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How to hold a workshop

Three hashtags: workshop, preparation, structure

As a content strategist it is vital to talk to people and find out about their ideas, needs and expectations – or to bring order into the chaos. One of the possibilities to do so, is in workshops. Actually, there is no way around them. From message architecture or user journey workshops to simple content planning workshops or the kick-off for a new project.

Recently I have attended quite a few workshops. Frankly, most of them have left me frustrated. They felt like wasted time. In most of them, there was no outcome or no (clear) goal to begin with. So what is the secret to holding a good workshop? How can everyone take something away from it and walk out a happy person? 

I talked to my fellow content strategists about it during the last COS camp and collected my thoughts for you in this article. (By the way, the next COS camp will take place on March 18th, 2023. You should definitely come and enjoy a colorful session mix of content strategy topics!)


Know the goal of your workshop

Why are you holding the workshop in the first place? Knowing the goal is the basis for your preparations and the most important information for your participants. Please don’t let them hanging and share right from the start what the workshop’s goal is and what to expect from it. If your attendees start wondering what they are doing and why they are here it’s too late. 

Plan the workshop well

Nothing worse than an unplanned workshop that seems like it’s made up on the go. Prepare it carefully. Everything you do should lead towards the goal. Planning also includes time management. Set a realistic time frame and leave a buffer for spontaneous magic.

And remember: this is a workshop and not a frontal lecture. Think about interactive elements you could use. Will you need any special materials for the methods you planned? 

Prepare the location

On the day of the workshop, be at the location early and prepare everything you need to prepare. You don’t want to seem stressed out because you were in a rush. In case you’re holding an online workshop this rule still applies – at least partly. Have you checked your technical equipment and prepared the Miro Board? Do you know how to send people to breakout rooms? There you go.

Make your attendees feel comfortable

With a warm welcome you are off to a good start. Before diving right into the topic, take a short time to chat with the attendees and appreciate that they are here. Do they know each other already? Give them a minute to break the ice – possibly with some guidance from you or a quick game. If you want to go above and beyond, make their day by leaving a piece of chocolate or brain food on their place.

Provide structure

We still haven’t started with the actual work of the workshop (almost, though). Give an overview of what’s going to happen in the next few hours. What is the goal? What are the topics? What is the time frame? This way your attendees won’t get lost right away. Okay, now you can start.

Take breaks

Coffee and fresh air – do I need to say more?

Be flexible

Pay attention to the needs of your audience. You have a pretty good workshop planned, but be open to changes. It does not make sense to force everybody to power through when they are tired. Instead take an extra break or take the workshop outside into the fresh air. Or if there is a fruitful discussion going on, think twice if it should be interrupted. Maybe another point on the agenda is not as important and can be shortened.

Closure, feedback and goodbye

You made it to the end of your workshop! Yay 🙂 Summarize all the great things that happend during your time together and what’s going to happen with the outcome. Give the attendees the possibility to share feedback. What are their takeaways? How did they feel about their day? Ask open questions and learn from the answers for your next workshop.

All good things come to an end. You can let your workshop participants go and wave goodbye – but don’t be sad. The next workshop will come for sure.