Workshops. Are they the best type of Class?

I just read recently that if you spend long enough following someone on social media you’ll learn who they truly are—they’re political alignment, they’re sense of humor, they’re beliefs etc. To an extent I find this to be true, especially when someone’s back is up to the wall, you’ll see their true nature. You’ll see what they will do to survive, and who they’ll sacrifice along the way or . . . you will see something extraordinary.

You also get to learn about people as they observe things. There are those who will watch the world go by and criticize everything around them without knowing anything about what they’re talking about, and then there are those who will blindly say that everyone is simply trying their best no matter what the outcome or effort is—and they are only two ends of the spectrum.

Chances are I’m going to offend a tonne of people with this post, but if you try to keep everyone happy you’ll make no one happy.

You also get to learn a heap when you see ‘How’ people do things. And when I say this I mean that there is more than one way to get things done, but more often than not you will see the same method or the same tool being used.

And when it comes to teaching adults or providing training, the same tool keeps on coming up . . . The Workshop!

Now before I start offending people; what’s my issue with ‘The Workshop?’

Here’s the thing, I don’t have an issue with it—my personal issue is that every single instructor out there or ‘facilitator’ thinks they run the best workshop in town, and the impression is that workshops are the only worthwhile way to get things done when teaching of adults.

Some may take offense

So . . .  let’s get ahead of the trolling. There are those who’ll be thinking;

  1. If you’re not running workshops, then you’re just a boring instructor
  2. You must obviously do your training from power point presentations
  3. Workshops are awesome, leave them alone
  4. “What course did you attend, and are you certified? Because if you were then you wouldn’t have an issue with workshops.”

Okay before I answer these questions I should tell you one of the triggers for this post and that was hearing the words—and I am paraphrasing here, ‘that power points are so 2004, I don’t use them and I have my classes learn from one another to get the best transformations.’

Yeah . . . power points are old school, but they are only a training aid; the presentation. Not the Lesson!!!

And you see this bothers me because, if your class learns from each other, then what are you really there for? As an instructor what do you bring to the party? Ah as a facilitator that’s easy—facilitators are simply there to allow something either to happen, or to allow it to become easier. It’s a nice (highly available) definition that basically says that facilitators just make things happen as opposed to teach you something.

Ugh, here’s the thing . . . you gotta understand that hearing the words in the trigger were easy to take out of context, and in this case—knowingly were. Make no mistake I’m not saying that facilitators (of workshops) do not in fact teach or develop people. And I’m not saying that they’re useless . . . I’m not.

What has gotten to me into a bit of a spin here is the concept that ‘The Workshop’ is the only teaching format that is worth using with Adults. After all each facilitator claims they run the most interactive and engaging workshop on the block.

Look if a workshop is engaging and interactive that’s great . . . but they still need to achieve something, and this is where I have my issue with them . . . because . . . well . . . workshops just aren’t that good when it comes to teaching!

Make no mistake, Workshops have their place, but especially when it comes to teaching people new things they don’t know about previously; workshops just don’t do all that well. Worst part is—the majority of the time, it’s not the instructors fault!

Let’s have a look at why—the best is at the end.

Workshops are typically tailor made—for businesses.

Unlike a ‘typical’ course which usually has a pretty fixed format (once developed), workshops (especially) that are delivered in the workplace by an external facilitator are usually created for an audience to achieve a specific outcome, either for each workshop or customized from a basic template.

Although this is fantastic for the business itself, the facilitator is behind the eight ball because they can never have enough information to create the perfect session. Think of it like this.

Your client wants you to teach something for them—you don’t truly know all of the in’s and out’s of their business but you need to teach them new material based on their demands, and get them to an outcome. Challenging at the least.

Picture of two tools
Allen key & Wrench

The facilitator does not know the audience cross section before they get there—especially in the workplace.

The owner of the workshop is in a constant state of reading the audience. On its own this is purely an instructional skill, and all instructors should be able to do this, but depending on the agenda & the audience cross section itself, the facilitator doesn’t know the skill or understanding before they get there.

