Whatever the nature of your event, attendee engagement is key to its success. Whilst subject expert speakers and well formulated presentations are a vital component of your event agenda, so too are breakouts and workshops. Not only do these provide variety and break up otherwise lengthy sessions, they offer opportunity for increased engagement through attendee interaction.
However, simply placing workshop sessions into your overall agenda is not enough to guarantee engagement. Their planning needs to be given the same amount of consideration as every other element of your event, along with the added dimension of ensuring you encourage active attendee participation.
Make content relevant
The best way to ensure your attendees engage with your workshop content is to make it relevant to them. You have a set of overall event objectives which will have influenced your speaker selection, presentations and/or panel discussions. Your workshop sessions should be seen as an opportunity to take wider issues and ideas and make them audience applicable. How will the topics at hand affect their daily lives? How will they put new ideas into practice in a real life setting?
Address the wider topics and issues in your main plenary sessions and use your workshops to encourage attendees to consider them on a personal level. Audiences are far more likely to share thoughts and engage in a learning experience when it has direct impact on their lives.
Consider your timing and create a buzz
As mention earlier, your workshops are not just there to break up your plenary sessions. They are there to facilitate learning and encourage attendee interaction, so place them strategically within your overall agenda. You want your audience armed with the relevant information, most likely received through a subject expert led presentation, but also at peak engagement levels.
Consider breaks between your plenary and workshop sessions, perhaps encouraging attendees to step outside for some fresh air (weather dependent of course!) Avoid placing workshops directly after lunchtime – most of us are guilty of a post-lunch slump and our attention levels tend not to be at their greatest here. If your event spans several days, consider scheduling morning workshops, allowing attendees time to process information presented the day prior and approach it with a fresh head.
Also try and create an air of excitement around your workshop sessions. Your attendees should be enthusiastic to attend them, not view then as a mandatory part of proceedings.
Appoint the right facilitator
Selecting the right workshop facilitator is crucial, both for getting the most out of your attendees and for giving them the best experience possible.
We’re not all natural born leaders, so the selection process should be given careful attention. Whilst it’s important that your workshop facilitator has a level of understanding around the topics at hand, they do not need to be a subject expert. What they do need to be is someone who is able to motivate and inspire your attendees to participate. They also need to remain impartial – the workshop sessions should be a chance for attendees to share their own thoughts and ideas. The facilitator’s role is to encourage this, not to sway opinion.
Do also ensure that your facilitator has a strong understanding of your workshop objectives and how the activities you have devised will help to achieve them.
Accommodate different learning styles
We all learn in our own unique way, and experts have developed an extensive list of different learning styles and preferences. An in-depth understanding of each would take years to develop. Instead, focus on the seven most common styles listed below:
When planning your workshop activities and associated learning outcomes, try to include a combination of solutions that appeal to different learners; use visual aids to accompany all verbal presentations, allow time for solitary processing of information as well as group discussions, implement physical tasks, facilitate logical problem solving. Offering a combination of approaches will allow each member of your audience to learn effectively in their own individual style.
For a more personalised experience, consider asking attendees in advance to identify their own learning style and separate into workshops accordingly. Develop different formats that all aim towards the same learning outcomes, for example, a ‘hands on’ workshop for physical learners vs. a group discussion for those who learn better through the verbal processing of information. Bring all groups together at the end to share and present their own individual workshop outcomes.
Consider your room layout
This may seem like an unimportant consideration, but the environment into which we are placed can have a huge impact on our ability to learn and interact. Align your room layout with the nature of your workshop – a highly educational session will require a different set up than a creative session designed for the development and sharing of ideas.
Your chosen seating arrangement will affect how your attendees communicate with each other. Banquet style seating may be good for small group discussions but doesn’t encourage wider debate across the board. Classroom style may be beneficial for drawing attention to the front of the room but seriously limits group dialogue.
The styling of your room is also an important consideration. For serious subject matter, room theming may be inappropriate. However, for a highly creative session, surrounding attendees in a vibrant and inspirational environment will greatly enhance their own creativity.
Include a call to action
Finally, leave your audience with something that is actionable in their daily lives. Whatever the objectives of your overall event, there will be an element of creating change involved. Make sure that the nature of your workshops leaves attendees equipped with the relevant knowledge and skills and that it inspires them to take action that will bring about the desired change.
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