In all things success depends on previous preparation, and without such previous preparation there is sure to be failure.Confucius (551—479)
Chinese politician and philosopher
A Workshop Plan is the most important document for any event — be it a seminar, a workshop or training session. It should be the centre of every stage of planning, preparation and execution. Take your time to think it through properly and if you do not have much experience ask a senior moderator for advice!
Why a workshop plan?
A Workshop Plan can be highly valuable. Rather than starting from scratch, it is often a good idea to base your workshop on an earlier, successful training session. If you develop an entirely new one, it will take a significantly higher expenditure of time and money, and may be lacking in quality. If you base your Workshop Plan on a blueprint that has been tried and tested many times, and has been continuously improved, it is almost guaranteed that your event will be a success. I know some successful trainers who have been working with a plan developed by someone else for many years.
Proper documentation will enable you to take your Workshop Plan out of the drawer at short notice — even after several years when you have forgotten its contents — and to start your workshop almost immediately. So, take your time, develop it properly, readjust it whenever necessary — and save it for the next time!
Note: A Workshop Plan is not identical with the program: the Workshop Plan you keep for yourself (and perhaps co-trainers), the programme is for participants. We have placed a Workshop Plan sample in the membership area. Here is a list of the things it should include:
- Objectives: As outlined in the previous section, it is absolutely vital to define one or more objectives for the workshop. Write them down so that you always remember what it’s all about!
- Indicators: Your key performance indicators need to be written alongside your objectives so that you can measure whether or not your goals have been achieved.
- Risks: It is useful to think in advance about possible risks that might occur during your event. If you do, you will be more likely that you avoid problems or that you are able to react to them.
- Display: Take note of everything that should be displayed in your workshop room as well as in the hotel hall: roll-up banners, posters etc. The printed material should be appropriate for the target audience of your event.
- Distribute: In the ideal scenario you would have a file or folder for each participant. This should be branded appropriately and have a few key messages on it. It should be filled with relevant material like:
- Brochure for the organisation
- Rules and Regulations for the workshop
- Travel Reimbursement Form [Template in Membership Area]
- Handout (the main handout should be distributed at the end of the workshop/seminar)
When you combine an individual — perhaps personalised — folder with a warm welcome, every participant will feel that you have been waiting for him or her.
You should make sure to have a list of all the materials you will need. This includes the handouts, travel reimbursement form, multimedia equipment, tripod, film camera etc. This list should include the smallest details, down to spare plugs and cables. This will make it far easier to delegate the task of packing for the workshop. You will be able to give the Workshop Plan to an office assistant, so that he knows exactly what to pack and he can check off each item from the checklist. This will give you the ease of mind necessary to focus on planning other aspects of the workshop.
You and the other facilitators should always have the contact details of the venue available. Write these details on the Workshop Plan. It is easy to imagine a scenario in which you save the number on your mobile and it gets lost, stolen or runs out of battery.
Besides the content of the workshop, getting the timetable right is the most challenging part of the planning process. From long experience, we know that everything will take more time than initially planned. Accordingly, you should give yourself some flexibility by planning a session that you can skip or shorten as required.
When you write the timetable, don’t try to pack too much into a single day! This is the most common mistake of workshop planning. If participants are too tired, they won’t be able to concentrate and this will have a negative impact on any outcome. There should be enough breaks. These breaks will also enable you to perform those little talks, which are not part of the main workshop but are vital for its success, as well as giving you preparation time for the next session. Nothing is less interesting for participants than to watch you setting up a screen and plugging in a data projector.
Be fair to the participants and to yourself. A 20-minute break will take 30-minutes slot. So in the timetable make sure you leave a 30-minute space. If you have planned a series of 5-minute presentations of a group’s results, bear in mind that not everybody has the experience or training to talk precisely within the given time frame. It is better to assume that a 5-minute presentation will take 10 or even 15 minutes.
It is useful to have the Workshop Plan with you at all times. Take a note after each session about how far sessions deviated from the planned schedule. This will help you for the next time.
On the Workshop Plan you should include a brief summary of what each session is about. You can name these sessions in one of two ways. Either:
- Give it a ‘teaser’ name as it appears in the Programme.
- Give it a clear name so that you and the other facilitators are clear what the whole session is about.
Choose one version and be consistent throughout the Workshop Plan!
You will most likely know who is going to participate in the workshop, but do the others known? Make it crystal clear! This will ensure that there are no misunderstandings. Furthermore, your support team will be able to check easily where they should be and what they should be doing. For example, your driver will know that a speaker has to be there for a specific session and will bring him on time.
The session is there for a good reason so you should make it clear what that reason is. Why is it part of the programme? What do you want to achieve by it? How does it contribute to the seminar’s overall objective? Think about it, write it down and it will be clear even after many years for you as well as for other facilitators who want to emulate your methodology or achieve the same goals.
It’s useful to use the SMART model even for little session. Then you become aware how a module or session contributes to the overall objective and it becomes measurable. Thus, you can really judge whether the session is needed and whether it is the right method to achieve the required objective.
If the session doesn’t contribute to the overall objective according to the group process either skip it or choose another method, which enables goal achievement.
We now look at what exactly you will do during the event and how you will do it. While each session should develop organically from the last, there should be a good mix of methods in order to keep the workshop interesting.
The methodologies should also increase in complexity and difficulty depending on the dynamics of the group [see Moderation]. It will lead to confusion or a sense of being overstrained on the side of the participants if you move to complex tasks immediately after the welcoming address. The discussion won’t be very open. You should start with relatively simpler sessions and build from there.
Once you know what methodologies you will employ, you will be able to work out the required resources. It might appear obvious to you that you need a data projector and a screen when you give a presentation. Nonetheless, it’s useful to write it down in an extra column because you can better coordinate with your staff. If you have to borrow a data projector, for example, this will also allow you to give a precise timeframe in which you will need it. Similarly, if you are organising two workshops simultaneously, this will allow you to coordinate your resources.
This will also help during the planning phase: by writing down everything you need, you can go through your plan afterwards and make a final list of all the necessary tools for the “Material” section in the Workshop Plan [see above]. This should ensure that you don’t forget anything.
Every audience will go through different phases [see group process]. It is helpful to tag the phases on the side of your workshop plan during the design stages as well as during execution. It will, of course, only ever be a rough guess as every group dynamic follows its own trajectory.
Nonetheless, noting it down will give you some guidance about whether a certain methodology or an energiser is suitable at that particular stage. Furthermore, it helps in interpreting the actions, reactions and behaviours of your audience during the workshop. This will allow you to deal with it in a more relaxed way.
Do not forget to prepare energizers! Very few experienced moderators can come up with them on the spot. Energisers help the audience to maintain their concentration levels and remain focused. Sometimes it’s better to extend a break and do a good energiser rather than trying to continue a session on a low energy level. The more energetic the audience, the quicker you will get results.
Energisers should correspond to the phase the participants are currently in [see Group Processes]. A certain energiser might be a flop at the very beginning while it works very effectively in the middle phase. You should choose the appropriate energiser carefully.
TWL offers you plenty of energizers to choose from. Most likely this is the biggest collection of energizers you can find for free! Choose from the categories by phases for a more suitable usage.