In a course you have the opportunity to pre-qualify the client before you start—but in workshops you can have a broad spectrum of capability.

For example—let say a workshop is being organized for leadership & management training. The cross section could have lone managers without staff, managers who have never been taught or exposed to external theoretical or practical content but have been simply given a title with no guidance. You can also have ‘managers’ who believe they are the gift to commerce who choose to sit training out! The bigger the skill & knowledge spread the more chance there is for a collective loss of cohesion.

They aren’t lessons & they’re not courses.

Workshops typically take a few hours or even a day to run. A course which fully teaches, revises, practices and assesses a skill can take days to run and lessons can be done within an hour. Workshops are, highly interactive development sessions—to develop known skills & create immediate take away outcomes. So their real advantage is where collective skill & knowledge already has a high starting point.

When it comes to audience engagement & interaction workshops often make use of ‘experiential learning’ or ‘peer-to-peer’ learning. Now as good as this sounds and as well as it works it comes with risks.

Dominant personalities within the audience can easily smother less confident members of the audience. As the facilitator your role then becomes about restraining those big personalities in order to provide more benefit for less confident and experienced members.

But also when experiential discussions are used, there is the element of risk here too. If you can imagine an audience with low experience . . . say a junior team that are all early into new responsibilities without much support or guidance.

Chances are they will get less from one another due to low overall experience, and especially if the group struggles with creativity or motivation, ‘skill ceilings’ can accidentally be put in place; because if the group cannot create new ideas or thinking, then they’re experience is going to be ‘as good as it gets’

The real reason Workshops fail

Time, is not your friend when it comes to skill development. As mentioned courses and lessons can (and should take time) take days. But . . . who has days to spend on training when work needs to be done now?

Workshops (at the high level—on paper) achieve more than a complete course in a shorter space of time, but the overall skill level at the end, and in the following week/s tends to be significantly reduced. Particularly without ongoing guidance, the small amount of information that is retained after a workshop is not fully utilized and with no subject expert around, the audience will tend to avoid new skills out of fear of misuse.

No Learning Confirmation

At least with the sample set of workshops that I see, confirmation or learning & testing of teaching objectives is something that I have never seen. So it begs the question . . . if audience skill is not tested then how effective are the sessions? It’s fine to have a great environment where everyone feels comfortable and safe, but what is the end state outcome? I have seen people attend workshops only to revert back old practices in less than a week after attendance. In fact when it comes to learning—rather than observe facilitators confirm learning, they instead ask; ‘What is the best thing you’ve seen today?’

Really? It’s not about you. Its about the client skill!

Furthermore once you break an audience down into small groups it is almost impossible to teach practical skills, functionally impossible to correct faults and stop bad habits and practices from taking place. In fact when the facilitator is focused in one area, other groups can ‘feel good’ about a bad practice and adopt this as their new ‘skill’ . . . the complete opposite of the intent.

Are they wrong? Should workshops be abandoned?

As I said, (you may find this hard to believe) I genuinely don’t have a problem with them, but like all tools Workshops are a learning & development tool for an audience that is aware of what is being developed.

Workshops are not a tool for new learning! They just suffer too much when it comes to the novice trainee.

Let me say it again—it is a learning & development tool! And like each tool there is a time, place and circumstance in which it can be used and where it is most useful. After all just because you know how to use an Allen Key to assemble Ikea furniture, doesn’t mean you can call yourself a builder.

Workshops have a place in teaching and in skills development, and are really useful especially when it comes to fast tracking milestone & development outcomes (particularly for walk through, talk through practice to get a client to do something for the first time), But make no mistake they are not ‘the best’ or ‘the only’ tool for use when it comes Adult teaching, and to that degree seemingly over used and over promoted by coaches and facilitators. Sometimes the circumstances for their use isn’t in their control—sometimes it’s just what’s expected.

So what method do I use for teaching?

I’ll give you that answer in a minute. Rather than look for an ‘awesome client experience’ an instructor who really wants to make the biggest impact will ‘Make sure the audience learns useful & functional skills. The audience will also have a good time when they do it.’

