5 tips for switching to online workshops - Matchstick Creative

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5 tips for switching to online workshops

Meetings are a pain

We’ve all been there, you’re looking forward to the week ahead, you have a nice manageable workload and then suddenly you check your inbox and there are five invites for various meetings, the majority of which don’t feel productive.

Our solution to this problem has been to take a step back and think about why we’re having a meeting in the first place. Sometimes, it’s just a check-in: some face-to-face human contact with your client or team. Other times it can feel like micromanagement or the sense that the meeting will just be people talking over each other, saying their piece and at the end you feel no better off than when you walked in. Possibly worse. 

We prefer to look at the routines and rituals we can facilitate to help things run smoothly. Project conversations happen in our project management tool, we have developed rituals around particular scenarios and routines help us to manage our time. 

A game changer was when we swapped out a lot of our previous ‘meetings’ for workshops – healthy ways to work through ideas, challenges, big business problems we need to solve, breaking through creative blocks to be productive and make the most of our time. Our workshops are structured but not prescriptive or restrictive, so they never feel like boring administrative tasks we have to do, they’re a helping hand from a friendly face.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Or at least a global pandemic crisis on one earth. Not all heroes wear capes but some wear masks and in this time of public health crisis we needed to take a second look at this important area of our business through the lens of social distancing – was there a practical way for us to run workshops online? Would people engage in the same way?

The answer to this was yes and no. Yes, there are practical ways for us to deliver workshops for our clients and our team, and for the most part we’ve been able to reach the same level of engagement BUT the way people interact and engage has changed and people are now much more enthusiastic about trying remote workshops.

So, here are our top 5 tips for switching to online workshops and getting the most out of remote work:

  1. Bring the right energy
  2. Be concise
  3. Familiarity is your friend
  4. Be prepared and set expectations
  5. Enjoy yourselves
Cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 (April 1985).
Art by George Pérez.

Bring the right energy

This doesn’t mean we all need to be amped up redcoats at a holiday camp and I would certainly resist any urges you might have to be ‘wacky’. This simply means get yourself in the right headspace for delivering or participating in a workshop. A workshop is supposed to be helpful and should be something to look forward to, so bring your enthusiasm and your optimism. You’ll get a lot more out of it that way. 

We like to start off with a good ice-breaker exercise to get everyone relaxed and in the right spirit. Draw an animal or tell us a common misconception about yourself, it might sound silly but it changes the energy and lowers your boundaries.

Be concise

Video calls can be draining, people are stressed, there’s never enough time and there’s always something else demanding your attention. Respect people’s time and attention, they are giving you something valuable, don’t misuse it. 

Keep exercises and discussions brief and on point. So, you would usually do a 3-hour workshop session in the big meeting room on the third floor? Tough. What can you do in an hour, an hour and half, max? Focus on your priorities now and book another session in for a different topic or further development if you absolutely must.

Familiarity is your friend

“Hey, have you seen this cool new tool, Product X? OMG! You have to use it for your next workshop” – Nah, I’m good, thanks. People are already adapting to new ways of working, let’s not bamboozle them with more great, emerging tech to deal with. If you can’t use the exact same tools your clients are using on the daily then at least stick to familiar concepts and don’t overload them with lots of different tools in the same sesion. 

We’re experienced enough in our workshops to know how to translate the exercises across different media. A Miro board is great if everyone can access it but some of our clients have tight restrictions around online tools. Google Docs, MS Teams, whatever – find out what your client has access to and use that if you can, and where you can’t, make sure to check that all of your participants can access Cool, new Product X before the workshop starts.

Be prepared and set expectations

Although we’re talking about online workshops, there are still several ways to be prepared and set up a healthy environment for your workshops. Clear your physical and virtual space of clutter, tidy your room (– Shut up, Mum!), make sure you don’t have multiple tabs and documents open on your desktop. 

One device per participant, please! It may seem cool to get three people around a laptop for a virtual workshop session, but it’s not. It’s unhelpful. Wear headphones with a mic and don’t forget to mute yourself when you’re not participating in a discussion – as the number of participants goes up, so does the level of background noise, interference and opportunity for wild feedback and people talking over each other. 

Don’t forget to share an agenda and make sure people know what is expected of them during the session. We send an agenda with our invites and the first slide of our presentation covers what we’re doing in that session. We’ll do a walkthrough of what is expected, any housekeeping, workshop hacks and a reminder to ask questions! 

Your team is your safety net, if they’re prepared alongside you, they can swoosh in and save you if crisis hits. Remember the plan but don’t get too caught up in the details – if you need to fall back on a piece of paper or a shared Google Doc, that’s fine, roll with it!

Enjoy yourselves

Finally, a workshop should be fun and engaging. That doesn’t mean it should be silly but hopefully you can strike the right balance with being productive and being creative. Use a timer. Make jokes. Have breaks. For many people a workshop is something different to their usual working routine and the exercises should make it easier to get the best out of everyone. 

So, make sure your participants are relaxed, invested and creative – a stressed attendee is a bad participant, it’s your job to help them understand the process and enjoy the session. I’m rooting for you, you got this!

The quickest way to get people on side? Tell an embarrassing story (but remember to keep it audience appropriate). People will feed off your humility and your energy. 

We’ve touched on ice breakers before, they’re wonderful for breaking down that awkward bit at the start of any workshop or meeting. It can be something simple or unexpected but make sure it’s inclusive. Here are some good ice-breaker questions if you’re struggling:

  • Where is your favourite place to go in the winter and why?
  • What did you want to grow up to be when you were little?
  • What’s the thing you’re most proud of this year?
  • You can’t time travel but your phone has the internet from five years in the future, what’s the first thing you’d search for?
  • What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Interested to see how online workshops could improve your productivity and boost team morale?

Take a look at our workshops page for more information on the kinds of workshops we deliver and if there’s a specific problem you’re having difficulty with, we can design a custom workshop to break through and steer you on to success in whatever you’re doing next.

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