Last week I had the pleasure to facilitate a workshop aimed at introducing the participants to Design Thinking, its principles and the process. After a few months of teaching and specifically related to last week’s experience, here are a few tips for those who are also thinking of designing and facilitating workshops:

1. Be authentic!

I know from my own experience it can become very tempting to put all the information in a few slides, have your text written and try to memorise it. But it’s the easy way, and your audience came to your workshop for a reason. They want to learn and leave with something valuable. Just add your special sauce to the event, a bit of your personality and storytelling. People understand very well and can relate better to personal stories, experiences or real life examples. Make the effort to transform a generic topic into something unique and interesting to listen to. The only right way is yours, so be confident in designing the workshop as you think is best; do it in a way that you would enjoy it, if you were a participant.

2. It’s a conversation not a lecture

When we know very well a topic it is very easy to discuss about it on and on. Sometimes there is a gap created between the audience and the presenter: one talks whilst the other listens. However when you just present without interacting with your audience, feeling the atmosphere and reacting to it on the moment, you are losing the participants probably in the first 20 minutes. If it is a new topic, it is important to get in the skin of the audience and try to explain it in a way that they can relate to. Another aspect is paying attention to the atmosphere: sometimes people get bored faster, or you can read confusion on their faces even though to you it seems quite easy to remember and understand. In these cases it’s very important to act spontaneous and encourage the people to ask if they are confused or go over the slide once more explaining it in a different way.

3. Make it interactive

Learning by doing is a thing. Listening to ongoing rambling is boring. In the case of last week’s workshop I was initially planning to make an interactive exercise related only to the ideation process, however design thinking is centered on the user and on gaining empathy and experimenting. Ideation is not giving any depth into the whole iterative process. Instead I got inspired by Stanford’s workshop where the facilitators encouraged the audience to go through the whole experience. Everyone was a designer and an end user, everyone interviewed and got interviewed, everyone ideated and created a storyboard of their solution and in the end tested their final ideas.
It is challenging and as a facilitator you must consider that everyone is different and some are more eager to interact with a stranger than others. Again, pay attention to the vibe: do you sense that someone feels uncomfortable? do you feel confusion? Approach those who you think need a bit more guidance.

4. Be patient

Give your audience the time to process everything. Information overload is not what you’re looking for. If possible choose very few characteristics you want to focus on and dive deeper into that. Also repeat everything what you say, conclude your previous thoughts, relate the ideas and guide the audience through what they just heard. Really, people have the memory of a jelly fish and you have to repeat sometimes everything twice or three times. Also, you cannot please everyone. It might happen some people leave at some point and it’s ok. They are not that interested and engaged and are looking for something else. You also don’t want to force people to engage in something they don’t like, so focus on the ones that are active and participating.

5. and Improvise

I made my slides and speech but ended up improvising everything. I used them only as a guideline. When you know something very well, you can talk freely about it and answer to any questions. Therefore it’s no point on having everything strict when you don’t know your audience and the types of people you will be dealing with. So just have an idea of what you will say and do, but act spontaneous based on the participants’ attitudes and reactions.

Most importantly enjoy the process. It is a learning experience for those who signed up for the workshop and it’s also a learning experience for you. Just try to get the best out of it and have fun, meet people, network. Who knows.. some interesting contacts might arise from the process.

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