Why most workshops fail… and how to ensure yours don’t

16th August 2016

What’s the aim of a workshop?

       To teach people stuff?
       To think about things?
       To learn?

No. It’s none of those.

Instead, it’s to cause improvement.

A training workshop should improve delegates’ skills and confidence outside the room.

A brainstorming workshop should improve decision-making.

In other words, the aim of a workshop is not just to transfer understanding. After all, you don’t just want to make people cleverer; you want something to improve as a result.

But look at most Workshop Objectives, and you’ll see the word ‘understanding’ all over the place.

For example, a pharmaceutical company recently asked me to improve their sales training programme. Lots of things were good about it – for example, the Happy Sheets showed delegates loved it. But there was a big problem: delegates didn’t sell more after attending. So…

  • I looked at the course objectives. They said ‘after attending this course, you’ll understand our sales model, understand our six-step process, understand how we do X, Y, Z’
  • I then reviewed the last slide of their training material. It said ‘key learnings’ (in other words, ‘this is what we want you to understand’)
  • I then read the Happy Sheet questions – ‘Did you understand everything you heard today? Was the trainer good at explaining things so you understood them?’
  • Finally, I checked their follow-up support from the trainers. There wasn’t any. In other words, the trainers’ mind-set was ‘Information swapped. Understanding transferred. Training complete’

So we removed the word ‘understanding’. We started focusing on action.

And, all of a sudden, everything changed:

  • The objectives became: ‘After this workshop, you will sell more, because you’ll 1) see more customers, 2) have better conversations with them, and 3) have conversations that always lead to next steps’
  • The final slide talked about Action Planning – in other words, what you’ll do to increase sales. In fact, we inserted a few more ‘What are your actions so far?’ sections throughout the material, to keep post-workshop actions front-of-mind
  • The Happy Sheets changed to ‘What action will you take first? What support do you need, to ensure you sell more? How will you recover if you revert to pre training ways?’
  • And then we had loads of follow-up – debriefs with managers, trainer check-in surgeries, coaching support, observation sheets that helped them master the course’s best practices, and so on

And guess what?

Sales shot up.

By more than they’d imagined was possible.

Because they were now running a workshop that delivered improvement rather than just transferring understanding.

So, when you next run your next workshop, will your main focus be on what you’ll cover? Or on what you’ll cause?

Action Point

For your next workshop, start your prep by visualising delegates leaving the room at the end of it and doing…

…well, what?

What will they be doing? What will you see? How will you measure they’re doing it? How will you help reinforce things, so they keep doing it?

And here’s how to ensure you sell your ideas to delegates in the best possible way.

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