Workshop Leader Nightmare Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about a nightmarish workshop setup I walked into and had to improvise on the spot. You can read about it here if you missed it!


Making lemonade from lemons…

I quickly popped in an Altoid, just in case, for the people in front of me, took a deep breath and got started.

After a very short introduction and brief about why we were together, I quickly changed the order of my content.  Instead of providing them with key content, I went right into an individual activity called Choices, which shows the value of alignment with the clarity of a single idea.

Then I transitioned to our idea – why we were there, which was to shift our mindset in a positive way.

I asked them if they were up for an adventure:

This is about mindset.  To achieve a different mindset, we need to BE different first.  We must take different action.  We must have the courage to try something new, even if it is uncomfortable.  We must be ready and willing to let our life be an adventure.  Will you take one step with me on this mindset adventure?  Yes!  Get your jackets, we are going outside!

At this point, we were 15 minutes into my 4-hour ‘workshop’ and we were headed outside!  There was a TON of room in the parking lot.  I knew, because I checked everything out prior to beginning.  There was no other inside space and I had to use what was available.

Remember, it was November and we were in New Jersey.  It was a bit cold!

We spent most of the time outside, even using an activity in which they needed to take their shoes off and walk through ‘live’ mouse and rat traps (actually completely safe, but looked dangerous).

Even though it was cold and these were VIP execs, I had the confidence in myself to not only take them outside, but demand they take their shoes off and walk on the cold asphalt.

We debriefed standing up in a circle and took short ‘warm-ups’ with jumping jacks and running in place. I used the parking lot and the cars in the parking lot as metaphors – anything that was near and available and made sense.

It was an overwhelming success.  Most had major ‘A-ha’ moments which I could either see or they told me about it later.  None of that would have been possible if we had stayed in that horrible room setup.


The workshop was a success!  Most had major ‘A-ha’ moments which I could either see or they told me about it later.  None of that would have been possible if we had stayed in that horrible room setup.

Would I do this again?  Not unless I had to but now I have one more success to help boost my confidence and know I can go outside that traditional ‘workshop’ box and still create something amazing.

What about the real result – did I get the large contract?  No, they ended up doing nothing in this area but I earned their trust and have continued working with many of them on projects.

Have you ever woken up at 2 or 3 AM, worried about the workshop you are going to run the next day, hoping you don’t look bad as the workshop leader? 

We teach people how to lead workshops with confidence and provide dozens of tools to use at a moment’s notice in our Effective Facilitator Training Workshop.

Each person will facilitate an activity and debrief them live with the group, gaining invaluable experience.  Trust me, there is nothing harder than debriefing a group who knows exactly what you should be doing!  If you can facilitate well here, you can facilitate ANY group.


What have I learned?  What can I share?

This was possible because of three very important things I knew, but didn’t even know I knew.  I wrote these down on the plane ride home and am now sharing them with you.


Know your content – study, study and more study.

You don’t need to know absolutely everything about the topic.  You need to know everything about the content you are presenting!Read that again – This is a VERY important distinction.If you know your content inside and out, you have the freedom to change it or use other ideas to change or augment your content in case the structure does not fit.


Format MUST follow the function.

If you are a past student of mine in an Effective Facilitator Training workshop, you have heard this before.  Many times before.

The function is the outcome – what are the participants walking away with at the end?

The format is the structure – how the group is physically set up.  Are they in a circle, at desks, at rounds of 8 or 10, inside or out?  What is the room temperature?  Are there windows?  Should they be open or closed?

The format must reinforce, or facilitate, the function.  Use every little tiny edge you can get to make your workshop better by controlling the format and most specifically, the environment.

For example, when we are trying to help a group experience good conflict, we turn the heat up in the room.  We feed them an early lunch and late dinner, leave out the snacks and have our conflict session at the end of the day.  This format helped us bring out conflict – the authentic conflict that occurs at work and not the ‘fake’ workshop conflict.


Know your resources.

Make sure you look at everything.  I had no way of knowing what that room was like before I began (usually you can see the room prior, but not this time).I always look around where I am to see what is available to me to use should I need it – inside and outside:

  • Where is the nearest green space?  If I walk people to it, how long will it take and what could I have them do during the walk?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • Are there other spaces inside that I could use in large or small groups?  Hallways?
  • Are there nearby, unused rooms?  This happens a LOT at conferences.  The room right next door is twice as big and would work PERFECTLY for a 20-minute activity.  See #5 below.
  • What else can I control, should I want it?


Be confident.

If I were not confident, I would not have had the courage to tell the group we were going outside.  I was confident because:

  1. I knew my content (#1), I
  2. knew the function (#2) and
  3. I knew what was available to me (#3).

Without those three, I would not have been confident and probably would have stayed in that room with disastrous results.

If you are not confident, it WILL show.  You will never know everything, you will always miss something, but if you are truly confident and trust yourself, you will make the right decisions.


Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

This is before and during your workshop.

  • If I had asked the facilities person if I could run a workshop in the parking lot, the answer could very likely  have been ‘No!’
  • Had I asked the group for permission to go outside they very likely would have said ‘NO!’  It was cold outside!
  • I am sure we disrupted people while we were in the foyer.  In fact, I know because several people came out and looked disapprovingly at our group.  I simply shut their doors and apologized to them after the workshop was over.
  • I do get into trouble for this sometimes.  And it has gone badly from time to time.  On one occasion my group was kicked out of a museum as we were playing a game inside and people started running.  While I felt bad, many said that was the best part of the day – “breaking the rules and feeling like a child again”.  Their words, not mine!Regardless, it is worth it and because I am confident, I know how far I am willing to go.  Then I go one step further.

I hope this helps you as a workshop leader!

My goal is to help you be a better workshop leader so the content you providing has the chance to impact as many people as possible.

If you are not confident in your facilitation, want to develop your skills or want to make your content more experiential, you should attend one of our Effective Facilitator Training workshops.  I guarantee you will walk out a MUCH better workshop leader than when you walked in the door.

Also, the workshops are awesome because they are filled with people creating impact in the world!



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