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5 Tips to Create a Killer Workshop

Workshops are certainly all the rage here in Sydney. When I started, organising informal, peer to peer workshops some three and a half years ago, in non-traditional settings such as cafes, bars, offices, parks and even furniture shops, the idea was sparkly new and dangerously subversive.

Maybe not so much now, as it is more common place to see your local yoga wear shop offering 6am workshops at the nearby park or your favourite barista holding a cupping class after hours. Workshops are the new going out, just as much social as useful.

But with the volume, comes some hit and miss experiences. Workshops can be used to hard sell a product (boo!) or just be a disorganised mess and not deliver what was promised or be a rehash of something very dull you did at work last year on an away day (yawn.)

To run a killer workshop you need to plan and research of course, but it can be daunting, where to start? Let alone conquering your fears of public speaking. After holding over 600 classes and teaching in more formal arenas such as universities, I have seen it all! So here are 5 things I recommend you think about as a starting point if you want your workshop to go with a bang!

1) Fight Impostor Syndrome

Say it out loud,' I am a teacher!'

Yes you are a teacher. We are all teachers. Teaching isn't just about chalk and talk by an expert. Don't try and be a font of all knowledge. You can only cover so much in a couple of hours, so figure out what that is, and relax. All of us have taught informally, whenever we have shown someone how to complete a task at work, or modified our children's behavior or given a friend advice - we have been teachers. These examples are in a long tradition of oral culture. And it is something we all do. Humans teach each other all the time.

Remember, you are not alone, Be aware everyone suffers from impostor syndrome. And actually your students are tense too. They're feeling like impostors with negative thoughts like, ""Everyone else seems to know more than me' and, 'I don't want to look stupid.'

2) Draw Upon Your Own Learning Experiences

We have all had someone, often a teacher or parent during our school years who has made us feel that we could never do something properly or placed us in a meaningless hierarchy. Whether you had your left hand tied behind your back to make you use your right hand (yes back in the day this was a thing in primary school.) Or been told you cannot do maths. Or that you didn't try hard enough when you know you did. We have all had a negative experience in our past. Hopefully there were positives too. Perhaps you had a teacher that encouraged you and told you, that you did a good job? And you blossomed in that class?

These formative experiences are powerful and stick with us for a lifetime. Everyone can recall them, even decades later. When you teach you have a responsibility to teach in a kind, patient manner yet still challenge your student and push them to try hard. Be aware of how you approach teaching and feedback, even in a casual, informal one off workshop. Your students will bring their learning history with them too. This can make them negative or positive, hard to motivate or rearing to go. Try and adapt to their needs.

3) Draw a Mindmap of your Skills

Think through what you can teach.

You may work in a bank by day but love to play blues harp at night, sometimes that thing you love, will make you knowledgeable and passionate. Teaching something you love will provide you with a real advantage. Half the job is done if you can share your passions.

Life experiences can provide workshop material too. Dealt with life change? Getting older, run a market stall, dealt with parents with dementia, brought up kids, good at organising your life? Cooking something? These are all great topics, rich with material for a workshop.

Make a mind map of your life experiences and skills. You will be amazed by the variations and possibilities.

Take knitting for instance, a quick brainstorm in our class last week came up with these workshop topics

Knitting 101

Extreme knitting (with giant broom sticks and thick wool) bit like the giant's wife in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Hand and arm knitting - yes you can knit just with your appendages

Knitting a Nordic noir jumper (like the one worn by Sarah Lund in the 'Killing')

The history of knitting in Scotland

Specialist stitches

Simple project: Knit a scarf or hat

Knitting for a charity

And more......

You get the idea. It's good to have variations up your sleeve, so you can build on your attendees and get them coming back for more.

4. Experiential.

Make your workshop experiential - that's a fancy word for get your participants up and doing something. By experiencing we learn, then we adapt, practice and consolidate skills. People expect to 'do' something in a workshop as opposed to a lecture or talk. So design a hands on activity and don't forget to time it. Think about each stage needed to finish the task. Practice your workshop for a friend and get some valuable feedback. See if you have set the bar too high or too low. And then rework.

5) Authenticity.

Don't bullshit, try and be yourself. Everyone has a unique style of communicating. Admit if you are a hobbiest gardener and not a qualified horticulturist. Don't pretend to be a world expert if you are not. And remember, you cannot be an encyclopedia and a font of all knowledge, even Tony Abbott acknowledged this with his 'suppository of all knowledge' gem!

Congratulate your inquisitive questioners that stump you on their 'great' questions and say you will look it up, ask the other attendees if they might know the answer. Or find out and email them the answer after the workshop. After all everything can be found out with a quick google, so don't sweat it.

Participants are more wary of those that claim to know it all. Besides they are likely to forget most of what is said anyway. The brain can only retain so much.

Of course there are even more things to consider but you will really have to come along to a course we run at classbunny to get these under your belt. Our next workshop is Tuesday 7 August, check our homepage for more details or Sign up to the newsletter to find out when later dates are locked in.

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