Before the Workshop
The difference between an amateurish facilitator and a truly confident one is preparation. Readiness is the first step to running a successful workshop. Let’s look at five things you can do to prepare for a design workshop.
1. Understand the Context
Be sure that you understand the people who are participating in your workshop. At what level do they work in the organization? What are their motivations and expectations? This type of understanding can help you plan your activities better and separate participants into effective working teams later on.
Pro tip: Send out email messages in advance of your workshop, asking questions of the participants or conducting surveys to get all the information you need to prepare for the workshop.
Questions you should ask yourself: How many people will participate? What time zones are they in? Who can help me with facilitation, as a back-up facilitator? What are participants expecting to get out of the workshop?
2. Set an Agenda
Prepare an agenda and send it to all participants. Be sure to outline the expected outcomes for each of the workshop methods and provide links explaining the activities, so participants can read about them in advance. Depending on the type of workshop you’re conducting, these methods and information sources could vary, but some of my go-to methods are user interviews, empathy mapping, as-is journey mapping, problem framing, brainstorming, and sketching.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to schedule breaks in the agenda! A one-hour lunch break around noon and five-to-ten-minute bathroom breaks in between the activities would be sufficient.
3. Share Prior Research
Depending on the project in which you’re involved, it’s possible that information from prior research is available on key issues. If there is previous knowledge on a topic, be sure to send out those materials by email. This can help everyone get on the same page and ensures that all participants have the same understanding of the project at the beginning of ideation.
4. Familiarize Participants with Software Tools
Share a list of the software tools you’ll be using throughout the workshop, so participants can educate themselves on how the software operates. There are lots of options out there, but some of the most popular choices for online meetings are Zoom, BlueJeans, WebEx, and GoToMeeting. Freehand by InVision, miro, and Mural are the usual picks for whiteboarding sessions.
Pro tip: Provide step-by-step setup instructions for any workshop tools that require setup and offer to walk participants through the process, if necessary.
5. Test Your Technology in Advance
It’s crucial that you test everything before the date of the workshop. A workshop session can easily get derailed if participants need to use a tool that no one can access.
Pro tip: Quickly test your audio and camera. It’s surprising how many people who engage in meetings on a daily basis have bad microphones. Use an online connection-checking service to do this. Be sure to record yourself and playback the video so you know how well others can hear you.
Questions you should answer at this stage: Is the workshop’s meeting link working? Is the whiteboarding tool link working? Is my audio quality good? Is my connection stable enough to facilitate? Do I have a back-up facilitator? Is he or she prepared to take notes? Do I have participants’ permission to record the workshop? Can every participant join the workshop from both their desktop computer and their mobile phone? Do participants have permission to access the tools?