Category Archives: Workshops

7 Ways Facilitators Can Build Rapport in Workshops


As a facilitator, your primary goal early in the sessions to build a powerful rapport with the people in the room to get them on your side and ensure you have a successful outcome. Here’s a few tips on how you can do this.

1 Create a Relaxed Informal Environment

Be laid back, no matter how serious or important the session is. It immediately sets the right tone and eases the tension in the room. A few light hearted gags and anecdotes – usually at your own expense – goes down well. If you’re aloof or stressed, it will immediately show.

2 Naming

Focus on remembering and calling out people by their name. It really helps make a connection with everyone in the room and demonstrates that you’re fully attentive. It also shows that we’re all friends together and allows you assert control.

3 Actively Listening

It’s easy to listen in a half hearted manner, particularly when you have a lot on your mind. However, it’s crucial to demonstrate you’ve taken in what people say. The key tricks are: focus on eye-contact, play back what they say, refer back to what people said earlier in the day, avoid cutting people off.

4 Great questioning

The flip-side of great listening is great questioning. Use a range of questioning techniques that allow people to connect with you. Ask lots of questions, notably questions that are open and exploratory. This also demonstrates that you’re listening

5 Remember – its all about them not you

Don’t grandstand or try to appear ‘impressive’ or brag about your achievements. People hate a show off and resent being talked down to. Don’t make jokes at other people’s expense – no matter how funny you think you are. Instead, celebrate other people’s success and make sure the people in the room become the centre of attention – not you

5 Trade stories

Demonstrate you know how they feel by referring back to your own personal experiences to reinforce a point you want to make or to show empathy with someone else’s stories i.e. ‘the same thing happened to me…’

6 Be Responsive

If they ask a question – don’t ignore them. Try and respond. If you can’t, ask for help. This extends to broader questions. If they make a request for more coffee, the temperature of the room to be changed or a wireless code do your best to be accommodating

7 Give Feedback

People love to know how well they’re doing. Have they done a good job or not? Focus on the good stuff, not the bad stuff and if you’re going to criticize or judge them, do so with a positive and constructive mindset. This also demonstrates that you’re really listening and have internalised what’s been discussed


How to stop people using their mobile phones during workshops


This is the bane of my life. They’ve taken all this time and effort and take place part in a workshop, yet people prefer to play with their phones rather than listen or join in. It’s incredibly rude, yet people persist are addicted to mobile technology and persist in using them. So how do you avoid it? Here’s a few approaches you can consider.

1 Tell People Not To

Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but if you forget, people will assume that it’s OK to pick up their phones when they feel like it. It helps if you have a BIG sign on the wall with a visual of a mobile phone crossed out to remind people. If people do need to make an urgent call, ask then to do it outside the meeting.

Maybe you could get the most senior person in the room to announce the ‘no mobiles during working sessions’ rule. If they see the boss is imposing it, they’re more likely to be compliant. More importantly, make sure the boss is compliant too.

2 Have a Zero Tolerance Policy

If people use their phone once and get away with it, they’ll continue. If other people spot that the perpetrator has got away with it, then they’ll do the same. So, as you soon as you spot someone on their phone, call it out, just so they know that you’re serious about the ‘no mobiles’ rule.

3 Schedule ‘Mobile Phone Time’ During the Meeting

Some people decide to touch their phones because of anxiety that they may have missed out on something important. However, if you tell people when and for how the breaks will be, then this will help reassure them that they won’t be out of contact for too long. Make sure you schedule several during the day. You could even call them phone breaks, rather than coffee breaks.

4 Confiscate Them

With badly behaved groups, I’ve known facilitators who will ask everyone to ‘hand in’ their mobile phones during the working sessions. It may seem a bit harsh, but if you do it playfully then you can get away with it. At the minimum, ask people ‘to put away’ their phones rather than simply turn them off and leave them on the desks. It will help them resist the temptation.

5 Use Forfeits

Set up a rule at the beginning. If people decide to use their phone – or else if it rings – during the meeting, impose a forfeit. I find that making a charitable donation of say £5 works well. Other people like to make people do press-ups or some other form of public humiliation, like singing a song. Ask the team to ‘self police’. If they spot their colleagues on the phone, ask them to shout it out.

