Jessica and Simon pull together some ideas to help anyone who runs group workshops...

Hot prickles of adrenaline. Burning cheeks. Time standing still.
These were all very familiar feelings during my first year of facilitating workshops. I plunged in at the deep end and started running drama days in schools. It was a great match for my skills as a theatre director but I had a lot to learn.
There were some disasters along the way, from small slip-ups to massive clangers. A lot of the clangers came from feeling I needed a mask, that being genuine and honest wasn’t good enough. Sound familiar? Well, allow me to share some of my experiences so you don’t have to learn the hard way as well…


1. Do a warm-up

The clock is ticking. You’ve got 25 minutes to recap all of the Tudor dynasty, create a convincing 16th century London soundscape and watch everyone perform “To be or not to be…” It’s easy to throw the warm-up out the window.
But just a quick burst of synchronised breathing brings everyone together ready to start. It doesn’t just help them, it helps you to feel connected, comfortable and in control. And that’s what everyone wants from their workshop leader.


2. Listen

This does mean listen with your ears. That’s important. But it also means being aware of your participants. What is their body language telling you? Are they really getting the right thing out of that exercise?
It’s easy to drift into a daydream, watch the clock and look at the timings on your plan, but that’s going to take you out of the room and into your head. If you want your participants to fully engage, then they need you to be doing the same.


3. Don't be afraid to throw away your plan

An idea pops into your head. It’s not on the plan. Forget it. Get back to your plan.
No! Trust yourself, you’re a creative person, that’s why you’re there in the room. That’s why you want to do this. Creative people change their minds and that’s where the magic happens. Trust your instincts. As a teacher of mine often says, “Love the chaos”.

4. Know your plan

Having said throw away your plan, albeit momentarily, you need to know what you want to achieve with your group. That’s why you’re there in the room. Know why you are there and what you want to achieve. Then let your plan come to life and evolve, with trust yourself and your group to achieve it together.


5. Smile

Find the enjoyment for yourself. If you’re relaxed and happy you will put people at ease and they will become more creative. Find time for a shared laugh and a little silliness. Set out to have fun. When you approach things as hard work that’s what they will feel like.

Finally, facilitation is an art form. Treat it as such and you'll soon find your own flow, tap into your creativity and become a more confident workshop leader. Open the space and see what happens. 

Does this ring true for you? We'd love to know how it is for you. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.