Start workshops with a bang, not a whimper

10th September 2013

Workshops are like a newspaper. You need a good headline / intro to engage your audience. Without it, you may never recover.

So, how to start a workshop so everyone’s instantly engaged? Well, not like a trainer once tried on a workshop I attended. His first three words were:

“Pretend you’re dead”

Seriously, that was the first thing he said! Here are four steps that work better:

  1. Start with the AFTERs
  2. Briefly outline the skeleton, linking to these AFTERs
  3. (Maybe) introduce yourself; but be interesting
  4. Get them talking and/or laughing

In a bit more detail…

#1 Start with the AFTERs

Begin by explaining why delegates will be better off after attending. Something like:

“Welcome to today’s Excel workshop. The course has one aim: to save you huge amounts of time. In fact, I’m aiming to help each of you save between 2-4 hours per week. Sound good?”

And, when they say “Yes”, you’ve already got early buy-in.

#2 Briefly outline the skeleton, linking to these AFTERs

Secondly, give them very brief highlights of what they’ll learn – enough so they get it; but not so in-depth it becomes boring:

“To help you save all this time, there are four key areas we’ll be focusing on today – A, B, C and D. We’ll cover each of these, giving you lots of time to practise and – more importantly – identify how to apply them back at your desks”

#3 (Maybe) introduce yourself; but be interesting

If you think your delegates want one, give them a brief, interesting introduction as to why you are delivering this session. A good mantra to remember – ‘facts tell, stories sell’. Give them a couple of stories about yourself, so they understand your expertise:

“The reason I’ve been chosen to deliver this workshop is because I recently helped Company X / Team Y / Mrs Z save two days per week. As you’ll discover today, this workshop helps trigger results like these because [tell your personal story]…”

#4 Get them talking and/or laughing

If they don’t talk/laugh now, they mightn’t do all day! So make sure they do. Here are three techniques that work well – use one, or something similar.

Four good questions

“So, I’ve told you a bit about me. Let’s find out about you. Let’s go around the room, and please can each of you answer these four questions:

  • What’s your name?
  • What job do you do here?
  • Are you pleased to be here today, or has someone sent you? (This is a light-hearted way to hear people’s feelings about your session!)
  • What one topic would you like us to cover, to ensure the day is a great use of your time?

Pair them off

A great way to get everyone talking is to put people in pairs (after all, if you ask ten delegates a question, when one answers, nine are silent):

“So, that’s today’s overview. But it’s essential today covers what you each want it to. So, please can you pair off with your neighbour, and discuss what you’d like to get out of our session?”

Use an energizer

Energizers are polarizing things: good ones are great; bad ones are horrific (‘pretend you’re dead’, anyone?)

So, if you’re using an energizer, choose one that maximises your chance of fun, and eliminates the odds they’ll hate it.

A simple one is to ask people to say their name, something they’re proud of that they achieved outside work, and the one topic they want you to cover today. When I did this with a group recently, the first delegate told the room he was proud that he’d recently been on a lads’ holiday in Magaluf and put on 14 pounds in weight in a week! This made everyone think two things: that weight gain was pretty impressive; and – because we all laughed – that the workshop was definitely going to be a success.

Another good one: a trainer recently asked us to say which animal we were most like. I said I’d be an elephant – I’m heavy, with big ears, and love my children. His reply: ‘I’ve always thought of you as a rhino, because you’ve thick skin, can’t see and charge a lot”


Action point

Running a workshop soon? Spend time practising your start. Get that right, and your day should go well. Get it wrong…

To receive Tuesday Tips, click here

Want more Tuesday Tips?

Every week, Andy releases a Tuesday Tip via email and his website, let’s take you back to the archive of tips.

Back to Tuesdays Tips