Successful workshop tips: Part 2 on designing the session

[Guest post by Diego Kerner, Managing Partner of Latin America] 

This is the second of two posts that look at the learning from over 500 brandgym workshops. After sharing some principles of effective workshop planning and facilitation last week, I'll now go through a proven overall structure for any workshop:

1)   Start with the end game in mind: news from the future

Starting with the end means that the first thing you have to do when designing the workshop is clarifying its outputs. Only after that, you come back to what is the optimum design and inputs to achieve your objectives. 

During the workshop, you should not only share these expected outcome with participants, but let them think they can achieve them with your help. In a way, a clear and inspirational "North Star" objective acts as a powerful magnet that attracts and enthuses people´s minds towards it.

We use many exercises in brandgym workshops to do this. My favourite is to show them a business magazine cover dated in the future with an article explaining how the team achieved the objective.

2)   Back to the present

Now that the team is committed towards a common goal, as a facilitator you should turn them on and engage them into a positive, active, collaborative and creative mode. Exercises can include breathing deeply 3-4 times, moving your body to get your creative juices flowing or taking notes of your pending "to do" list  and giving these to the facilitator. Never, ever start a workshop “cold”; warming up and setting the right mood is a high return time investment in terms of workshop outputs.

3)   Stimuli-decision

After establishing and aligning around what you all want to walk out with, it is time to start rolling up the sleeves and to getting to work. The logic here is to split decisions into manageable bits; by solving these as a team, you start building towards the bigger objective. For each of these bits, you will use different kind of stimuli to provoke new thinking and/or make the team consider learnings from the past of information you want them to be aware of. Some common mistakes to avoid here: information overload (that can be as damaging as lack of information), too much inspiration with not enough information (you could end up with very sexy ideas that do not solve the challenge) and lacking a proper process/workout to enable participants to use the stimuli to generate insights or ideas.

4)   Check out

You are moving towards the end of the session. It is time to recap on what was done, organize it if needed and check vs workshop objective. Is the output clear? Does this output answer the brief? Are we all in the same page? Are the next steps to make it happen well established (who does what by when with what resources)?

Again, on the “human side”: how do participants feel about what was done? How do they leave the room? What do they take with them? What was great? What needs to be done different next time? Great facilitaros do not fear to go into evaluation mode as this is the best way to improve

5)   End on a high

As a facilitator make sure you always end on a high by doing some activity that builds on the topic of the workshop. For example, a couple of months ago we did a fantastic project for a Mexican food portfolio and we ended up cooking together. People will leave the workshop happier, more energized and with higher chances of bringing to life what was agreed during the workshop.

In summary, although there are many types of workshop, a good overall structure should always include: setting clear and loud what are the workshop objectives, engaging participants minds and hearts towards it, managing properly the flow of stimuli-decision splitting into logical pieces and then building it up again at the end to check vs objective and ending on a high.