New to Workshopping? Start here!

How do you facilitate a workshop like a boss when you've never run one before? Here are five short, east-to-learn activities that are common building blocks of popular workshops.

Nervous about running your first workshop? We get it. It's a high-stakes situation and you want to seem confident and practiced. So how do you facilitate a workshop like a boss when you've never run one before? Well, you don't.

Instead of jumping straight in at the deep end, try out individual workshop activities on your own. Take your time to understand the steps, get a feel for what situations they work in, and enjoy yourself without anyone judging you if things go wrong.

Here are five short activities, all common building blocks of popular workshops, that you'll immediately benefit from learning:

How Might We…

When to use: When you are overwhelmed with obstacles

Outcome: All obstacles reframed into opportunities, 1-3 of them highlighted to focus on

What you need: a bunch of post-its, marker, second marker or voting dots

Time: 30 mins

Method: 

1. Set a timer for 10 mins. Write down the problems and obstacles that come to mind, each on a separate post-it note.

2. Set another timer for 10 mins. Now grab a post-it, take the first problem and reframe it so it’s a question that starts with “How Might We” (HMW for short). For instance, if your problem was “Low visitor numbers”, your HMW reframe will be: “HMW increase visitor numbers?”

3. Repeat until you get to the last one.

4. Now set a timer for 5 mins. Skim through your HMW notes and group them by theme. e.g. site visits, newsletter signup, refunds. Go quick and dirty. You’ll see which areas have the most challenges to solve.

5. Set another timer for 5 mins. You’re going to vote on the biggest pain points; no more than 3. Place a dot vote next to the chosen HMW questions (or draw a dot with the 2nd marker). You can use more than one vote for the same question!

6. Peel off the post-its with the votes and you’ve got your focus points.

Quite a big shift in thinking, isn’t it? You can immediately start coming up with potential solutions. There’s gonna be a lot of them! If only we had a way to prioritise them…

Oh wait.

Impact / effort matrix

When to use: When you need to prioritise

Outcome: A weighted and prioritised grid of the challenges you’re facing, showing which ones to focus on and which ones to ditch

What you need: post-its, marker, a sheet of paper or a whiteboard

Time: 15 minutes

Method:

1. Draw a 2x2 grid. The X axis is impact; the Y axis is effort.

2. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down your items to prioritise on individual post-its. These could be DIY tasks, Q4 priorities, or the potential solutions from the HMW activity above.

3. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Now take the post-its one by one and stick them on the impact/effort matrix. Where you’re going to stick them depends on two things: how hard it is to do them (effort), and how much you’d gain if they were done (impact). You don’t need to get clinical: broad strokes will do.

4. Voting is probably not even going to be necessary as the matrix speaks for itself. We like to assign each quadrant a role - they make it pretty obvious what to focus on and what to avoid like the plague.

Now get cracking on those quick wins and get a few tasks out of the way.

Free training: The 5 things you can do to become a high-paid facilitator

Crazy 8's

When to use: When you're out of creative juice. Your ideas feel old and boring.

Outcome: 8 whacky, off the wall ideas

What you need: A4 sheet of paper, marker

Time: 8 minutes (yes, really)

Method: 

1. Think about the idea that you need to jazz up. Is it some stale marketing copy? A bad piece of design? Or a boring event plan?

2. Fold an A4 piece of paper into half, then half again, and (you guessed it) half again. You should have 8 rectangular sections.

3. Set a timer for one minute. In that minute, draw or write a crazy variation of your boring idea into square 1. Go nuts and don't limit yourself: the point here is to break through your creative barrier.

4. When the minute is up, start the timer for another minute and move on to square 2. Develop your new idea further - and if you can’t, just come up with a new one.

5. Repeat until you’ve filled all 8 squares. 

You might be able to use one of these ideas, but it’s also possible that they’re just too "out there". But after this exercise you'll be in a more creative frame of mind. You can dig into what does and doesn't work about the crazy ideas, and that'll give you a direction to move in.

Free training: The 5 things you can do to become a high-paid facilitator

User journey map

When to use: When work becomes abstract or confusing. It's a sign you've lost sight of the actual, real-life journey that your audience is taking

Outcome: A simple, visual, step-by-step map of the user journey

What you need: A4 sheet of paper, marker

Time: 20 minutes

Method: 

1. Rotate your sheet to a horizontal position. Create 5 headings across the width, as if you were making columns: Actors | Discover | Learn | Use | Goal

2. Think about who your actors are. Is it the customer? Is it the sales department? You might have more than one actor and more than one journey.

3. Now pin down the end goal. What is it you want them to achieve? A sale? A newsletter subscription?

4. What's the immediate step that leads them to the goal? And what's the step before THAT? Where do they need to discover your product in order for all that to happen? Work your way back through the various phases. Adjust / omit them as needed.

It won’t be a work of art, but it’s still worth sticking above your desk. It WILL pull you back to reality when work starts to feel abstract again.

Lightning demos

When to use: When you're stuck for inspiration or something feels unsolvable

Outcome: 1-3 inspiring ideas of how others solved a similar challenge

What you need: smartphone or computer with Internet connection, post-its, marker

Time: 30 minutes

Method: 

1. Think about what you're trying to solve. How have others solved a similar problem? You might have seen a TV ad, listened to a talk or used a product that got it right.

2. Look up those companies and products, or try to find new ones. They don’t have to be from your own industry and 2-3 examples will suffice.

3. Note down the big idea that makes each solution work and try to find the how or why. We've got a handy template for you:

4. Take a couple of screenshots or photos that show the solution in action.

Normally you'd demo these to your team so they can… get inspired (*cough* steal it *cough*) but you don't have to do that. Demoing to yourself is enough to find the strong ideas and get the creative juices flowing. (You thief.)

There you have it: five brilliant activities to build your workshopping muscle while solving problems. Once you've got the hang of them, it’s time to capitalise on your unfair advantage. 

A meeting has tanked? Swoop in and save the day with a “How might we…” activity. Running a prioritisation session? Give the effort / impact matrix a spin. This way you'll be preparing the ground for your first full-blown workshop while looking like an absolute badass.

Did someone say “like a boss”?

AJ&Smart Team

A team of pro workshop facilitators with 9+ years of experience.