Strategy

How to Hold a Productive Workshop

I’ve found myself giving a lot of workshops lately. Around the world, different sized rooms, different technical skills at the table, strong and weak Wi-Fi, you name it, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve approached it as a fun challenge – always wondering what surprise I’m walking into.

I thought it could be helpful to put some findings out there as I’ve learned a lot, mainly from screwing up, and in no particular order:

1. Lose the Deck

There’s nothing that seems to suck the life out of a room than people staring at a slide deck of all the amazing things you think are worthy. In a pre-sales workshop, it’s time to show off the goods. Have your demo ready. Tell the story of your amazing solution. As someone once told me, don’t “show up and throw up”. Even if it’s a sales engagement, let the product speak for itself. Unless your deck is AMAZING (it’s not), think beyond the deck.

That being said, it is good to have a slide deck open introducing yourself and any Wi-Fi or login information you want people to know.

2. Own the Room

You have carved out the time, people have deferred other work on their plates to join you, so own it. Make it enjoyable. Think through your own private agenda of what you want to make sure to do/cover/say. Sure, someone may introduce you or kick off the meeting, but you are there as the expert, the headliner. Own that and make the meeting something you would want to attend.

3. Set the Tone

Who wants to sit through a boring and unproductive meeting? Exactly. Set the mood to be positive / energetic / happy / fun. Get yourself in that mood, even if that’s not how you’re feeling that day. It’s amazing how starting with a joke or breaking the ice a bit at the beginning can set a great tone for the meeting. Depending on the size of the group I’ve found having people introduce themselves and hearing what they hope to get out of the workshop really helps. You can then take some notes to make sure to cover all those items that come up and leave people feeling heard.

4. Don’t Fumble Around

I don’t need to hear your apologies as to why something isn’t working, especially if it’s because you didn’t prepare. Get there early. Make sure your Wi-Fi is working and strong. Make sure your demo is queued up and ready. Make sure any examples you plan on demonstrating are ready. Know where you’re going to sit so you can command the room (see #2). Yes, crazy things can happen in live demos and meetings, but as it’s in your control, be ready to rock.

5. End Early

You don’t have to take 3 hours even though that’s the meeting schedule. Don’t get me wrong, if it can be productive, take the time, but don’t just drag something on because you have a 3-hour time block to fill. Nobody likes meetings. Nobody. Get better and better at telling your story so you can do it more efficiently. Affinity helps the sale.

6. Preparation is for Everyone

I have showed up with a new presentation that I hadn’t rehearsed before. Shocker, I know. Needless to say, it didn’t go as well. You have to prepare. The man-hour cost of the meeting you’re about to enter is so valuable, make sure you’re ready. AND, make sure THEY are ready. If you have someone coming to a meeting without knowing why they are there, you have already lost. If they are just there to consume, do they need a meeting? Can’t you send them a video/pdf? For an in-person workshop, they should have something to either think about or do before they come to the table. There is nothing more unproductive than asking for fresh opinions. Let them know what you hope to cover so they can have a much more productive meeting. Send out an agenda and elicit feedback. Make sure it’s what everyone has agreed to. It shouldn’t be a surprise why you’re there.

7. Personification Wins

As you’re putting the presentation together, think through what it would be like to be an attendee. You’re coming into the room because you have to be at this meeting, why is this going to be something special? Why should I care about this meeting? Maybe I’m really technical, maybe I can’t even handle my own computer, how are you going to make sure I’m covered? I’ve found there is always that one person in every workshop. You know them. They have all the comments, ask all the questions, take all the time. You have to do your best to feed them, but also make sure you address the other folks in the room. Play it through in your mind and let that guide how you structure the meeting.

At the end of the day there is no better teacher than showing up and doing the workshop. Don’t beat yourself up, just learn. Take the time, get better. Prepare so next time you can really knock it out of the park.

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