4.1 - (Before the workshop) Preparation - Week 2

Preparation is the key to a good workshop, and it also helps you to be more confident. An agenda, or workshop plan, is a good way to make sure you're adequately prepared, and that you are being sensible about what you can cover in the time you have. It's always tempting to try to cram in too much, so be realistic about how much time you gives to activities, and be brutal about taking stuff out!

First of all work out your aims for the workshop - you may find it helps to write them out at the top of the agenda when you're working on it. Come back to these as you plan each activity. Does what you are planning to do help you achieve your workshop aims, or help the group relax and get to know each other? If not, you probably don't need the activity.

From http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/shortfacilitatingworkshops#prep.

Practical exercises

If your workshop is about producing practical outputs (like how to do a news release or code an HTML page) then make sure to add enough time for people to try out their new skills. This helps build people's confidence and means they're more likely to remember what they've learned, especially if they get the chance to try things out several times, not just the once.


When designing a workshop it's easy to forget the breaks - there always seems to be more to fit in than time will allow! But we're all human, both facilitators and participants, and when we're tired we don't function too well - and that includes understanding and remembering what the workshop is about.

If your workshop is two hours or less it's usually enough to make sure there is a possibility to get tea or coffee (or a trip to the pub) at the end. But if your workshop is longer than two hours then it's a good idea to schedule in a break every two to three hours, with an energiser in between.

Preparation Checklist

  • Have you included a good balance of different types of activities?
  • Have you made time for practical sessions, breaks and energisers?
  • Have you thought through what you're going to say and how you're going to do things?
  • Are all the practicalities like venue, seating, refreshments etc sorted?
  • Do you have all the materials you need?
  • Have you checked whether anyone has particular needs, and how you can cater for those?

Examples of pre-workshop prep

Example 1: Pre-event interviews by Aspiration Tech / CC BY-SA

Whenever possible, it is advisable to engage participants 1-on-1 before events, and ask them about what they want to get out of the event.

Personal questions

  • Briefly describe your work, and your interest in the event.
  • What do you personally want to get out of the event?
  • What will make you feel like your time at the event been well spent?

Ask them to help shape the Agenda

  • What are the most important things for this group to discuss in our time together?
  • What topics do you want to make sure are addressed in the agenda?
  • Are there any relevant topics on which you'd like to share your experiences?
  • What topics or issues do you think participants are most likely to disagree on, or desire to debate?

More pre-engagement questions.

Example 2: How to make an audio report workshop at Hebden Bridge Alternative Technology Centre (Mick Fuzz)

It can be really fun to work with audio recordings to make a real or spoof news report. I offered to run this workshop as part of a series on using Free Software. As this was the first in the series and because there was an open invite, I didn't have any information on the age range or user-level of any of the participants. Workshops involving technical equipment have their own challenges.

Prepare and test your equipment.

Even if software is on the machine it is still a good idea to test your equipment to make sure it will do what you want it to. In my example, testing before the event, showed us that out of a suite of reconditioned computers only 3 could record a 'line in' signal, allowing us to use them for the audio editing part of the workshop. Talking to the techie at the centre helped avoid an embarrassing situation. In the end we brought in laptops to fill the gap. It was a bit more work but really worth it.

Try to take control of the tech variables

It is easy to get bogged down with the specifics of getting different software working on different systems. This is especially true if participants bring their own laptops and want to work on them. For this workshop we had only a limited time so we made a choice to ask participants not to bring laptops if they had them. We used desktops and laptops different operating systems. However wet installed a Virtual Box on them to make sure they had a uniform appearance and behaviour. This process is easier than you think. Have a look at this article from Manufactura Independente explaining the process.

Be Flexible

Depending on your participants they may want to progress at different speeds. You may want to include activities in your workshop towards the end that you know you can drop if progress is slower than you think. For this workshop, we had an option to upload the audio report we created to the Internet. Only some groups got to this stage.

Have a back up tech plan

It's always good to have a back up plan. What if there is no internet connection while you are doing your workshop?

Task: Make a list and check it twice

For the examples above, ask yourself:

  1. Are there tips from these examples that may work for workshop you are designing?
  2. If no, why not? If yes, how will your incorporate this activity into your workshop?
  3. What else will you need to prepare for your workshop?
  4. Do you have any thoughts how preparation can help to overcome particular challenges for your planned workshop?

Add your responses to these questions below.


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