6 things I learned from my first in-person workshop for a long time

Photo by FORTYTWO on Unsplash

A lot of us are starting to get back into the same physical spaces we were used to before the world changed. I personally find it enjoyable and rewarding to have the opportunity to group together in person again, to talk and work through sticky problems.

This week I facilitated my first workshop for a long time which didn’t take place in front of a camera, when 10 of us gathered together at the start of the next phase of a big project. During the 3 hours I felt pretty ring rusty after so long of getting used to purely remote based workshops so I wanted to document some things I learned from getting back in front people again.

I’ve ended each one with a simple line which I can return to and take away for future workshops.

Here’s 6 things I learned from my first in-person workshop in a long time.

One. Miro isn’t replacing slides…yet

Over the last two years I’ve got so used to hopping onto Miro for workshops and having people follow my screen, that I wanted to bring that same ability to this session as well. I wanted to avoid jumping straight back into the same old routine of using PowerPoint slides to give basic information and instruction. This didn’t work as well as I’d hoped though and it definitely felt a little clunky at times when having to scroll up, down and side-to-side on the canvas to get to the next frames.

I do believe there is something in this though and will keep exploring to see how this might work better next time. There may even be some unexplored functionality within Miro itself which will help with this.

If using a screen to provide context and information, explore how best this could be done. It might just still be PowerPoint.

Two. Setting homework ensured conversation during the workshop

We are at the beginning of an important phase of a large scale project, and the need to get the right people in the room talking about the right things is paramount. I needed to ensure that the 3 hour workshop wasn’t going to be taken up largely by writing thoughts onto post-its, but instead, fill it with great conversation about the problem in hand.

With this in mind I set homework in advance for the attendees to complete a few areas of a Miro board in order to collect their thoughts, concerns, and aspirations. This worked exactly as I had hoped and allowed us to get into the important conversations much more quickly than we may have otherwise been able to.

Don’t be afraid to get ahead by asking people to begin contributing to your workshops ahead of time.

Three. Digital homework can cause issues for a real-world workshop

As we transition fully back to being with each other in person, we’ll be bringing all of our great findings from the last two years of remote work to it, it’s going to be a learning curve to know exactly how to merge it all nicely. With the homework all taking place on the digital world, how could I transition that into the real world to be able to conduct activities around? The solution I chose was to write out all post-it notes added to Miro and use them within the session. Not the most ideal, and there are likely more graceful ways to do this which I look forward to discovering.

If setting homework, think about if that will be used within the workshop. If it is, how will the output be used both digitally and in person?

Four. Silence is different in person

“You’re on Mute” has entered the common language now, and the silence that comes with people being on mute on a video call is so much different to the silence of people together in a room. For a start, it’s a shared silence from within the room, opposed to the ‘silence’ of a video call, which in fact could still be very noisy for different people. It’s the sort of silence which punctuates the activities of the workshop in a lot more of a convenient way for you as a facilitator. It’s the thinking time at the start of an activity, and the sign that people have said all they need to say at the end of one.

Remember that silence is not your enemy.

Five. Side conversations and expanding conversations are back

The sudden move to video calls called an end to side conversations in big meetings, practically overnight. They are impossible to have audibly when remote as the crashing audio of people simply does not work, but they are probably happening elsewhere on a text chat, which is unhelpful in itself as there’s still information not being shared to the group. It’s for that reason that we’ll find that these side conversations will start to be heard pretty quickly as we move back to in person sessions.

Similarly, I’ve found that conversations don’t pick up as much speed when working remotely as they do in person, and there are less rabbit holes to go down. When we’re together there seems to be vocal overlap, better reading of body language, and no ‘un-mute’ buttons to get in the way of conversations escalating.

Set clear ground rules at the start of your group sessions, and call out that side conversations and rabbit holes are a possibility. You’ll likely see people begin to police these themselves.

Six. Sharing ain’t easy.

We’ve all got so used to being able to share our laptop screen and for people to be able to see the exact thing we’ve chosen to show them. Often, we’re able to share one thing, whilst reading from another. This has made giving presentations, setting tasks, and facilitating feel a lot easier and offer a more seamless experience.

As we’re so used to having some sort of screen to share, it feels natural to think that we’ll carry this one back over to the physical world. Maybe it’s time to drop this safety blanket though and return to the time when a 3 hour workshop could easily be screen free.

Take the time to think about what needs to be shared, and if it could be done in another way. If you still want to share it, make sure you know it inside out.

Which of these 6 things resonates with you? What other things have you found that you’re re-learning when going back to in-person sessions? In what ways has remote working for so long changed you as a facilitator?

I’d love to know, so please share!

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I dream of a world where our digital lives are not scattered with annoyance and confusion.

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Matt Thomas

Matt Thomas

I dream of a world where our digital lives are not scattered with annoyance and confusion.

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