6 Make Sure YOU Obey the Rules

And finally, make sure that you don’t fall guilty of playing with your phone during the working sessions. However, discrete you think you are, you’ll be spotted and you’ll lose all credibility and pretty soon, everyone will be at it.

It’s a problem that seems to be getting worse and hampers the effectiveness of workshops, so if anyone’s got other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

What to Pack For a Workshop

I was with a gang of facilitators a couple of weeks ago comparing notes on how to manage workshops and we started to discuss what we pack for workshops and the hints and tips we’ve developed over the years. So…here they are.

1. The basics


For every workshop you will always need: coloured post-it notes, masking tape and fat pens. With this basic kit, you’ll always survive a workshop. This assumes that biros, flip chart paper and writing pads are available in the facility – which is almost always the case.

However please note:

– always use Post-It branded post-it notes. They’re expensive but much better than other brands which don’t always stick

– go for 2 sizes of post-it: the ‘standard’ and the ‘large’ and get a variety of colours (not just plain yellow)

– go for fat pens so wrIting is always legible. We used to have scented (smelly) pens at my old agency, but my favourite brand is Berol

–  avoid Sharpies. They’re great, but the ink is permanent. (at least the ones I’ve used) I’ve ruined so many shirts with these. Whatever you use, they’ve got to be water-soluble

–  Blu-tack is great as a back up and is still useful…but I’m now a big fan of masking tape: quick, easy to use and won’t mark walls

2. Added Extras


Hooters or horns are great if you’re running a big workshop as they’re brilliant for attracting attention, getting people to come back from coffee breaks. Plus they’re fun to play with.

Dots or heart stickers. Great for voting for ideas, highlighting specific outputs, etc.

Toys are great to add playfulness and fun to a session. The favourites are bendy men, play doh, lego and juggling balls. They can be used for energisers too.


I’ve recently started bringing A3 drawing pads to session where people are going to working in 2’s or 3’s, particularly in creative sessions. Having a drawing pad immediately puts you in a creative zone and they’re easy to carry and display your work

Pack a few ‘clouds’ too. Great for directing people to the workshop and acting as headers for different sections.

Not forgetting pritt-sticks and scissors for cutting up magazines and creating mood boardsImage

I also love those portable – stand up flipcharts. Great for working in small tables or where wall pace is limited

3. Preparing Your Kit

The biggest discovery for me in recent times has been the zip-lock plastic bag. Perfect for separating out your various bits and bobs and making the pre-workshop set up fast and efficient. Either separate out your various bits e.g. post-its, pens etc or combine them as ‘sets’ for each table group. Getting your room  set up as efficiently as you can and stopping your stationery spilling everywhere is essential


And finally, get yourself a nice wheelie bag to transport everything in. My favourite is the Eastpak TransverzS. Light, nice size, lots of compartments and expandable. Just perfect.

So, here’s my suggestions for what to pack for workshops. I’m always looking for new ideas, so if you’ve got any suggestions, please get in touch.

Structuring a Creative Workshop: Key Principles

This is the scenario. You’ve been asked to facilitate a creative workshop. You’re clear on the task and the output you’re looking for, so how do you create a session plan? Here are the key principles you should follow

1. Spend equal amounts of time on divergent and convergent thinking

Divergent thinking is about generating new ideas – the classic brainstorming phase, whereby new thoughts are generated and captured. Convergent thinking is about colliding ideas, selecting the lead ideas and working them up in more detail. Both phases are equally important so you need equal time on both.

If you’ve got a 1 day session, spend the morning on the divergent thinking and the afternoon on convergent thinking. If it’s a 2 hour session spend the first hour on divergent thinking, the second hour on convergent thinking. Simply divide the time you have available in two.

2. Always start with an individual sharing session

Often in creative sessions, the high energy extroverts take centre stage. This is great because their energy is important and they’re often full of great ideas. However, we need everyone’s ideas. Beware of neglecting the more introvert attendees or the more reflective types. They need to be given their own time and space in order to ensure (a) we don’t neglect their valuable input (b) to make sure they feel included and more willing to participate. Therefore, ensure they get given the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas early in session.

