Making your workshop work


It’s probably the case that most of your work as a communicator consists of one-on-one discussions with internal clients, management or external stakeholders. But from time to time, your job calls for you to stand up before a larger group of people and make communications magic happen.

One of those times that I find most enjoyable and powerful is the Discovery Phase Workshop that I conduct in the preparatory research phase of doing a strategic communications plan. It provides an often sorely needed venue for different functional groups within your organization to collectively explore a communication project’s opportunities, strengths and potential gaps. By bringing together a group of informants from within your organization, not only do you get an invaluable spectrum of perspectives, but you also get to play an integrator role in bringing these folks together.

Beyond focussing on the specific content you’re after in such a workshop, it’s also your job to make sure that the process unfolds effectively. Your primary role as workshop facilitator is to keep the session on topic and on time, and to foster an environment conducive to creative participation. It’s useful to be aware of some key principles for facilitating a successful workshop. (And guess what—they work not just for Discovery Phase Workshops but for any other information-gathering session you might have occasion to conduct). They are:

  • Give a clear introduction. Clarify the overall purpose of the session, and check in regularly with the group to ensure that everyone’s on the same page.
  • Set a positive tone. Convey that this isn’t an exercise in complaining or blaming, but an occasion for enthusiasm about fresh directions.
  • Explain the process. Describe research and consultation carried out thus far, and highlight that a written report of the workshop input will feed into the final strategic plan.
  • Welcome questions and feedback. Encourage participation by being open and receptive to comments.
  • Manage the meeting space. Ask everyone to turn off their electronic gadgets during the session, and ensure there are regular breaks.
  • Be flexible. Allow the discussion to veer from the planned structure if valuable input is coming out.
  • Show appreciation. Be sure to thank everyone for contributing their time.
  • Commit to follow-through. Let your participants know about next steps in your process and how you’ll share follow-up deliverables such as the workshop summary notes and final communications strategy.
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