João Landeiro

Making your expertise tangible

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How to test a Workshop

Workshop sessions are by definition, interactive. Much more so than a regular presentation where you share information with your audience. And if the secret to success when presenting is preparation, it its doubly so with workshops. This is why testing a workshop is paramount. It doesn’t have to be too difficult though.

What to test for

A workshop is a collaborative guided experience that mixes the expert’s knowledge with the client’s context, to create a tangible result. This definition is very useful to list which elements of a workshop we need to test:

  1. Collaborative
    • Is the structure fostering collaboration?
  2. Guided Experience
    • Do the activities make sense in shaping the focus of the client?
    • Does the participant understand the instructions?
    • Does the participant understand how the activities flow into each other?
  3. Combining 2 types of knowledge
    • Does the workshop truly merge the 2 sources of knowledge?
    • Does the client at times feel left out, while your expertise is put on display (avoid this)
  4. Creating a tangible result
    • At the end, is it clear what was achieved?
    • What was achieved, is it useful for the problem the client was trying to solve?

The simplest test you can make

Finding the best conditions to test a workshop is sometimes difficult. Perhaps you don’t have access to a test audience that is similar to the target audience or maybe you have very little time to put some testing together. In any case, you need to verify that the workshop you put together is coherent and adheres to the 4 criteria listed previously.

If this is the case, the very least you can do is to do a “solo dry-run” of the workshop.

A solo dry-run of a workshop is you alone, doing the workshop and simulating the correct activity sequence, how you’d give instructions and how participant’s might respond. Of all the possible ways to test a workshop, this one is the least effective because it lacks true feedback from others. It merely helps you figure out possible bumps in the road ahead of time, but depends heavily on your ability to imagine how real people react in different situations.

There’s some irony in this, because if you are just getting started with planning and facilitating workshops, you might not have had time to develop your “workshop 6th sense”. It is this 6th sense that during a solo dry-run, helps you imagine and predict how your client’s might behave and what challenges they may face.

This is why I recommend other ways of testing.

More advanced testing

Your clients are people, of course. Your family, friends and colleagues are also people, naturally. In a pinch, this is enough to get some richer feedback.

As an expert, you need to deal with the Curse of Knowledge and the Inside View. Just testing the workshop with people that are not you, will show you many blindspots.

So you can test the workshop with family, friends and colleagues. When testing a workshop (or anything really) with the help of others, it’s important that you be very clear on:

  1. The purpose of the workshop
  2. The purpose of the test
  3. Which things you’d like feedback on
  4. How to give this feedback

So, schedule a test session, with conditions as close as possible to those of the final, definitive workshop and do a test run with close people whose judgement you value. When selecting people for this, give preference to those who can give you honest feedback, are smart and observant and if at all possible, have some level of familiarity with the context and challenges of your target audience.

When scheduling this session, assume 2x the time of the planned workshop. You need this time for the needed discussion (that’s the whole point)

How much do you need to test

Ultimately, testing a workshop is about refining it. And since you could refine a workshop almost endlessly, if can be difficult to know when to stop.

My rule of thumb is

  • Test 1 time to know where the bodies are
    • You know it isn’t perfect, but you are aware of what needs more attention. You won’t get caught off-guard
  • Test 3 times to iron out the kinks
    • You’ve adjusted little details of sequence, pace and clarity of instructions. The workshop makes sense.
  • Test 5 times to feel invincible
    • You’ve seen this through a handful of times and encountered a few edge cases. You’ve noticed patterns and can now think quickly on your feet, should something unexpected happen.

Do you want to offer Workshops and expand your services portfolio?

Do you want to offer Workshops and expand your services portfolio?