3. Never undertake more than 3 creative exercises

After the initial download, the next phase is to undertake a series of exercises in smaller groups using a series of creative techniques to encourage people to generate new, fresh ideas. I’ve found that you should plan on undertaking a maximum of 3 exercises. Beyond this, either the quality / volume of ideas diminishes or else ideas start to become repetitive. I think it’s because

– people have only so many ideas within them to give in a workshop scenario – no matter how creative they are

– after 3 creative exercises, people have had enough – creative exercises can be quite challenging and their brains get too frazzled

4. Make sure each creative exercise is very different

There are many creative techniques to choose from to help you come up with new ideas. This is when you spend a lot of your planning time in thinking about the most appropriate technique to apply to the task. Make sure that each technique is very different because

(a) you need to attack the problem from all kinds of perspectives

(b) you need to keep the session engaging and interesting

(c) you need to push the attendees as hard as you can and challenge them to come up with new ideas

5. Plan for several, shorter breaks

In most conventional 1 day workshops, you tend to have a break in the morning and a break in the afternoon. However, I find that in creative sessions, people need more frequent time-outs. This could be for only 5 or 10 minutes maximum to just clear their heads, grab a coffee or get some fresh air. Plan for 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon and in between, work intensively. Never, ever attempt the ‘working lunch’. You either eat or work. You can’t do both!

6. Have a contingency plan

Timings will inevitably shift – despite your best efforts, so make sure you allow for this. If you get through the creative exercises early, have an extra creative exercise up your sleeve. If they go on a bit longer, be aware of which one you’re prepared to drop. And finally, give time back rather than take more. People are delighted if you decide to finish a session early. They’ll hate you if you keep them late.

How to Get the Best Out of People in Creative Workshops


So, you’re the facilitator of a creative workshop. It’s the beginning of the day, you’re standing in front of a group of people and your job is to get everybody to come up with lots of great ideas. So how do you do it? Here’s a few suggestions.

1 Create trust

People will only generate new ideas if they feel comfortable with the people around them and if they confident that their ideas are going to be listened to. You can do this by:

(a) ensuring everyone who comes has the opportunity to contribute. Don’t let a few people dominate proceedings and encourage everyone to join in.

(b) making sure ideas are not judged or criticised too early, so the session gets some momentum.

2 Cheerleading

As all sports teams know, we respond well to encouragement. Your job is to give people lots of positive feedback. If you hear a great idea, tell them. If people need help, suggest some ways forward. If you hear a brilliant idea, clap and cheer and encourage others to join in.

3 Push!

If you feel people aren’t quite on top of their game or giving their best, then don’t be afraid to push harder. If you think the ideas are so-so, sometimes it’s good to tell people. If you can see ways the  ideas could be improved then suggest them. Be careful as you don’t want to demotivate people, so do so in a positive spirit. However, it’s important to maximise the brainpower at your disposal.

4 Mess around

Idea generation should feel playful, so make there’s space and time to have a bit of a laugh. This could be via the creative exercises, playing games and encouraging light-hearted interventions. The more relaxed people feel, then the more ideas they’ll generate.

5 Celebrate the idea generators

If certain individuals have come up with a great idea, then make sure they – or their team – is publicly acknowledged. It may encourage others to raise their game too. Be aware of creating  jealousy, but a bit of healthy competition is no bad thing

6 Choose the right creative tools and techniques

People need help to generate new ideas – hence the use of creative tools and techniques. Firstly, make sure you include them in your session as they really do encourage people to think differently. Secondly choose the right ones. There’s so many to choose from, so make they’re tailored to suit the topic you’re working on. Thirdly, use a variety of techniques that attack the brief from different perspectives.

7 Signpost

People feel relaxed and confident in the session if they know where they’re heading. So, don’t forget to tell keep telling people why you’re asking them to do certain tasks, what they’ve just done and what the next stage will be.

And finally remember its not about you its about them. Even though you’re in charge of the session, suppress your ego. Don’t showboat or proclaim your brilliance. Your job is to be a great supporter, to get the very best out of others the workshop.

Planning a Creative Workshop: The 4 Things You Need To Be Sure Of


Great workshops are all about great planning, so if you’re asked to facilitate an idea generation session, these are the four things you need to get right

1 Clarity on the Nature of the Outputs

Ideas come in many shapes and sizes, so when you get asked to help come up with some new ideas, you need be sure of their format and structure. Are you looking for a large number of rough ideas or a small number of polished ideas? Will they be written as standard idea concepts or detailed storyboards? You may not be sure what ideas will emerge, but you need to be sure of the idea format.

