A Participant's Scoop on Engaging Workshops

By Yash Deshpande, Finance Professional and Author


Last Monday, I attended my first workshop of 2021. It was about ‘Workplace Productivity’ and while the speaker was genuinely passionate about the topic, I was barely listening. After attending 10 online workshops in 2020, I was an impatient attendee. The main issue with this workshop was the lack of actionable content. I wondered, why hadn’t the previous participants provided this feedback to the facilitator? And I smiled to myself, thinking how I usually skip the feedback surveys.


A bored virtual workshop participant

When I pondered a bit more, I realized that a share of the burden for ineffective workshops falls on us, the attendees. How many times have we skipped on providing feedback? Or worse, hastily gave a five-star rating weighing under the guilt of not paying attention?


In my discussions with colleagues, I realized that most of the participants skip on providing feedback to the facilitator because of the following reasons:


  • They didn’t feel a connection with the speaker and felt awkward giving honest and direct feedback to an unknown person

  • There were way too many feedback questions and the survey was not anonymous

  • They didn’t want their negative feedback to be the reason for the workshop facilitator to lose out on future opportunities

  • They didn’t want further discussions on how the workshop could be improved with the facilitator or their own firm

  • They participated in workshop due to peer pressure or the workshop was compulsory

  • Or, they didn’t pay attention and simply gave a polite and positive feedback to make up for their lack of attention


In today’s online workshops, facilitators have no way of gauging our body language to evaluate the efficacy of their content. And hence, participant feedback is essential. But with most attendees providing vague positive feedback, facilitators are left grappling at straws in order to increase participant engagement.


So, as a professional on the other side of the camera, I wanted to share an inside scoop and re-establish this feedback loop. Given that I have attended a number of workshops, seminars and product trainings throughout the year, I decided to take a look back at 2020, sweep through my pocketbook of virtual interactions and jot down what kept me and my colleagues engaged and what made me sneak out of a workshop.



5 Things Facilitators Do That Make Sessions Worth Attending


Let's start with the workshops that had really strong participant engagement. Here's a list of 5 things facilitators did that made their sessions worth attending:

An engaged virtual workshop participant

1. Embraced Gamification: The first thing that stands out is that all engaging workshops embraced some form of gamification. Whether it was through Kahoot, online polls or Mentimeter, having a quiz at the start of the workshop increased my curiosity about the content, gave rise to my competitive spirit and made me feel secure knowing that most folks gave the same wrong answers as me! Introducing games and quizzes transformed me from a passive member to an active contributor. And, getting answers right was a cherry on top!


2. Gave Breaks: While our attention span in meetings is around 10-18 minutes, it’s even lower in a virtual environment! Our attention span has to compete with a number of distractions starting with the multiple browser tabs, E-mails, Teams/Slack messages, our mobiles and even an Xbox. Engaging facilitators factored in this low attention span and gave breaks every 20-25 mins. The quick 5 minute break helped me satiate my need to check my phone or glance over the daily news. And when I rejoined, I was engaged and ready to hear what the speaker had to share.


3. Created Unique Content: Through the later half of 2020, I started declining more workshop/seminar invites. The reason: I could simply breeze through the recording later and avoid spending hours listening to content that I already knew. As a workshop creator, it is challenging to create unique content for an audience of 20-50 people. I was impressed by workshop creators who reached out to the audience and planned their workshop content. This ensured some unique content for all attendees as well as peaked my interest to see what knowledge an industry professional shared on my pertinent questions.


4. Used Breakout Rooms: The audience size is typically larger in an online workshop and this hinders collaborative and cohesive discussions between participants. Workshops which used breakout rooms for participant interaction felt more engaging as I could discuss my opinions with my colleagues. A brilliant benefit of breakout rooms is that it allows people to clarify their understanding in a safer space. Most people feel comfortable voicing their opinion or asking a query in a smaller group as compared to asking in front of the entire workshop audience.


5. Played Music: While this might seem like an insignificant step, it actually improves the overall workshop experience. How many times have we entered an online workshop and dealt with 5-10 minutes of awkward silence till all the participants joined? Workshops which had nice peppy music spruced up the participants’ mood and created a vibrant energy. A couple of facilitators played songs from their respective countries and these songs became interesting conversation starters.


3 Things Facilitators Do That Disengage Participants


Now that we have seen some things that improved engagement, let’s look at things which contributed to disengagement:

A frustrated virtual workshop participant

1. Monotone Delivery: In virtual workshops, the majority of success lies on the delivery style of the speaker. If you have a speaker who has a flair for speaking, incorporates humor and can excitedly deliver snippets of knowledge; you stay engaged. But if it's a speaker whose communication style is mellow and more reliant on slide readouts, then even strong content might not be enough to boost engagement. The weightage on delivery style is unfair but with so many distractions, a passionate speaker is key to workshop engagement.

2. Lacked Videos: One of the most engaging workshops that I attended was a product related one. While the speaker did have a standard set of slides, what he did differently was incorporate some really cool product launch videos along with customer experience videos. While his slides educated us on the product, the creative videos filled us with pride about our company’s products and positive customer experiences. Video content is easier to retain as most of us could remember the product features from the video and not the slides.


3. Didn’t Time It Right: People’s enthusiasm at work rises with coffee in the morning, peaks around noon and then starts its slow descent. Around 3 p.m. most of us start to experience the daily drag in energy and power through aided by multiple cups of coffee. A morning workshop is a bad idea given that it eats into an employee's productive time and leaves us drained and with the guilt of “not getting anything done.” So, if you are managing a 3 hour workshop, time it in the afternoon. That way employees know they have done their work for the day and can participate actively in the workshop.


Conclusion


In short, the workshops that kept me engaged had content that triggered my curiosity, made learning fun, were scheduled towards the end of day/week and most importantly had amicable and passionate speakers!


As a facilitator, a great way to evaluate the engagement for your workshop is to see it from the audience's perspective. Imagine, if you were to attend the workshop delivered by your look-alike, would you feel engaged with the content delivery and the overall workshop format? Or would you try to sneak out?


And if you are a workshop participant, let’s strive to provide specific and constructive feedback to the facilitators so that when they come back next time they are more prepared to deliver an engaging experience.


I am hopeful that a snippet of my online workshop experiences will help the facilitators improve their participant engagement. And while you are at it, take a look at Seshboard, a product that is attempting to solve your most pressing concern of online workshops: participant engagement.

Interested in learning more about how to maximize your participants' engagement during online workshops? Check out the other articles in Seshboard's Guide to Online Engagement.


About the author: As a finance professional, Yash Deshpande has worked across Automotive, Insurance, Consumer Products and Technology companies. He spends his weekdays crunching numbers, grappling with analytical tools and weaving engaging stories for business leaders. On weekends, Yash blogs for upcoming start-ups and engages with the founders to understand their ideas. He is also the author of a published novel, ‘Ramblings of an Idjit’


About Seshboard: Seshboard is an all-in-online online workshop platform that makes virtual workshops as engaging and productive as in-person ones. Book a demo with us today to learn everything you need to know to run game-changing online workshops on Seshboard.