Starting a workshop

The start of a session can sometimes be the most terrifying moment for a new trainer.  They have their goals, their outline, their potential questions for each activity, but how to actually begin?  Well, as most things in training, my answer is “it depends” and there are awesome guidelines to think about.

Firstly, you need to know what you are working with.  How you start depends upon who you are, what your topic is, who your participants are, what space you have, how much time you have for your workshop, and what tools are at your disposal.  When answering these fun questions you get to keep your goals in mind.  Now that you are grounded in what you are doing, why and with whom, it is time to think of some guidelines.

Since most people have experienced teacher-centered learning all of their lives, it is quite easy for participants to fall into the role of a passive recipient of knowledge, rather than an active learner.  This is where the beginning of your workshop can really set the tone and signal to everyone that participant learning matters, not the facilitator’s knowledge/expertise/ego.  One way to do this is to get participant voices into the room as early as possible.

While there are many ways to do it, here is one example of how to start your workshop. “Thank you for coming to this workshop.  I am curious about everyone in the room, I bet other people are too. We’ll start the workshop by going around and each say our names and one thing that brought us here today. Do you feel ready to start us off (turning to your neighbor and gesturing to them)?”  After everyone is finished, “thank you all so much, we have such a great resources in the room that I look forward to using throughout our time together.  Now I’ll tell you about the goals and outline for our time together.”

This opening may be uncomfortable for both the facilitator and the participants, who are accustomed to facilitators establishing their credibility and participants establishing their passivity as the opening ritual of workshops.  However, this opening creates meaningful space for participants to engage their own power and learn significant amounts, thus meeting your goals.


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