2 Getting the Right People

So what’s the ideal number for a creative workshop? Having a small number of people means that the session is easy to handle..but there’s a lot of pressure on them to come up with the ideas. Lots of people creates a lot of energy…but it makes it difficult for a facilitator to handle everyone.

On balance, for a creative session I prefer the energy of big groups. However, what’s crucial is to have a diverse group people with bendy brains. Similar people will come up with similar ideas. Mix and match the experienced with the inexperienced, agency and client, young and old, technical and non-technical. Ensure that at least some have good visualisation skills. As long as they’re willing to throw themselves into the session, then they’ll come up with great ideas

3. Providing the Right Pre-work

What you want to avoid is (a) people turning up not knowing what the session’s about (b) wasting lots of valuable idea generation time of listening to presentations. You want to make a fast productive start, so spend time thinking about the ideal pre-work. I always give people 3 tasks. 1. something to read – so they get the essential background to the project. 2. something to think about – so they’re already generating ideas before they arrive. 3 something to do – e.g. a store visit, an interview – so they’re really engaged in the topic. As I’ve written in a previous post, the ideal is for people to produce and send you ideas in advance of the session. Make sure it’s interesting and fun, otherwise they may not do it

4 Choosing the Right Venue

What you need in a great venue is space, light, BIG walls and flexible furniture. Avoid uber-cool hotels. People feel uncomfortable and are worried about messing it up. Equally, avoid traditional  boardrooms with oil paintings screwed to the walls. The ideal space needs to be a blank canvas. A large photographer’s studio or warehouse or art gallery are perfect as you can mould it to suit your needs and you’re immediately in a creative zone when you enter it

So, spend time thinking about these 4 areas. If you get these things right, then you’re well on the way to creating a fabulous workshop. Now, you can focus on developing the detailed session plan

How to Manage Energy in Workshops Without Resorting to Energisers


If you’re the workshop facilitator, one of your key jobs is to maintain the energy. Typically, you throw in a few ‘energisers’ i.e. fun games and activities to liven up proceedings. I still do them of course, but the risk is that you become over-reliant on them. One of the challenges I set myself nowadays is how can I manage the energy of a workshop without using any energisers?

Here’s a few things I remind myself

1 It starts with you

Be very conscious of your own energy throughout a session. People will always follow your lead, so if your energy or engagement levels start to flag, so will theirs. If you sense yourself dipping or ‘checking out’, then pick yourself up. As long as you stay energised, then the chances are they will too. Biggest no – no is checking your phone whilst everyone’s working. Never do this. Once you start, they will too.

2 Use the entire meeting space

Typically, in most workshops, people stand at the front, often by the flip chart or the projector. Looking forward all the time can be predictable and draining. Find ways for people to present from different parts of the room. Keep changing the focal point of the session.

3 Reconfigure the room

When you move furniture around, the room feels re-energised. At break / lunch times, think about ways you change the layout of the space. Remove objects you don’t need any more e.g. projectors and screens. Get rid of tables or re-configure them. Take things off the wall and put them elsewhere. New room layouts give people fresh perspectives

4 Modulate the pace

Great energy management is not just about high energy. Nobody can remain in a hyper-active state for the entire session. You need to mix it up. Intersperse short 5 minute bursts of energy with longer periods of reflection. In the afternoon people are naturally more tired. This is when you need to force the pace a bit and keep things shorter and sharper

5 Move people around

The simple act of moving around and working with different people creates its own energy. Try to avoid letting people work in the same teams for the entire day. There are lots of ways to do this (a) keep changing the size and compositions of the groups (b) ask people to go outside of the meeting room / get fresh air for their work sessions (c) when individuals present back, keep everyone standing.

6 Minimise listening

There are times when we need to listen to feedback from various work sessions. This can draining if we do it too often and for too long. Make sure you restrict this (a) shorten the number of times you present back (b) give people tight briefs e.g. 2-3 mins only (c) only get 4-5 groups max to present back (d) ban powerpoint, use flip charts

These are my top tips.

Always stay attuned to the energy of the workshop. If you can manage the energy really well, then great outputs will inevitably follow