I got a lot of tools . . . and I use what works!

Theory or Revision – When do people learn?

People are not equal! It may seem incorrect to say but we’re not. Adding to that all clients are also … not equal! Clients learn in different ways, and also have different motivations which have drastic impacts on their individual outcomes.

However in this case—client equality and their motivations really don’t matter, because in this post we’re really looking at when most learning occurs, not how!

If you’re looking at instructing as part of your business or start-up, being an effective instructor is a must. No entrepreneur or start-up business owner wants to instruct a lesson or hold a course where the clients come away with very little knowledge at the end.

Not only do you want to deliver an excellent teaching product, you want your clients to recommend you to others. Makes sense right?

So When do people learn?

So having pointed out the obvious, let’s go a little deeper, because one thing that we need to be aware of here is that teaching and learning are two very different things.

“Teaching” is done by an “Instructor”. “Learning” is done by the “Client!”

So as an Instructor how are you going to achieve the most potent learning experience for your client?

Is your client going to learn during the ‘teaching’ or are they going to learn later when they ‘revise’ previously delivered material? Wherever they will learn is going to dictate how you create your lesson or course!

Revision is Student Driven to re-enforce earlier learning

I’ll give you the answer at the end of this post and the truth is shocking!

On many courses that I have attended throughout my working life, I have been taught one subject, revised and then assessed the next day to prove competence. As an instructor you’re going to face the same challenge. You will need to teach and have a client either prove competence with little to no application or be able to apply those skills later.

Time is the biggest restriction you can have.

The situation reverses as a manager or an educator within an organization. You can spend far more time teaching and seemingly not see competence in the person being taught.

So … what is more effective? Teaching lessons? Revision lessons? When do clients finally learn?

Unfortunately the answer isn’t within either of the major lesson types above. Simply speaking teaching lessons have to be delivered so that new skills can be taught. Revision lessons are there to re-enforce prior learning.

Between the two however, revision is more often than not more effective at developing the skill level of a trainee or a client.

How much we remember

Why? Depending on how material is delivered the audience will forget up to 95% of taught content. (Makes you wonder how we learn anything) However revision lessons not only re-engage with the remembered material but also trigger the activation of ‘forgotten’ material from previously.

Especially if the revision is practical the information retention can be as high as 75% . . . a far cry from 5%.

So using the logic and the stats from above, revision lessons are the way to go! Absolutely however you cannot revise a subject that has not been taught!


Experience through application is where your client will learn the most.

So our answer now looks pretty clear. Quickly teach a subject with high audience engagement and get straight into revising the subject material. This is how we attain maximum learning . . . right?

The Shocking Truth.

When it comes to designing a course there really isn’t a specific formula that you can use to achieve a maximum outcome. All subjects are different and need a differing approach.

But the real shock here is that your audience will not learn the most from you during either teaching or revision. Your client will learn the most about a subject on their own long after the teaching has been done.

When a client enters or is forced to enter a period of application without support, they will learn the most at the fastest rate. It’s during the time of application that a client will learn >100% of what you would have been capable of teaching. They will learn things through experience that you may not have had as part of your training itself.

An unfortunate truth to being an instructor is that you cannot achieve proficiency in your client. You can only give the knowledge for a client to become competent in a skill but you cannot give them experience. Experience through application is where your client will learn the most. Our job as instructors is to prepare them to be independent.

How can you prepare your Presentation? – Part 3 – Scripting

Now in the final installment of this article we’re going to look at the most polarizing method to prepare any presentation, particularly for teaching. Scripting a training presentation.

And yes it is exactly what it sounds like. Writing a script—each and every word that you will deliver in a presentation or in this case your lesson.

There is an opportunity to script some training presentations

By this definition this is an ‘extreme’ form of presentation preparation.  It’s a method that demands that you either fully commit to being in (and you say everything you have written) or that you don’t write a single phrase and you choose to follow an organic or queued approach. No in between!

Under normal circumstances scripting is just one of those things you just . . . Don’t . . . do. And when I say that I mean—ever!  In all of the time that I have ever been delivering training, I have never used a script . . . not once!

