Strategies and transformative perspectives to ensure your workshops flow with creativity, engagement, and purpose.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to solve a complex problem involving several different actors? Or, have you ever wondered about the best approach to aligning all stakeholders to reach a consensus?

In our line of work, we face these challenges regularly. While each project and workshop is different, everyone can adopt certain approaches and strategies to maximize their chances for success.

In the dynamic landscape of ever-changing projects, evolving scopes, and varied approaches to product creation, workshops are rare moments when all stakeholders actively participate in shaping direction. Given the significance of these occasions, making them as successful as possible is essential.

As seasoned workshop facilitators with a proven track record, we’ve honed our expertise through numerous successful engagements. Recently, we found ourselves on a global stage, orchestrating a workshop for 20 participants on the other side of the world. While this wasn’t our first workshop, the international dimension introduced an additional layer of complexity — a challenge we’ve navigated with finesse for a diverse range of clients in the past.

Below are four steps to refer back to when preparing for workshops. Let’s explore these principles and how they can apply to your situation.

1. Understand the Participants

Understanding your workshop participants is as crucial as understanding your users. Before diving into the intricate details of the workshop, consider these essential areas about your participants:

Recognize Communication Barriers

Consider linguistic differences that may pose communication challenges for participants. Facilitators should be equipped to provide translation or interpreters if necessary.

Additionally, consider the cultural backgrounds of participants. Understanding cultural nuances is crucial for effective communication; certain cultures value direct communication, for example, while others prefer indirect or nuanced expressions. Take some time to consider the audience you’re communicating with.

Lastly, avoid using corporate lingo as best you can. For further reading about this, refer to Human-Centered Language: The Missed Opportunity.

Understand Personal Goals

Take the time to understand the unique goals people hope to achieve through the workshop. Participants may come with different needs and goals depending on their role, their position, and how they fit into their wider organization. Awareness of their aspirations allows you to tailor content to meet their needs and avoid getting derailed.

Identify Decision-Makers and Crucial Voices

It’s crucial to have the right mix of participants in the room. Identify the decision-makers and stakeholders, recognize their roles, and ensure they have a voice. Collaboration between decision-makers and participants bridges the gap between strategy and execution, fostering more effective outcomes.

2. Align on Goals

One key to a successful workshop is creating alignment between participants and facilitators to work in harmony.

Establish Shared Understanding

Not all participants are equally familiar with a project, the history of decisions, or research done before the workshop. Taking a moment to level the field for all at the beginning of the workshop, prove the context, and share learning helps to prevent misunderstandings further down the line.

Establish One Overarching Goal

Each participant may view the same problem differently, influencing their approach and perspective. While varied understanding is valuable and can be beneficial for a project, it’s essential for the success of a workshop to align with all participants on what problems you’re tackling together.

Ensure All Participants Operate From the Same Mental Model

Make sure all workshop participants understand the processes and frameworks. Foster a collective mindset and perspective that allows for smooth communication, efficient collaboration, and aligned decision-making.

3. Make User Voices Heard

In the workshop setting, it’s common for end users to be absent from the room. However, various strategies can ensure that their voices and needs remain at the forefront of discussions.

Share Knowledge About the User

One effective approach involves introducing users and their needs through research findings. Additionally, using tools such as personas, journey maps, and user stories during the workshop helps participants empathize with the end user’s perspective and activate user-centered thinking.

Account for User Needs During Activities

You can take the user perspective into consideration during activities. Introducing a desirability evaluation metric further contributes to enabling user-centered thinking by representing users in prioritization discussions, establishing a bridge between the users’ needs and overarching business goals.

Bridge the Gap Between User Needs and Business Goals

To strengthen advocacy for users, it’s crucial to explain the intricate relationship between users’ needs and business objectives. This not only provides a comprehensive understanding for workshop participants but also underscores the alignment between user-centric strategies and overarching organizational goals.

Equipping advocates for users with relevant data adds another layer of impact, ensuring that user considerations are not only remembered but also become integral components in decision-making processes.

4. Design Your Workshop

In the realm of dynamic workshop facilitation, success hinges on thoughtful design. A few strategies help design workshops both to be engaging and to increase the chances of successful resolution.

Infographic: Empowering Success: 4 Steps to Achieve Your Workshop Goals


Select a Format: In Person, Virtual, or Hybrid

In a post-COVID world, we’re all too familiar with virtual capabilities and remote collaboration. Workshopping tools like Miro and FigJam and enhancements in meeting tools like Teams and Zoom allow us greater flexibility in the workshopping space.

While in-person workshopping can feel very different from a virtual workshop, it can still follow the following principles to ensure success.

When choosing an approach for you and your workshop, consider more about each format, including the most challenging: the hybrid workshop. (For more in-depth reading, see our posts titled Practical Tips for Hybrid Workshops and Preparing for the Future of Hybrid Engagements.)

Manage Expectations

Start by presenting an agenda and explaining time frames for each activity. Participants will be more responsive and understanding when the time for an activity is up if they understand the need behind it. This keeps your workshop flowing smoothly and ensures all topics are covered.

Highlight the Big Picture

Each workshop is a part of a larger project. Ensure this is clear to the participants, and they all understand why it’s happening and how workshop decisions will inform and set direction for next steps.

Prepare one page (or one slider) you can circle back to if you need to remind participants about the workshop’s goal. It can be a problem statement that helps prevent “want it all” behaviors from SCGI (Scope Creeper with Good Intentions) participants.

Share Knowledge

Participants might have varying knowledge of the problem space coming into the workshop. Present up-to-date progress, insights, and learnings to put everyone on even footing. Enrich discussions with supporting data to create more trust in work done to date and empower participants to make faster and smarter decisions.

Maintain Engagement

Long workshops can be overwhelming and lead to participant disengagement. Break down the content and exercises into smaller, digestible chunks to maintain engagement.

This approach allows participants to absorb information gradually, increasing retention and application. Consider using tools such as whiteboards or a virtual whiteboard like Miro to facilitate real-time collaboration.

Enhance Understanding With Visual Aids

Visual aids play a pivotal role in workshops. They help simplify complex ideas, making them more understandable. Employ visuals like slides, diagrams, and infographics to illustrate key points and keep participants engaged.

Gauge Understanding and Adapt With Feedback Loops

Create feedback loops during the workshop. Regularly ask for feedback from participants to gauge their understanding, and adjust the workshop’s pace or content as needed. This ensures that participants are actively engaged and that the workshop meets their needs.

Dot voting is a commonly used methodology and provides participants the opportunity to provide feedback with less influence from their peers. This also allows less verbose participants to provide their relevant input.

Provide Post-Workshop Resources

A successful workshop continues even after participants walk out the door. Provide post-workshop resources, such as reference materials, links to additional learning resources, and continued learning and support opportunities. This empowers participants to apply what they’ve learned and continue their growth journey.

Using survey tools such as SurveyMonkey or Google Forms to collect feedback can help you assess the workshop’s effectiveness. Since these tools enable anonymous responses, it encourages honest opinions and constructive criticism for continuous improvement.

Elevate Your Workshops

A workshop is a powerful tool for learning and progress. By incorporating the principles above, you can design workshops that captivate participants and empower them to create meaningful, user-centered solutions.

If you’re looking to elevate your efforts, reach out to Method to collaborate and tailor workshops that inspire, engage, and drive positive change.