workshops:
1. As with most things in life, it’s all in the prep. Firstly, if you know you are going to be running an online workshop seek the advice of those people who are more experienced. Some important tips I received were to ensure variety and interaction, use all the tools available, polls, quizzes, whiteboard, keep people busy. This was really great advice that I kept in mind.
2. Admin. Whether you are doing this yourself or have support, put yourself in the shoes of your participants, what would be useful to know beforehand, any background material, what should they expect and most importantly, make sure they have the link to join!
Your set up
3. The tech. I have used Zoom for the majority of my workshops, as personally I have found it easier and more intuitive to use compared to Teams. The breakout room facility on Zoom is just brilliant, and very easy to use once you have familiarised with it. Your broadband connection needs to be reliable, mine failed in one workshop just as we moved to breakout rooms, not ideal. In addition in the final workshop, a video I played had no sound for participants. If this happens the best advice I can give is keep calm. There is usually always a solution and a workaround and you’re more likely to find one if you remain calm.
4. Think about your background, and your lighting, there is nothing worse than being a silhouette that your participants can’t see! Manage distractions, pets and children especially and anything else with a mind of its own.
5. In some ways, when you are hosting it’s a performance. We are not talking showbiz but this means injecting some energy and enthusiasm into it. If this doesn’t come naturally you may wish to practice, also so much is carried in your tone of voice. Your participants will soon clock if you are not into it. But… you are, you love the subject and are doing this for a reason, so keep that energy high! At the same time speak slowly and clearly, try not to gabble through instructions or content or you will lose people.
6. Know your topic. This isn’t to say that your workshop participants need to leave the workshop having heard you recount everything you know, quite the reverse! But your knowledge will help to guide the discussion and to ask the right questions.
7. Let your participants talk and share their knowledge and experience. You are the host, and facilitator, this doesn’t mean you need to speak the whole time and dominate. In a consultation workshop particularly you are trying to draw information out from people, so more receive than broadcast! The skill is sometimes knowing when to speak, and when to keep quiet. Involve everyone, particularly those who haven’t contributed yet.
8. Have confidence. The more you run workshops, the more confident you will become and your delivery will improve as you relax, safe in the knowledge that you can do this. Be yourself, as everyone else is already taken.
9. Summarise, pull together any points from the discussions and make sure people know what happens after the workshop. Thank them for their contributions, too.
10. Ask people how they found it. I often run a poll or ask people to put in the chat one word to describe the workshop before closing. This not only provides you with instant feedback but also gets your participants reflecting on what they have experienced.
What do you think of these tips? Have you experienced online workshops as a host or participant? What’s been good, and what not so good? What would you add here? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.
Darren Lawrence is an independent consultant and certified life and business coach working primarily in the sport and leisure sector, with a particular interest in productivity, wellbeing and transition. For an initial discussion about how Darren can help you achieve your personal or business goals, please get in touch using the ‘contact’ tab above.