Being an awesome instructor means knowing your stuff; so your knowledge simply makes scripting redundant. You simply don’t need one!

Besides, imagine having an audience and rather than communicating with them completely—instead you spend your time reading from a script, or spitting out a bunch of words that you hope to remember from earlier.

Chances are it’s not a pretty mental picture. If you have an audience a script is the worst thing you can bring to the lesson.

But . . . What if there was a reason to have one?

Scripting can create doubt with your audience.
Using a script in front of an audience can create doubt

It’s the 21st century, and teaching is not just something that happens face to face any longer. We are now in the digital age, and trainees, students and clients don’t . . . need to be in class at any specific time.

Teaching has changed – In fact a lesson can be delivered at one time, and received at another completely.

Scripts are useful—When it comes to recording your training. And they are useful for two key reasons. The first reason is all about this exact topic . . . preparation. Excessive preparation! The ‘scripting’ of each and every single word that you’re going to say, and there is benefit.

Particularly when recording, a script will provide the opportunity to seamlessly put together your lesson with everything you need to communicate without all of the nuances that we all have, that only come out when we speak naturally.

Secondly, scripting provides one massive final benefit when it comes to recording lessons. A script acts as version control when it comes time to update your lessons from one version to the next. The script is the written record, of what you have presented.

The script is easy to update and edit as required and when it comes to version control, a script is the most valuable method you can use to prepare any lesson you can deliver.

How can you prepare your Presentation? – Part 2 – Detours & Diversions

Previously we looked at presenting from experience, now we’re going to see how to make sure we can Control a training presentation from the planning stage.

But we can’t always just go from experience, or we can’t always have the audience drive the training during discovery. Sometimes when it comes to new teaching we need to bring something more than ourselves to the class.

Sometimes there are concepts that are too complex to simply ‘talk’ about, or explain through with the use of a metaphor.

These more complex ideas need more than words, and often require the use of pictures, or other graphics or some other form of training aid.

Now imagine that you have a detailed picture, simple graphics or some other appropriate representation of a concept. Is the representation enough to explain itself? More often that not, it won’t. If they did, an instructor wouldn’t be needed.

Enter . . . the Queue.

The incomplete prompting point which leads to further expansion.

These typically find the most use, when more than a few points need to be remembered  in careful sequential structure, or when lots of small points need to be raised. Each point is easy to discuss but queues are used to maintain structure and sequence during training rather than be useful in their own right. The major point to be careful off from experience is to make sure that each queue has a stop point.

Queue cards can keep you on track
Queue cards can help plan and keep you on track

What is a stop point? This is the final piece of information that ‘completes’ that queue, before you look to the next queue.

Why do we need the stop point? Sometimes a queue can not only remind of where you are, but can lead to a flowing avalanche of information. Without a stop point to remind yourself ‘where to stop’ you can accidentally achieve flow and derail your entire presentation by getting out of synchronisation with your training aids. I’ve had this happen and the results are spectacularly bad!

There are also times when your teaching subject is naturally going to raise a lot of questions from your audience.

Detours & Diversions; The forks in the road. 

Some subjects especially ‘conditional’ or ‘grey’ matter can cause your audience to spend more time thinking about asking branching questions or ‘detours’ rather than focus on the subject being taught.

These are exactly what they sound like; detours that naturally want to take training away from the pre-determined lesson plan.

Your lessons may run into upcoming detours

When you deliver ‘grey’ or ‘conditional’ matter organically with high audience engagement, then detours are relatively easy to handle. The audience can ask an expected question and you can answer it quickly or it can be postponed to another time when it will be covered in more depth.

Control a training presentation is what its all about.

However there are times when a question is so obvious that it has to be handled either before the audience has a chance to ask it and take up time with discussion or;

An answer needs to be on standby as you attempt to skirt around the question in the hope of saving your time for the training itself. Either way detours are questions that you will need to prepare for with some subject matter.

In the next and final installment we look at how to and when to use scripting for presentation preparation