What Makes a Good Workshop?

Activity: Brainstorming

This activity can help a group of students (or anyone) create a list of qualities that are often present in successful presentations.

Materials needed: Post-its (or small slips of paper & tape); a whiteboard/flipchart; pens

Directions: Pass out a few Post-it notes or slips of paper and a pen or other writing utensil to each participant. Explain that you’re going to spend some time talking about the qualities of a good workshop or presentation.  For example, you could say:

“As students, many of us have been to workshops or presentations before, either at school or at conferences we’ve attended. Even if you’ve never sat through a workshop, you’ve been in a classroom, and each day of class could be seen as a workshop. Today we’re going to spend some time talking about what makes a workshop successful.”

Next, ask the participants to spend some time thinking about a workshop or class that they’ve attended that was not so good. Ask them to write down two or three things on separate slips of paper that made the workshop unsuccessful. Ask them to be specific. Rather than writing, “it was boring,” ask them to write why it was boring.

After the participants have had a chance to write their thoughts down, ask for each person to share just one of the things they wrote down.  If needed, remind them that we don’t want to hear names of presenters or teachers; this is a conversation about the elements that make a workshop successful, not a chance to criticize certain individuals.

For example: “The workshop I attended was all lecture, and that made it boring”, rather than “Mr. Smith is a boring presenter because all he does is lecture.”

As participants are sharing, ask clarifying questions if necessary, or simply affirm what they’re saying. When each person has had a chance to share, ask if folks have other qualities they’d like to share that didn’t get mentioned.  Feel free to add your own.

Now, ask the participants to set the slips of paper aside that list the qualities of a not-so good workshop. Explain that now we’re going to focus on what does make a workshop or presentation successful.  Ask the participants to do what they did before, but this time think of a class or presentation that they thought was really great, and write down on the slips of paper what made that presentation so great.  Again, be specific.

While they are writing, draw the following diagram on the whiteboard or flipchart:

Screen Shot 2016-10-07 at 11.18.40 AM

When the participants have finished writing, go around the group once again and ask folks to share what made the workshop they had in mind so good. Ask clarifying and follow-up questions as needed, and feel free to share your own examples.

Now, explain that all of their examples can most likely be placed into one of four categories: content, facilitator, organization, or style. Give quick definitions for each of these categories:

Content – This is what is presented in the workshop. The information, ideas, and actions that you learn and take away from the presentation.

Facilitator This is who presented the workshop. How did they work to engage the participants, and what kind of atmosphere did they create with their presence? Organization – This is the first how: How well was the content researched and prepared, and how well did it fit within the given time frame. Did it flow well? Was it all covered?

Style This is the second how: How was the content actually presented? Was it all lecture, or did the facilitator present it in different ways?

Next, ask the group to take their slips of paper that have qualities of a good workshop and place them on the whiteboard or flipchart in the category that they feel best fits. (This is why it’s good to use Post-its, or to have tape on hand.) Explain that some of the qualities they wrote down may feel like they fit in two categories, and that it’s okay to place them on the lines between the categories.

Ask the group if a few volunteers would like to comment on why they placed one of their slips of paper where they did. If there are noticeably more slips of paper in one of the four categories than in the others, ask the group why they think that happened.

To close the activity, comment on how easy it was for the group to come up with this list of qualities. We all recognize a good workshop when we see one, but sometimes we forget to think about all of these pieces when we’re preparing a workshop ourselves.

Remind them that it takes practice to become a good facilitator, and that no one gets it perfect the first time.  But by thinking about these different elements of a good workshop and by putting some thought into the style, content, and organization, we will be much more successful in our presentations.