How to Plan Amazing Workshops

The most successful workshops I’ve been involved in are a result of great planning.. The more time and effort you put into this, the better the session will be. Detailed planning allows you to really understand the brief, design a fabulous process and create a truly bespoke event. By the time the workshop day comes around you’ll be full of confidence and able to adapt, improvise and have fun.

To help, I’ve re-interpreted the 4Ps of Marketing to become the 4Ps of Workshop Planning - Process, People, Pre-work and Place. Let me explain.

1 Process

Before you start designing the process, sit down with the session ‘owner’ and get clear on the fundamentals.

a) The session objectives: make sure they’re tangible and deliverable. If necessary, suggest a wording. When sessions don’t go to plan, it’s often down to a lack of clarity on what you’re trying to achieve.

b) The time available: 2 hours? 4 hours? A whole day? What’s the timeframe you’re working with. Beware of over-promising what can be realistically achieved.

c) Logistics ie, location and timings. Ideally start in the morning as people are fresher. If the location’s up for grabs, then suggest a venue you feel comfortable with.

d) The style of session they’re looking for. Does it feel like a high energy, creative session or something more measured and strategic?

Once you’re clear on these fundamentals, you can start thinking creatively on how to design the session’s process.

2 People

Get a deeper understanding of who’s attending. Generally speaking, only invite people who really need to be there and who are able to make a useful contribution. If the session is focused on decision making, ensure the team is relatively small and that the key people are present. If the topic is about innovation, then encourage a more eclectic, larger group. Get to the bottom of potential personal issues - who gets on, who doesn’t, who might cause trouble. Try and memorise their names and plan how the sub-groups might work. Always ask - ‘why do they need to be there?’ Then ask - ‘who’s missing? Who would you like to invite?’.

3 Pre-work

Pre-work is important because it minimises presentation time on the day, which can drain energy and take up valuable working time. It also immerses everyone in the subject and allows you to make a fast and productive start. When devising pre-work, think about what people can read in advance, think about what they can bring to the session that might add value and give them a preparatory task to undertake.

However, don’t over-burden people with too much pre-work. Make sure it’s enjoyable and not too challenging. Remember - not everyone will do it, no matter how many times you ask.

4 Place

The quality of the environment will have a big impact on the quality of the output. The perfect venue will be adaptable, comfortable, with lots of wall space and with access to fresh air. However (arguably) the most important consideration is ensuring there’s an endless supply of coffee and great food. Many people equate the quality of the workshop with the quality of the refreshments.

So, that’s it - the 4Ps of Workshop Planning. Process, People, Pre-work and Place. Just to it-iterate. Amazing workshops are all down to great planning. It’s impossible to over-plan a session. Allow plenty of time for it and your session will run like a dream.