Your heart is in the right place – you want to share all you know with those eager to learn. You know you have something to offer but knowing your stuff does not equate to teaching others what you know. Somehow you’ve got to get your expertise, skill and experience into the minds and bodies of those paying to learn from you.
How is that done?
(Please don’t say “by lecturing”)
It’s done by engaging, involving and delighting your learners in their own learning process.
If you’re interested in creating workshops, courses or learning events that build skill and deliver results, use these 7 questions to guide you through your development process.
Who Are Your Learners?
If you’re working with adults, the first thing that’s important to understand is that they are adults. They are coming to you to get something they want from you not because they have to be there.
Those new to delivering workshops often focus far too much on what they want to teach. But focusing only on what you think people need to learn leaves your learners out of the process. And few adults like being left out of their own lives.
While you are an expert in your field (you are right?), that doesn’t mean those sitting in your workshop are not also experts in theirs. People who show up to learn from you know why they are there. They know what they want to do with their learning and they know how it will fit into their lives.
Your first job is to understand what motivates them to attend and how you can help them achieve what they want to achieve.
Where Are They Starting From?
Once you have thought through the first question, you can move into detailing where your learners are starting from. What level of knowledge and skill do they currently have? What preconceived ideas or beliefs do they have about what you’re going to teach them? And how will you take them from where they are now to where they want to be when they finish?
People do not walk into a learning experience as blank slates. They arrive with personal understandings, histories and memories that shape how they receive what you are trying to convey. Knowing where people are beginning helps you meet them right where they are. As opposed to repeating a lot of what they already know, you’ll be scaffolding them into new territory.
It can be tricky to understand how people who don’t have your level of knowledge or skill understand or don’t understand your subject matter – especially if you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for a long time. You probably don’t remember what it’s like to not know what you know. It’s difficult to go back to the beginning and retrace how your learning steps, but a good teacher does just that. That’s what teaching is about.
When you fully understand where your learners are starting from, you will set them up for actual learning to take place. Rather than bombard them with information they don’t understand or begin from a place they already have mastered, you can meet them right where they are. If you can do that, they will feel understood and more likely to trust you as their guide.
Where Will They End Up?
You’re the guide right? You’re the one who understands what your learners want to learn and has a deep understanding of how they currently make sense of the topic. It’s now up to you to move them from where they are right now, to where they want to be by the end of your time together.
So what is the destination? What are the learning objectives?
Learning objectives outline the specific skills and knowledge you want people to leave your workshop with. They are useful tools that can help you stay on point when planning and delivering your workshop. Yet defining and and then delivering on meaningful objectives is an art.
Most people overestimate how much can be covered in a workshop. If you’re new to this, you are likely to try to pack way more into a session than you can reasonably deliver. That’s why it’s better to focus on a just a few specific and realistic learning objectives rather than too many. Your goal is to ensure participants leave with the new skills and knowledge you’ve promised, not with a bunch of information they can’t do anything with.
When people leave a workshop enriched with knowledge and know-how and are eager to apply it, you’ve done your job.
How Will You Get Them There?
A lot, and I mean A LOT of people think teaching is about giving information to people who will then be able to actually do something with it. That’s not how learning works at all.
Lectures don’t deliver good learning results. Ever. Point blank.
For people to turn information into action, which is what your participants are trying to do, they must be involved in their own learning. That’s why you’ve got to get them doing things. When participants are active in their own learning, be it through questioning, practicing, contributing or conversing with others, they learn better. Participation is how we build knowledge and ability. Doing something with what we learn makes the information sink in deeply.
So to craft deep learning, create lots of opportunity for contribution by participants. As your first goal, aim for a 50/50 split of giving information and having them do something with it. As you get more comfortable with designing learning activities and handling spontaneous conversation and contribution, move towards spending only about 30% of the time giving information and the rest in action and conversation.
How Can You Ensure You Deliver What You Promise?
The best way to make sure you give people what you promise is to create a lesson plan. A lesson plan is like a script. It’s something that lets you rehearse what you are going to do and when.
Making a lesson plan lets you mentally walk through every element of your workshop. Think of it as choreography: it’s how one element leads into the next and into the next to form a complete dance. That sequencing helps you make sure you’re able to do everything you want to during the time you have together.
However, a lesson plan is not something to follow mindlessly. Your learners will throw unanticipated things into mix that will set off your careful planning. Being prepared and thinking things carefully allows you to veer off course and then find your way back again. A good lesson plan will be flexible in that it will include parts that can be dropped or added in depending on what’s actually happening in the session.
For those just starting out in facilitating, getting your timing right will likely be challenging. Involving people in workshop rather than lecturing at them means you’ll need to be nimble. You’ll need to develop skill in inviting contribution and still being able to deliver what people have paid to receive.
Remember, don’t stick to the plan at all costs or you will end up rigidly shoving information down people’s throats. You are there to help people learn and their learning may take more or less time than you think. So be prepared for either!
What Kinds of Learning Materials Support Your Learners?
Every slide you use during your workshop and every printed piece of material has to serve two purposes: supporting learning and supporting your brand. The visual design and overall look and feel of your materials have a big impact on how people perceive you and the information you’re giving them.
If you want to leave a lasting impression, design your presentations, worksheets and anything else you give to people to support their learning process. There’s an art and science to this! If you are going to make your own materials, then understanding how visual expression helps learning is worth investigating. And lucky for you, those very same principles help you design your web pages and your overall branding.
Can You Figure Out How to Get Feedback Without Asking For It?
I’m not a believer in asking for participants to fill out detailed feedback forms after a workshop in the same way I’m not for companies asking me to give them detailed feedback on a product I purchased from them. There’s some unchecked assumption that says when people take workshops they should give feedback. I wholeheartedly disagree with this position.
Your customers don’t owe you their time. However, if they want to give you their feedback, they should have the ability to do so.
I believe it’s your job to note the ways participants give you feedback as their learning is taking place – during the workshop! You’re always receiving feedback from people – always. Just look around: Are people confused about your instructions? Are they looking for clarification about something you believed was a simple concept? Do you ask questions that no one answers? Is there a lack of energy in the room? Are people drifting off or fidgeting? Are they excited and empowered at the end raving about all they feel they can now do?
All of these occurrences are real time feedback. You can see, if you can pay attention. There’s no doubt feedback is important for you and your business. That’s why becoming adept at noticing what people are telling you as it happens is a better approach than harassing them afterwards.
After the Show
Creating and delivering workshops should involve a continual improvement process. Every time you deliver, you learn more about how to plan a great experience.
Your learning objectives help you determine if what you set out to do actually worked. They give you a check in point to see if your milestone was reached. If people didn’t walk out with what you promised them, reflect on what went wrong and what you can try next time to remedy the situation. Sometimes it’s the learning objectives themselves that need to be changed. It’s easy to overshoot and think you’re going to get further than you can. This is especially true if you’ve designed a very interactive workshop.
Each group you encounter will give you an opportunity to learn more about learners and how they receive and incorporate your teachings. Each group also provides you with the opportunity to learn about yourself as a teacher, facilitator or trainer. While some people start out as great teachers, most have to work hard to become one. It’s a skill just like any other and to hone it takes both deliberate practice and the time and opportunity to develop.
So be patient with yourself and diligent with your process and never forget that you too are a learner even when you’re the teacher.
Want to look at how to sell your workshops to grow your business? Check out this post.